How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?
Last Saturday night—Sunday morning, really—I was lying in bed, groggily listening to a couple fight in the middle of the street. “Who is she?!” a woman screamed. A man, audibly drunk, slurred something incomprehensible at her in response. I pulled the covers over my head and wondered how my boyfriend could possibly be sleeping through this ruckus.
“PUT YOUR GUN AWAY!” the woman shouted.
My iPhone was in my hand and my fingers were punching in 9-1-1 before I even fully realized what was happening.
Within five minutes, four police cars arrived on our street, but the couple had already disappeared into a house. The police hung around for a few minutes, but with no people to question—and definitely no guy with a gun—they were soon on their way.
As I peered out from behind my living room blinds, I caught glimpses of my neighbors—scared, wide eyes rubbernecking at this strange drama in the middle of our typically quiet, boring Fairmount street. I wondered if any of them had overheard the fighting and called the police, too. Or if the red and blue flashing lights had drawn them up and out of bed at 4 in the morning.
A few days later, still thinking about this angry couple, I checked in on EveryBlock.com, an absolutely terrifying website where you can find geo-targeted information about crime in your neighborhood. (If you ever want to feel incredibly unsafe, type in your address and see how many muggings occur within a three-block radius of your house.) There were no entries on domestic disputes or violence. Then I checked out my neighborhood on PhiladelphiaSpeaks.com, an often bitchy but sometimes useful messageboard site. No mention of the incident. Twitter was just as useless.
“Why don’t you just ask your neighbors?” a friend suggested.
This is everything I know about the people on my street: On our left is a couple with a cute white dog named Melvin. The woman takes my bus and the man is a dedicated runner. On the right is another couple. The man is a stay-at-home dad to a several-months-old baby. I have never actually seen his wife. There is a man with a greyhound who lives several doors down. Across the street, a family brought home a baby girl a few weeks ago—or at least that’s what the pink-and-silver balloon on the rail proclaimed. Someone on my block is a talented trumpet player and practices most evenings around 7:30 p.m.
To put it simply: My street, like many others in this city, is not especially social. We don’t drink together at block parties or collaborate on efficient snow shoveling strategies. We don’t organize street-cleaning days or band together against the guy whose lidless garbage can creates litter every trash day. We don’t even gossip about why the police zoomed onto our street at 4 a.m.
Instead, we look at websites and message boards and Twitter, hoping for glimmers of information about big events. And research shows that’s not uncommon. According to a recent Pew Research study, nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t know their neighbors’ names. And many people are turning to social media sites like NextDoor to form bonds with people in their neighborhood.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I may never know what happened in the middle of my street last Saturday night.
I’ve also decided that I don’t want to be left in the dark if another scary incident occurs. So yesterday I sat out on my stoop, busying myself by pruning a long-dead plant and sweeping up my squares of sidewalk. And I smiled cheerfully and greeted everyone who passed, hoping that maybe it’s the first step in getting to know my neighbors.