Magazine article Sunset

Block Party

Magazine article Sunset

Block Party

Article excerpt

"What's the big deal?" my husband, Larry, wondered. "We already know their children from playing street soccer and buying Girl Scout cookies."

"But I would like to get to know my neighbors," I said. "No one even says hello when I wave."

Meeting my neighbors was something I had wanted to do for a long time. What if someone's house alarm went off or there was a fire? What if I needed help? I wouldn't know anyone to call. More to the point, I was a little hurt. The neighborhood life I had imagined--OK, fantasized--for myself just wasn't coming true.

In 1990, Larry and I moved to the Hampton Place subdivision in Fremont, California. It's a great starter neighborhood--Honda in every driveway, the works.

But when no one rang the doorbell to say hello, and no Welcome Wagon greeted us, all I could think about was how every time my mother moved to a new house in the Chicago suburbs, someone came by to offer a basket of goodies, important phone numbers, shopping hints. It was a homey rite of passage I had looked forward to ever since.

But in Fremont, the neighbors seemed to keep to themselves. Like us, most are young couples (many with children and grandparents all under the same roof). From the number of For Sale signs, a lot of them appear on their way somewhere else.

Many of the families in the neighborhood are immigrants, and I was afraid language would be a barrier. I guess that's why it took me so many months to get the nerve to cross the street and ask the Datts if they thought it would be crazy to have a neighborhood party.

"What a great idea," said Shavila Datt, a native of India, whom I had met before only because her husband had dented my brand-new car. "I know others would want to meet each other."

Having lost my last excuse not to stumble ahead, I typed up a simple questionnaire asking who would like to attend a party and when they might be available. Larry and I were still timid enough when we dropped the questionnaire into each mailbox that we didn't even give our names--anything to avoid the prospect of having an entire neighborhood ducking our invitation and our gaze.

But Shavila Datt had not exaggerated. Within days, 14 of 20 households on our block popped filled-in questionnaires in our mailbox. And many attached nice notes. I was dumbfounded. Our neighborhood of nonwavers was genuinely happy that someone was organizing a party.

Quickly, Larry and I picked a date and typed up an invitation. …

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