It’s Saturday afternoon. The spokes of my bike make a creaking sound as I peddle down a well worn bike path. The rest of the crew is behind me, also on bikes. There’s conversation about school, work and why my bike is making a creaking sound. As we turn into a neighborhood the conversation abruptly changes. The neighborhood we are riding through is not like our own. It’s unique.
We peddle past a house that resembles a museum dedicated to swings, there’s even one made of wicker hanging over the sidewalk inviting walkers to sway a bit. There’s a house with a library in the front yard and one displaying farming equipment. Down the street we find a house with an impressive collection of handmade bicycles, each one unique, none resembling the store bought ones we’re riding.
There are some folks agitated by neighborhoods like this one. Clutter causes anxiety. Non-conformity can be a nuisance. I see their point, but is there a hidden cost to predictable comfort?
As I ride past a house, doubling as farmer’s market, I wonder what I’d put in my front yard, if my neighborhood allowed it. What outside things would express who I was inside? A roller coaster?
It would seem like an important decisions. Think about it. Won’t you become what’s in your yard? Surely, your neighbors will call you “the swing guy” or “the orange tree lady”?
At first they probably would. But, I bet the houses closest to your own would get to know the “why” behind what’s in your front yard and in knowing the “why” they would come to love the “who”. Eventually they’d get to know your name and, more importantly, your story. The things in your front yard would becomes symbols instead of eye sores.
Back at home, I pull the car into the driveway. The rubber straps holding our bikes to the rack are thick and stubborn. The force required to unhook them along with their proximity to cables and cogs means I’ll be sporting a new gash on my hand in a few minutes. Bike rides are worth it. It’s worth getting a little banged up to get out and see who and what the world is made of.
The front yards in my neighborhood are not unique. We’re required by a set of covenants, conditions and restrictions to keep our yards uniform. It’s a good thing, I suppose. I’m not sure I want to live next to a bee keeper or cymbal collector. But still, I wonder. Is uniform better?
As I wheel our bikes from car to house I survey my neighbors yards. Green grass, a tree and maybe some flowers; they all look the same. I feel sad. There’s something neat about a neighborhood that embodies its residents.
A garage door opens across the street. It would appear the homeowner has decided to mow his lawn. I check my watch, it’s within regulated lawn mowing times so I toss up a friendly wave. I get a wave back and a quick peek inside their garage. There’s a punching bag hanging from the ceiling and a gallery of boxing pictures on the walls. It looks like the lawnmower is also a boxer.
It occurs to me, in track home neighborhoods, our garages function like front yards. For the few minutes a day garage doors of these neighborhoods are left open you can look inside and learn a little bit about who your neighbors are and what they value.
I think it’s interesting, if not important, to know the people you spend life near. Taking who you are on the inside and putting it on the outside invites conversation. Conversation, although risky and awkward is the foundation to community and as they say, “it takes a village”. So, maybe, the next time you’re out in your neighborhood, walk slower and get to know the “who” behind all the “what’s” you see.