Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 5, 2019
Once every hundred years the village of Brigadoon, nestled deep in the Scottish Highlands, emerges from the mists of obscurity to restore and enrapture the villagers, who laugh and fuss, fall in and out of love, and celebrate the wonder and beauty of life during its brief flicker of time.
That at least is the premise of Lerner and Loewe’s great musical of the same name, which premiered on Broadway in 1947.
So it is here in Evanston, where one day every year, cars are magically banned and people emerge to renew old friendships and frolic on their lawns, sidewalks, parkways and pavements. Time for the annual block party! So far this summer, there have been more than 150 in Evanston.
We held ours, our 41st, two Saturdays ago and as always it was delightful. We have a long block, with 37 homes, plus we invite households around the corner and on the next block. With additional friends and family members the turnout can easily exceed a hundred people.
My 10-year-old grandson Ben, an avid block partygoer, and I started out as we do every year zipping up and down the block on our bikes. What is it about an empty street that generates so much excitement?
Then we set up a table and challenged all comers to a game of chess. Unfortunately my first opponent was Zoe, a cute-as-a-dimple 8-year-old going into third grade. I’ve been playing chess since I was a kid, but that didn’t faze Zoe, who after informing me she belongs to her school’s chess club matter-of-factly started picking off my pieces—including my queen!
Next Ben and I headed over to Doug’s lawn, where he had installed his annual miniature golf course, consisting of old tires, crates, traffic cones and other ingeniously diabolical hazards. Last year I scored two successive holes-in-one—one of my most fabulous athletic feats. But this year Doug, who is 11, has toughened the course, including a par 1 (!) that took me about seven shots. Another hole was laid out on a sloping sidewalk so if you missed the cup the ball rolled all the way back to the tee. I managed a 26.
The egg toss is an annual favorite, and in a lovely outcome, the winners were our next-door neighbors, brand new to the block. They took home an actual trophy! There was the usual face painting, sidewalk chalk art and bouncy house. The fire truck arrived mid-afternoon, and as always the kids swarmed through the cab and pelted the fire fighters with questions. Around 5:30 people started bringing out the food, pot-luck style, and setting up their tables and chairs. It was a beautiful evening for dining and chatting.
In years past we’ve had talent shows, a banner for the kids to paint, custom-designed T-shirts to hand out and assorted games like the perennial three-legged race. Nowadays folks are apt to be more relaxed so they can mingle. The kids don’t mind.
But there’s more to it than that. When I email the block asking people what they especially like about the party, the consensus is almost unanimous: catching up with neighbors new and old.
Summing it up, Tom, one of the volunteers, writes back: “The block party celebrates the best parts of living in a close-knit community. Spending time not only with the neighbors you know, but also the ones who may be new to the block, or have been there 40 years but you don’t see often. Sharing stories about our kids, schools, house projects and work. The block party gives people a chance to really get to know each other. Especially in an era of so much division—a block coming together to eat, drink and laugh is probably as important as any other way of reminding us that we’re way more alike than different.”
“There may be other days as rich and rare,” they sing in Brigadoon, but none like the annual block party.