Monday, June 19, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

(Subtitle: An entire post with no mention of the procedure that shall not be named or its aftermath)

My neighborhood has a tendency to be tomb-like in its silence. Is the term "bedroom community" still used these days? That's what it feels like. Except that you'd be hard pressed to find any actual people milling about outdoors even in the evenings or on weekends.

We get along well with all our neighbors, but we haven't fostered especially close relationships with any of them. I know that if we really needed help with something, I could ask any of them; it's just that we often don't have the chance to do more than wave hello to them.

Part of the problem is that most of the neighbors are older, with children who no longer live at home or in high school. Yet even farther down the street, where the families with young kids seem to be clustered, the most striking quality of the streetscape is the absence of kids playing outside. Most of the parents work, I think.

So when the kids and I are playing outside, very often we are by our lonesome selves. I don't want to write about how different life for kids is now in comparison to my childhood -- it's pretty obvious that kids don't tend to have that sort of freedom anymore. And, as a matter of fact, I do know of some neighborhoods near me that are bursting with young kids who play outside together all the time.

All of this is a long introduction to the pleasant anomaly that was Saturday. In the evening after dinner, we were all outside -- Jeff was finishing up his meticulous lawn care regimen, the kids and I were playing baseball on the front lawn. The one set of immediate neighbors with young kids came home from an outing, and instead of just entering their house they came across the street to chat. I like this couple a lot, but we don't see them much -- she's a pathology resident and works a lot of hours.

What started out as a brief chat turned into an hour and a half of just hanging out. On the backdrop of a perfect almost-summer evening, the kids ran around yelling and laughing, Jeff and Dan tossed a football around, Gina and I chatted and joked. It was so much fun, so ordinary and yet, for us, so unusual. We probably won't have a chance to do something like this any time soon, but it gives me hope that my neighborhood experience can be something beyond a "Hi, how are you" wave.

Now, I'm curious -- what's your neighborhood like? Do you sense any Bowling Alone-like epidemic where you live?