I think I’ve mentioned this, but I started interviewing my neighbors in Bellevue back in February of 2010. It came out of an invitation from Peter Block and John McKnight and I am still going strong. I only do about 1 “formal” sit-down interview once every other week or so, but have learned how to make the small passing conversations last a little longer and deeper.
These interviews have really made our lives better. When people talk about measurements and outcomes, here are a few for you to consider:
From 2002, when we moved to Clark Street in Bellevue, until 2010, we were in 0 living rooms. Since then, I’ve been in four. During that same time, there were probably two people on our street who knew our names. Now there are well over 20. We are more connected to the people who live around us, and it’s wonderful.
The best part is the surprises and interesting things that pop up. Last Fall, I was talking to Mike, who lives across the street, and he said “Carol wants to talk to you.” Carol is a 70 year-old woman who lives by herself next to Mike. I’d waved to her and said hello, but hadn’t had real any conversations with her yet. I told Mike I’d stop over sometime to talk to her, figuring she needed me to lift something off a shelf or something like that.
A few days later, we finished dinner and I told Bridge I needed to go talk to Carol. I walked over and knocked on her door. She answered in a “moo-moo” (as we called them as kids when our grandmas wore them) and invited me into her living room. She said that she wanted to talk to me because she was worried about her other neighbors.
Now let me tell you about these neighbors. They collect scrap metal from everyone’s trash. They drive three or four different cars/trucks with various rust spots, patched on doors from other vehicles, and one big LOUD motorcycle. They’ve quieted down now that their teenagers are gone, but for the first 8 years we lived here (and who knows how long before we got there), they would have parties, cuss loudly at each other, and get a little rowdy. Now, though, they’re not much of a nuisance, but Carol is still worried. I guess I would be, too, if I were a 70-year-old woman who lived on my own.
(By the way, I have a theory that every street in America has a family like them. When we were growing up, it was “the Weinels.” We heard stories from the older kids on the street that “the Weinels” ate dogs! We lived in fear of their loud rusty trucks that would barrel down the road. If you don’t think there’s “that family” on your street, it’s possible that you could be that family!)
Anyway, she said she was scared for her safety and wanted to know what we could do about it. I was a little surprised that this was the question she had, so I just listened to her, then told her that I’d think about it. I offered that we could come hang out on her porch once in a while and talk to her so that her neighbors saw people were spending time with her. She liked that idea and thanked me as I stood up to leave.
As I left, I looked down and on her little end table was a DVD from Blockbuster: “Inglourious Basterds.” It’s directed by Quentin Tarantino and is about the most graphically violent movie I’ve ever seen. Bridget and I had just watched it the week before and I had to watch it with my hands covering my eyes during the most gory parts!
I imagined that she had picked it up by mistake, so decided to warn her about it. I mean, what moo-moo wearing 70 year-old woman would purposefully get that movie, right?
I said something like “Carol! You had better be careful with this movie. It’s the bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Oh I know!” she said. “I just LOVE those movies. The gorier the better!! And have you seen that vampire show on HBO…’True Blood?’ It’s one of my favorites.”
I told her I was familiar and that I also cannot watch that show because of all the blood, but that Bridget loves it. I told her that we had decided to cut out HBO, though, this year, to save a little money here and there. She said “Have Bridget come over and we’ll watch it together when the new season starts!”
So the new season started this week, and Bridget went over on Monday night to watch it with Carol while I put the boys to bed. It’s a beautiful arrangement: Bridget gets to watch one of her favorite shows, Carol gets another visitor and feels a little safer, and we’re still not splurging on HBO! ….And I don’t have to sit through the grossness of all that blood!
I think it has something to do with the economics of neighborliness and give and take of relationships. I love it because I discovered that the old lady in the moo-moo can handle blood and guts more than anyone else on the block!
I also think it’s funny that Carol is scared of her neighbors. If they knew what kind of shows she’s watching over there, they’d be a little frightened themselves!