Just like Bob sang to us…”They’re the people that you meet, when you’re walking down the street, each day..”
I live in an actual neighborhood. In suburbia. We have an association – the social kind, not the kind that prevents you from painting your house pink – and have periodic block parties, BBQ’s, holiday celebrations, etc. that are hosted by neighbors and open to all on the road. Last night I attended the road’s annual holiday party and got a chance to catch up with lots of my neighbors.
You would think, living on a mile-long dead-end road, with around 70 houses, a social association, and approximately 60 kids under the age of 18, that my neighbors and I would get to catch up with one another all the time, right? Wrong.
Although I have in fact borrowed a cup of sugar from a neighbor before and we all come together for the association parties and we all are great neighbors to each other during storms and such, on a daily basis, people rarely see much of each other. My guess is that it is probably partly due to the culture of our location (Northeast), partly due to the transient nature of the town (lots of NYC transplants and people who have transferred from elsewhere to work in NYC) and partly due to the way things are nowadays –everyone is busy, busy, busy. It doesn’t bother me all that much as a practical matter – I have plenty of friends nearby with whom I connect regularly and I know that my neighbors are there for me if I need them (and I for them). As a matter of principle, however, I can’t help but think it is kinda weird that we all live so close together yet many neighbors don’t really know each other. I recall that, for better or worse, neighbors connected regularly and everybody knew everybody else’s business in my hometown suburban neighborhood in the 70’s.
One thing I noticed last night, though, is that even though I may not hang out with many neighbors often, I in fact see everyone all the time because of my running. And everyone sees me. I didn’t realize how much I do connect – albeit briefly – with many of my neighbors, just by passing them daily on my run and seeing them walk dogs, push strollers, drive off to work or do gardening. (It was kind of nice not to get the greeting of “Wow, I wasn’t sure if you even lived here anymore!” when I walked into the party, like some people did.) Just by running in my neighborhood most days each week, I know who catches an early train, who loves to garden, who takes morning walks with their babies, who is pregnant, who got a new dog, who has started cycling, and so on. And, if nothing else, they all at least know that I love to run. Totally mundane little observances, but I feel like all of these people are a part of my life because I see them almost every day. And wave, smile and say hello.
It occurred to me that running has connected me with neighbors my whole life. As I have mentioned before, I have always run alone – it has always been a solitary activity for me, by choice. Odd, then, that this solitary endeavor has brought me such connections with so many people. When I lived in NYC, I would usually head out for a run on the early side – around 6 AM. My neighborhood dry cleaner would be opening up, workers at a nearby bagel shop would be arriving for shifts, and local restaurant prep cooks and cleaners would be starting their days. After a few months, I got to “know” (on some level) all of them. Just a simple wave and a hello, perhaps more chatter when I stopped for a bagel or my dry cleaning on my way back, but we got to know each other just by seeing each other almost every day. I got to know who was promoted, who quit, who was planning a move. They would notice when I went on vacation and ask about it on my return. Because I ran, and ran at a quiet time of day, we took notice of each other in a way that probably would not have happened otherwise.
Same thing goes for every other place I have lived – I have been able to develop connections with people just by running outside in whatever neighborhood I happened to live in. My daily routine overlapped with other daily routines and I got to know people simply by being in the same place at the same time on a regular basis. Sometimes, it really is just that basic. It’s cool, and it reminds me of exactly how much running enriches my life, and in how many unexpected ways.