by M.A. Lieberman
When I visited friends in a suburb of Chicago, the street department came on a Saturday morning and blocked off the ends of the street.
Our hostess baked a cake, the men got out their grills and started fires, the kids were running around in wild circles on their tricycles in the middle of the street, and no one appeared grouchy about the occasional inconvenience of having to move the barricade to accommodate a visitor entering or leaving.
As night fell, we had a giant table composed of everyone's spare folding tables, every family brought something to grill, side dishes and desserts were shared, and the kids played games. Best of all, people visited one another's houses, so it was like a block open house as well.
Enjoying the architecture of other houses, and talking with people about where they were from, was almost as much fun as over-eating plus beer at a street party.
Editors’ note: We wanted to know a little more, so we asked M.A. some questions. He responded as follows:
We don’t really have a problem with neighbors that don’t want to participate. Everyone seems to engage at some point during the day. Some families are much more active than others. Some just come out to eat and then go back in the house or leave, but I would say the majority of families are out on the street for several hours during the day and evening, and many people are outside for most of 12 hours at least.
We don’t have a lot of turnover on the street, but do have at least one or two new households every year. We make sure that we personally visit that household to let them know that driving around may be inconvenient, but that the benefits of having so much fun right at home and getting to know one’s neighbors far outweigh any minor inconvenience. More often than not, the new neighbors really go all out so as to create a good impression.
Yes, we had some committees. Usually it consists of an invitation committee (which also sets the date and checks with the city), the food committee, and the entertainment committee. The food committee usually asks for people to e-mail a central person with the side dish and dessert they intend to bring.
We handle drinks pretty informally. Usually those on the committee will just volunteer to bring sodas and beer, and they bring them out and ice them down in a cooler pretty early in the day. We don’t really use bottled water since it is so environmentally wasteful. A couple of families have large water dispensers that we fill with ice periodically and just let it melt.
Our suburb is reasonably affluent, so everyone can afford to chip in, and if by any chance the committee has not provided enough beverages, people are able to go back inside their houses and find their own.
Entertainment is responsible for making sure that there is plenty for the kids to do. We ask people on the invitation to call if they have children’s game equipment that they can set up, so that we know in advance what will be available. We usually stay with simpler games, but sometimes we have rented a bounce house or something. The children run around in the back yards playing on the swing sets too, and of course they are visiting other houses and playing with indoor toys as well.
People pretty well self-police in that if they invite guests (which we allow), they just know that they have to bring more food and pitch in with the work involved.
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