Before there was Zoom and FaceTime, there was real life. A place where we talked. And as we did, we communicated so much more than our words alone. In conversation things came up spontaneously, pointedly, colored by body language that remote discussions fail to capture. There is something nutritious about that kind of interaction. In doing the work of a reporter, where so much depends on listening to people talk, I find myself starving for it.
Phone conversations are the bread and butter of the reporter’s diet. But we do not live by bread and butter alone. The phone calls and videoconference calls are not nearly as much fun as a public meeting, where signals crisscross the room and arguments serve as reminders that there is always one more angle. Yes, I know I’m exaggerating the romance of the public meeting. It’s true that I have become so bored at times during town meetings that I have prayed for someone to call the question.
But right now, when I imagine heading over to catch a zoning board of appeals meeting, it actually sounds fun. Are you one of those people who like to hang around and talk afterwards? I miss that — the way we used to loiter together at town hall before anyone had heard of the coronavirus. Or in the parking lot, just as we were about to get into our cars, where parting shots conveyed the spirit of camaraderie.
Could there be anything more bloodless than an executive session? At least, that is, for those of us waiting outside, trying to imagine exactly what it is that the law is protecting us from learning? The pandemic has changed all that. Now, I would go so far as to say I miss sitting outside those sessions, rubbing elbows with the other living, breathing human beings, all of us bound by the everyday effort of waiting in the same time and place.
There’s a lot of heartfelt expressions of gratitude and appreciation on Facebook right now. That’s very nice. But all those hearts and flowers and “likes” don’t hold a candle to the mundane exchanges about the weather or the kids between actual faces on the sidewalk, buying popcorn at the movie theater, beside the paper and cardboard compactor at the transfer station. Most of it will never be reported, yet I long for every unscheduled word.
This would have been town meeting week in Wellfleet and Truro, before the virus. And I am missing them — yes, the animated arguments of those at the microphone, but more the quiet confidences exchanged in the aisle or on line waiting to be checked in. Those are the moments that make us love being reporters, and citizens.