Kovacevic: Reconnecting who we really are


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The Allegheny River, yesterday. - DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS

Having the good fortune to have already visited five continents, a couple dozen countries and countless cities in this lifetime, I've still not encountered any setting as warm, as wonderful, as invigorating, as inviting as our very own Strip District.

Hometown biases 'n' at?

Sure. Whatever.

Because our separator, at least from this born-and-bred Pittsburgher's perspective, is our people. And who we are, how we relate, even how we speak, can't be replicated. That's not just civic rah-rah, either. Anyone who's been here, especially to the Strip, can attest. It's our city's ultimate crossroads of commerce, from Enrico Biscotti within an alley to the new Facebook HQ towering over 15th, from street vendors hawking phony JuJu gear to the billions of dollars in development all around. No matter the extremes, within it all, one easily uncovers a common understanding, a common dialogue.

And then ... we stopped smiling.

You know what I'm talking about.

Not long after March 12, the day the coronavirus shutdown took hold in our region, we stopped connecting in any way. As we'd approach each other, our eyes would avert. We wouldn't even dream of exchanging a greeting. We'd walk an exaggerated semi-circle, even 20 or 30 feet, to avoid crossing paths. We'd allow the door to close behind us rather than holding it open for the next in line. We'd glare at anyone who'd dare to board the same elevator.

One neighbor last week totally flipped out on my wife Dali in an elevator. Just lost it. She began shouting, "COME ON, GUYS! TOO MANY PEOPLE! FOLLOW THE F---ING RULES!" then sprinted off at the next floor she could.

Yeah, all that.

To which I've got three humble suggestions to make on this Monday morning, a weekend after our commonwealth officially upgraded us from red status to yellow:

1. Get a grip.

Meaning get educated. On your own. Don't listen to family and friends and neighbors. Read and learn.

The New York Times, which will need a truck to take home all the Pulitzers it'll earn through its coverage of this crisis, has an excellent Frequently Asked Questions list as part of its equally excellent coronavirus page. Find out when masks are necessary, when they aren't, and why. Find out what social distancing really entails. Find out why outside is safer than inside. Find out why it's OK to perform more activities than you might currently know. Find out we're not all going to die from this.

Whatever your reaction to all this, at least base it in knowledge. Don't be the elevator lady.

2. Don't be dumb.

See above, only flip the card.

We've done spectacularly well in Western Pennsylvania, over two-plus hard months, and it'd be depressing beyond words to take a step backward because a few dopes couldn't contain themselves. Follow the guidelines in place, particularly those regarding public gatherings, all of which are fairly reasonable at this stage of a pandemic.

3. Say hello.

Come on, seriously. It's not like we did anything to each other to cause this.

I'm taking this one upon myself, actually: As of this weekend, I've been saying hello -- "HI!" "HEY!" "HOW ARE YOU?" "NICE DAY WE'RE HAVING, RIGHT?" -- to absolutely everyone I see outside. Neighbors, workers, mostly complete strangers, doesn't matter ... everyone's getting my best Ned Flanders right now:

It's working, too. I mean, Dali finds it mega-embarrassing, but the rest of the ramifications appear to have been positive. I'm getting some return smiles, a few waves, even a little back-and-forth. One woman with a dog on a long leash went so far as to let the pup come our way for some free petting. (Animals are safe, by the way, if you read what's above.)

My whole family took it a step further, taking alternating turns patronizing each of the small businesses that just reopened in our beloved slice of Smallman and Penn, one after the other. Pizza from Colangelo's. Coffee from La Prima. Lunch meat from Penn-Mac. Two bouquets of flowers from a street cart, too.

We aren't out of it, but there's no reason to snub the start.

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