Assured Clear Distance is a term I learned during driver education. It meant you had to stay far enough away from the car in front of you that you wouldn’t hit it if they stopped suddenly. I don’t know if there was ever an exact number of feet stipulated, but I stay far enough away that I can see the rear bumper and license plate of the car in front of me, and anything closer is too close and considered tailgating.
Now, in the age of social distancing, I’m finding new applications for the term.
I was in line last week at the grocery store. This was before there were signs at the store encouraging social distance, plexiglass barriers at the cash register, and tape on the floor to reinforce what I now call assured clear social distance. I was careful of the imaginary boundary and kept back six feet from the person ahead of me, the cart doing part of the work. On this particular day, however, the person behind me had no cart, and, with his arms loaded with milk, bread, and toilet paper, he stood close behind me. Close. Almost touching me. The guy seemed to have no sense he was invading my space, which, even if we were not social distancing, was uncomfortable. I wanted to ask him to step back, but I didn’t want to cause a scene, be rude, or seem like an overly neurotic germophobe.
When I got home, I shared the story with my husband. We talked about awkward moments of space invasion that seem clear to us, but not to others. Like the time he was in the men’s room alone doing his business at the urinal when another dude walked in and rather than using any one of the six available urinals, he walked up to the one right next to his and said: “how ya doin’?”
He needed some assured clear distance education for sure.
When things return to “normal,” I can’t help but wonder how long will it take to return to non-distancing. For me, I don’t think it will take too long. This forced isolation has made me realize how many simple things I took for granted and about what I want to differently when this is all over:
Screen Time vs. Real Time: I have appreciated the connection that electronic media has given me, but I am looking forward to putting the phone down and connecting in person with people I care about.
Visits with my daughters, my grandkids, my extended family and friends
Coffee shops: I can’t wait to sit with a friend enjoying coffee, conversation, and a delicious baked scone.
Wining and Dining: at one my favorite restaurants or bars, to share a meal, a drink and conversation with friends and sometimes strangers that become friends
Live music: Whether it’s an acoustic set from a solo artist or a full band at a concert venue, I will soak in every note and appreciate the musicians playing and the people enjoying it around me.
Greeting another with a handshake or hug
Posing for a group photo or saying, “come over here, let’s take a selfie.”
Walking into a store, or any crowded place without being concerned about the number of people I’m around
Not washing my hands: Ok, I’m still going to be hygienic, but it will feel good to not wash my hands after touching every little thing and sanitizing until my skin is raw.
Air travel: getting on a plane to anywhere
We may have to keep an assured clear distance for a bit longer, but I think it can have more advantages than flattening the curve.
We may find that keeping our distance may, in the end, bring us closer than ever.