Jogging, walking or riding my bike through these neighborhoods, I tend to see the same thing: nobody gets out much around here. Not out in front or on the street, anyway. These are nice neighborhoods, and traffic is minimal. Do I have a romanticized memory of my early childhood in the suburbs of Denver, where people of all ages were out riding bikes, walking, throwing a football around? Maybe I am making up the idea that adults who could just as easily hop into their cars and go down to the gym or athletic center or country club would choose to ride bikes in the evening for exercise and socializing with neighbors. Adults had low-cost ten-speed bikes from Sears or Wards, as did most teenagers.
The tennis courts are almost always empty down at the playground, too. For some reason, I remember everyone in the 70s and early 80s owning a tennis racket and playing tennis.
Were those times more filled with people out doing stuff because of gas prices? Are people today filled with paranoia and fear that killers and perverts are lurking around every corner? Are they too caught up in the digital world, and are happy enough rebooting their gym memberships for a few weeks at the start of every year? Or do people not realize how much they are afraid to go out in their own neighborhoods? Maybe they rationalize and make excuses: we were too busy today and it’s getting dark soon, anyway. We do have old bikes, but it’s always a hassle to air up the tires and tighten the brakes, and people drive like maniacs through our neighborhood and we don’t have/want to have bike helmets.
I sometimes wonder if living in isolation from your neighbors makes you more afraid of the outside world and the big Other, whether your fear is fueled by people like Donald Trump or not. No matter how nice and well-meaning and gregarious you are, if you spend too much time inside your house and your backyard, you start to mistrust people you don’t know or know that well.
Maybe it’s just these particular neighborhoods in Waco. Waco isn’t exactly a yardstick for the entire rest of the country, but I would notice something similar in Austin, and I see it to some degree when I visit the in-laws in Dallas.
I am guessing there are a number of factors involved with why people aren’t seen out in front of their houses and around their neighborhoods anymore (if it ever was so). The feeling of comfort and security provided by some modest amount of wealth probably acts like a balm at the end of a work or school day where peers and coworkers are constantly trying to find cracks in your armor. The idea of being more open to people in your immediate physical living space might seem to invite the likelihood of your neighbors feeling like they can come and go to your house as they please. Although, it would seem like this, too, might have been more prevalent at certain times and places–you were happy to have a neighbor watch the game and have a beer with you, or set a place for them at the dinner table, if they showed up uninvited at your house to hang out. It is probably why we were so charmed by the character Kramer in the 90s. We like the idea of having neighbors like that even if we really wouldn’t want our real-life neighbors to behave that way.
For me personally, it requires some effort to pick up walking, running and biking around the neighborhood after I’ve left off from it. I am overly mindful of which neighbors might be peeking out their windows and making assumptions about me, or excessively concerned with how best to greet the various neighbors who do happen to be outside (if ever so briefly). I am always sensing the raising of the psychological armor when I have a garage sale, and open my doors to whoever may come by. But afterward, I usually feel better for having done it. If anything, I might feel a little sad for all of the neighbors who pretended not to notice me or shot back inside or crossed to the other side of the street when they saw me coming.