In April of 2012, I bought a house on a street that has a strong sense of community. Neighbors wave as they drive down the street, stop for a chat when they walk by, and help each other out. But this sense of community can go dormant due to work, families and the general demands of life. When it does, you just have to wake it up.
My next door neighbor, T, thought a street-wide happy hour might do the trick. I agreed and volunteered to host it, using a very liberal definition of “host.” I envisioned a Field Of Dreams kind of happy hour where, if I built it, they would come.
In this case, what I built was a pair of plastic lawn flamingos. And the building process consisted of taking the birds out of the box Amazon sent them in and inserting long metal sticks into their undersides. Little did I know the unassuming duo would turn out to be the world’s greatest starter kit.
At 4:30 yesterday afternoon, I sank Lewis and Clark into my front yard, hung some paper lanterns in the trees, and set out light munchies and an all-ages beverage assortment. (I borrowed a table from T, along with pretty much every outdoor chair she owns.) The neighbors started trickling in at 5:00.
By 5:30, the trickle had achieved stream status, the table and cooler were packed with contributions, and happy hour was in full swing. The adults chatted and nibbled while the kids made driveway art with chalk.
Over the course of the evening, I met all kinds of people from parts of the street that stretch beyond the two-house radius I tend to roam. I now know my neighbors include ladies who’ve lived on the street for decades, a professional musician, some amateur musicians,a couple of triathletes, and more than a few beer and wine enthusiasts. (That last one didn’t exactly come as a surprise to me, if I’m being honest.)
At around 7, and in accordance with the law of nature dictating that the weak ones go first, some people succumbed to things like their children’s empty stomachs and imminent bedtimes. And that’s right about when a wave of reinforcements arrived, Normandy-style. And this batch was hearty.
Sometime around 9, the conversation in my little group of neighbors turned to how much we like not just our street, but also the village down the road. It has managed to hang on to its quirkiness even as the tentacles of sterile development that have enveloped so much of north Arlington reach ever closer.
The village is home to a hardware store, an ice cream shop, a library, several non-chain restaurants, and a dive bar called the Forest Inn. As people talked about the village establishments they frequent, I noticed that no one mentioned the dive bar.
Many people claim to have an internal compass. When they say that, they’re usually referring to some instinct that responds to magnetic forces at earth’s core and tells them without fail where due north is. I have an internal compass, too. But it doesn’t feel the pull of the earth so much as the pull of the nearest dive bar. Thanks to this unerring instinct, the Forest Inn was one of the first places I went to when I moved to the neighborhood.
And the Forest Inn is a true force to be reckoned with. In fact, after my first visit, I dubbed it the “Forest Gump” because the only sensible reaction on entering is to turn around and run without stopping. (Dive bar aficionados will recognize this for the high praise that it is.)
As my neighbors extolled the virtues of places like the pizzeria and the beer garden, I said, “Those places are great, but I’m kind of partial to the Forest Inn, though I’ve only been there a few times.”
The room went silent (or as silent as room can go when it’s your front yard). The whole crowd turned and looked at me in astonishment.
“You’ve been there?” they said, in unison and in a tone that made it sound like I’d seen Sasquatch (which of course I have. He’s got the corner booth at the Forest Gump.).
They begged me to tell them tales of the Forest Gump. I obliged. When I finished, they looked at me with newfound respect. Or possibly fear.
One intrepid neighbor said, “Will you take us there?”
The question alone tells you what a success our first street-wide gathering was. That, and these photos of the day-after artwork and flamingos. I can hardly wait for the next round, and our field trip.