It was two weeks into the pandemic, and four-year-old Gwyneth Porter, who lives in Locust Point, was missing her friends including the two little girls who live across the street from her. “We all happened to be up on our roof deck,” says mom, Laurel Porter, a Baltimore City Public School teacher. The girls were shouting back and forth to each other and then the Porters and Lights—the family across the street—FaceTimed. The girls had their dolls and were playing family and “pretending the street was hot lava” between them, says Laurel.
“What else can we do to get our kids to still be able to be together when they can’t physically be together,” Melissa Light wondered.
The families laughed they needed to get one of those tin cans and strings and hang it between the two houses. They were joking, kind of. But the wheels had already started to turn for Melissa. She tasked husband Andy, who has an engineering degree, with creating a solution. “I wanted something for our girls to look forward to,” says Melissa. “A way that is safe that involves not touching anyone or being with anyone but at the same time a really cool way to embrace the city and be with their best friend.”
And so an idea was born—a zip line to send messages back and forth.
Between Andy and Laurel’s husband David, who used to be a mountain climber and had ropes and carabiners “taking up space” in the basement, they knew they could figure it out.
Amazon boxes started showing up at the Light house: a climbing zip line pulley, commercial paracord, stainless steel hooks and eyes, and polyester rope.
On April 18th they secured the initial line between them. First Andy attached it to their deck and then stood on their street and threw the football up to David on his roof, with the zipline attached to the ball. David secured it to his deck, but then they ran out of line.
The next weekend, David went to Ace Hardware in Federal Hill to buy a ton more rope. “What do you need all this rope for?” the shop comically inquired. David explained. “They thought it was very cool,” says Laurel. The families were able to finish the line quickly between the two houses and secured a leftover plastic pumpkin from trick-or-treating-as the go-between bucket.
“We joked we needed to put a mask on the pumpkin,” says Laurel. Gwyneth was cool with her pumpkin being used “just until Halloween . . . then I need it back.”
At exactly 4:32 PM the first zip line bucket went from the Lights to the Porters. Inside were two lovies, a penguin and owl, for Gwyneth to play with. Like a real playdate. Gwyneth went and found a lovie—Marshall from Paw Patrol, won on the boardwalk in Ocean City, during what seems like a lifetime ago—and sent that back to Melissa’s girls. “Then they started making notes for each other,” says Laurel.
It has returned a sense of normalcy to this topsy turvy world, especially for three little girls. Normally with the neighbors, play dates happen organically with someone in the alley first and then everyone spilling outside for drinks and laughs. Then it all stopped. “With our little message box, the organic-ness can continue,” says Laurel. And for young girls, who aren’t yet texting their friends on their iPhones, this presented a chance for connectedness and interaction and regularity.
“We’ve been brainstorming what else we can send,” says Melissa. “I was painting the girls nails and we were debating, ‘Do we send nail polish over?’ I’m hopeful this is a launchpad to other fun stuff.”