It was a wild time on our quiet street yesterday morning. I work from a desk in the bedroom, facing the street… a normally rather quiet suburban street. I glance out when I hear a vehicle go by, or to look at birds in the garden. The window affords a decent view of the feeder, which I filled for the first time this “winter” early yesterday after a strong cold front blew by, today a Mockingbird became the first to discover the new food source.
Most of the time not much happens on the street, which made yesterday’s incident a bit more bizarre. I happened to look out to see a black pickup, which looked familiar, going by backwards, at a good clip, with the driver’s door open. Our neighbor was running after it yelling, as the truck clipped our garbage can and carried on down the road, seemingly heading in reverse towards a couple of cars. For a moment I thought it was some crazy person aiming at other things with the truck. Or maybe a domestic fight? Joyriding juvenile thieves? I peered down the road and saw the truck stopped against the curb… and noticed debris by our car, also out front.
I went out, and was semi-relieved to see the “debris” was in fact a baseball cap and glasses, with some garbage nearby. I picked up the cap and glasses and, seeing my neighbor standing, staring, appearing befuddled on his lawn, took it over to him. “This yours?” He said yes, and thanked me. “What happened?’
Well, it turned out he was driving away in this truck – one his son uses normally – and forgot to tell his wife something. She was in their driveway or yard. So, he (apparently) started backing up to yell something at her like “close the garage door!”. He fell out of the truck. Ooops. The truck kept going in reverse, scraped our garbage bin and took out his own, strewing trash far and wide. Oops more! Then it crashed into a parked car on the road before coming to a stop. Ooops triple. “They already don’t like us,” his wife told me. “This isn’t going to help,” I replied, stating the bleeding obvious.
I checked to make sure he was ok, and decided to be neighborly and help him pick up the garbage. Police arrived, and the young cop who’s first on the scene was friendly in a downhome sort of way, taking everything in stride as he took down the statement from the neighbor. An older, more stern cop drove up later and walked around saying nothing. The police asked if he’d tried to move his truck, which he hadn’t; they told him to and it made a screeching sound when he slowly pulled it ahead. It had done some nasty damage to the parked sedan. I was relieved I didn’t see the actual impact, so when I got a chance to ask if I could scram, the cop ascertained I hadn’t seen the actual crash, thanked me and waved me off. I wished him a good day and got back to my day.
The neighbor in question is a guy about my age. We’ll call him Pickup Guy. He’s married to a woman who rarely comes outside, with a grown son, I think, who leaves his dog with them. A big brown dog that always barks up a storm when she sees me, which scared the be-jeezus out of me the first couple of times, but by now just prompts me to call the dog’s name and say “You know me!” It quiets down and wags it tail. Pickup Guy is largely retired except for a part-time delivery job, but does work in his garage, which faces our driveway. One time he knocked on the door, hoping to find my brother-in-law, but me being the only one home, asked if I could help him for a minute. I helped him move a storage shelf in his garage and chatted a bit; he showed me some old antique tools he restored. He usually has on classic rock in the garage; I like the music pouring out of it when I take garbage or recycling out to the containers. I say “Hi” when I see him in there and he asks how I’m doing. Not exactly a close friend, but a decent chap. A neighbor. I would try to help him, and I figure he’d do the same for me if I needed it.
In the last house we lived at, we had various neighbors. There was an elderly couple next door. We’ll call them the Whitehairs. My sweetie initially didn’t like The Whitehairs. She said the husband seemed a bit snooty or short-tempered. After awhile, when I was mowing the lawn or carrying in groceries, I saw them enough to get to talk to them a bit. The husband was a little taciturn, but seemed a decent man, a veteran… I wouldn’t be surprised if from WWII, but I suppose more likely Korea. His wife was an adorable little granny type. Even my sweetie became friends with her as, after I’d broken the ice, she’d talk to us both if she saw us, telling us of her youth and her family out of state and the various health concerns she and Mr. Whitehair had. They both had their share of health problems and they told us they’d be sad to see us go and to come back and visit. I wanted to do that, but alas, only a couple of months after we moved, their cars disappeared and new people and cars were there whenever I went by. I hope perhaps they found a nice retirement home or such, but fear perhaps a worse fate befell them.
Across the street, kitty corner from us, was a bickering couple a bit older than us. The husband was a George Jefferson-like little character who was prone to knocking on our door late at night, asking if he could borrow some money. Sometimes for smokes, sometimes for a prescription for his wife. Sometimes we’d help him out, sometimes we wouldn’t, sometimes we simply couldn’t because we weren’t prone to keeping much cash at home. One time he managed to carry a large flatscreen TV across the road around midnight and tried to persuade me to buy it. My love had a fit when she came out of the shower and found this 50 or 60 inch TV half inside our living room and me debating with George Jefferson, explaining that we didn’t need another TV right now and besides, I didn’t have $50 or $60 on me anyway. We made him carry it back home; he wanted me to bring it back to him (on account of his bad back) but I wasn’t wanting to be the guy carrying a 50” TV of dubious origins across a busy road at midnight! One time he asked me to help him with something with his garage (what is it with Texas guys and working in their garage?) and he showed me a bulky handgun he kept in there, explaining that was why he wasn’t afraid of break-ins. He wasn’t my favorite neighbor, but yet, he seemed harmless and always seemed to have a smile for us and a wave as we drove out.
Neighbors. I don’t think I would have ever talked to any of these people had I not lived in proximity to them. The George Jefferson guy was a different race, had an accent I found difficult to decipher when he got excited and played music that I certainly didn’t like, loud enough for us to hear across the street at times. The Whitehairs seemed stern and stand-offish at first and it was suspected they might have been the people who called the city (before I was on the scene) and reported our unduly long grass in the yard prompting a visit from a bylaw officer. Pickup Guy had a sticker in his regular truck supporting a political candidate I would never support nor have a good word for. Yet they all were good enough people, it turns out. And likewise, they probably wouldn’t have had interest in talking to a middle-aged liberal kind of alternative rock music-loving, bird-feeding guy, until I moved in.
It goes to show something. I’m not quite sure what, but I think Ralph Nader had it right years ago. He suggested “when strangers start acting like neighbor, communities are reinvigorated.” Our country might be a lot better off if we all forgot stereotypes and sat down and chatted a little with the people next door…whomever they might be. A certain book does tell us to “love thy neighbor”, after all.