Who are the people in your neighborhood?

As I was leaving the house this morning, I had an experience that reinforced my sense of the joys of being at or near home during the day. My neighbor, Billy, was cleaning up the garden and yard around my house before my landlords come home later this week. We chatted, and he mentioned an upcoming block party next month, which I know folks on the street have been wanting to organize for a while. He asked after my sister, who is moving up to live with me, and joked about my two cats, who were trying to avoid the puddles from the hose. I wished him a good day, and headed out to the bus.

On my way down the street, I ran into another neighbor, Jen. She was on her way to work; she's a medical resident, and her rotation right now is in family medicine. Although she does have to stay until 7:30, she gets to wait to leave home at 11. We wished each other good day and continued on to our destinations.

I love these moments of exchange with my neighbors. Billy gets them all the time; he's an older man who mostly stays near home except for the one day he goes in to his shop downtown. Billy has lived in the neighborhood all his life, and inherited his childhood home from his mother. Billy is that guy on the street who knows what's happening; he keeps an eye on the neighborhood, Jane Jacobs-style. You can leave keys with him, get information from him, ask him to take care of things for you. He seems good at getting to know people in the neighborhood and caring for them.

In many ways, that's the kind of life I'd like to be able to live. I won't idealize it, because I don't know Billy's whole situation, but I admire the feeling he gives of being a stable grounding point for the neighborhood, especially a repository for its history that might otherwise be lost because the rest of us are more recent imports from other places. It's something that gets more and more lost in urban neighborhoods; when Billy is gone, who will be that person for us?

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