Having essentially lived in a college town for my entire adult life thus far, I have never experienced the camaraderie of neighbors. San Luis Obispo–where I have spent the past eight years, two of which as a graduate student at Cal Poly–is dominated by college students, renters who are so far priced out of the market that they stand very little chance of ever owning, homeowners who can barely afford their mortgages, and a handful of wealthy owner-occupants. The result? Very little personal investment in the neighborhood or the property, and what ultimately ends up being a run down coastal town.
I had some good neighbors during my time there–nice, hard-working people who do their best to get by and enjoy all that the central coast has to offer. People who, after working multiple jobs to afford their shared rent or mortgage and commuting 45 minutes or more each way to work, have very little time or energy to stand outside and talk to their neighbor or decorate for the holidays. I had nice neighbors who didn’t own their houses and so could not make improvements or changes to run-down properties owned by investors 300 miles north or south of our little coastal retreat. Niceties like talking to neighbors over the fence or improving a neighborhood without being a “flipper” seemed to me to have disappeared in the modern Western world.
Last weekend, in the throes of defeat at the spiraling issues (and costs) associated with my new house, we had a late winter storm that dropped nearly a foot of snow over the city. And me, with no snow shovel, no salt, no snow blower or plow. Arriving home from yet another trip to Home Depot, my sidewalk was neatly shoveled on both sides of my driveway.The following day, I had the opportunity to meet my neighbors, who are related to the neighbors behind me. We all stood at the corners of our properties and discussed our mutual joy at my moving in (the previous tenants left numerous signs that maybe they were not the best neighbors, which was confirmed in our discussion). I met the young family behind me, heard about the next grand-baby on the way, and everyone met my boys (the dogs). When I confronted and attempted to thank them for shoveling my sidewalk, my neighbors flippantly dismissed my appreciation, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Although having my sidewalk shoveled and chatting briefly with my new neighbors may seem a small joy, I am reminded that there are still places in the country where people can afford the time and effort to help one-another, no matter how mundane the task.