I’m nowhere close to being one of the 1%, but I’m fortunate enough (and I guess I can say I’ve worked hard enough) to live in a nice older house across the street from one of the main parks in my town. I jokingly refer to the park as my front yard. Tourists sometimes seem to lose the distinction between my real front yard and the park as well. I’ve found tourists standing on my front porch to “get a better angle” for a picture they want to take.
The park runs one block from east to west and two blocks from north to south. It’s not designed for playing, so there are no swings, slides, etc. It’s described as a Victorian park, laid out in 1876. It has two fish ponds, a fountain, a gazebo, benches, big trees, paved walkways, green space, and flowers—lots of flowers all summer. The idea was to provide a place for people to stroll, to picnic, and to socialize.
From April until early October there is unending activity in my “front yard.” My town holds a couple of big festivals, which are centered in the park. There are also smaller events that run the gamut from Right to Life marches, to Gay Pride celebrations, to yoga classes, to biking or walking for one cause or another. They all start and end across the street. There are two large arts/crafts fairs during the summer, what I call “Artsy-Fartsy in the Park.” All of these add up to tens of thousands of people parking in front of my house during the course of the summer.
Parking is always an issue during these big events. People seem to think that, as long as they leave half of my one-car driveway unblocked, they’re legitimately parked. I went out one day to talk to a man who had helped his wife, in her wheelchair, out of their large vehicle and was about to leave, with almost half of my driveway blocked. When I pointed out the problem, he said, “I have a handicapped sticker.” I told him that entitled him to use a handicapped space, not to block my driveway. He started to protest, but his wife told him to move the vehicle. I stayed with her until he returned.
People who visit the park on calmer days often stop in front of my house. I live in the middle of the block and I think people turn the corner, decide the park is worth stopping for, and by then they’re in front of my house. Of course, the shade from the trees I’ve planted may also contribute to the attractiveness of those parking spots. The park is so pretty I’ve seen people stop, stick a phone out the car window, take a picture, and drive on. Some people who travel in their work stop by the park to eat their take-out lunches. I wish they would take the trash with them when they leave.
Practically every weekend there will be a wedding, or a wedding party taking pictures. More recently I’ve begun to see Quinceañeras, the Hispanic celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday. I’ve told my wife we ought to keep some dress clothes in the closet in our front hall so we could stroll over, mingle, and eat. In May local tradition brings high school seniors to the park to take pictures on their way to prom. The arch is a popular background.
Around here the weather in May can still be nippy, and I feel some sympathy for the girls in their strapless gowns. The hours spent choosing that perfect dress probably didn’t factor in a half hour of standing around outdoors in 50-degree weather.
I have a long history with my house on the park, even before I bought it. When I came for a job interview, I ate my first meal in this house. In fact, I scrambled the eggs while the man interviewing me fixed toast and set the table. Shortly after I began my job, my boss asked some of us for help in finishing the basement of the house. I hung drywall in what is now my basement.
Even with some sweat equity in the house, I had reservations about buying it twenty years ago, mostly because of the park, but it proved to be the right decision. The neighborhood where we used to live hasn’t fared very well since we left. We were also able to buy the rental house next door to us, which has provided living space for some of our children over the past ten years.
From my vantage point on the park I’ve seen various scenes—some touching, some troubling. It provides a neutral site for divorced parents to pass young children back and forth. Sometimes it’s obviously a grandparent serving as an intermediary. Having been in that role, my heart goes out to the families.
In the troubling category I would place the car that was parked across the street from us every day for several weeks one summer. The lone occupant, a young man, seemed to be talking animatedly. I thought he might have been on a phone. One day he began pointing at my house and gesturing vehemently. I called the police, who talked to him and reported to us by phone that he claimed to be praying. The officer told him he was making the neighbors nervous and suggested he pray somewhere else—perhaps at one of the other city parks which aren’t surrounded by houses. Thankfully he did.
One scene I don’t know whether to classify as touching or troubling, or just gross. Early one morning, as I returned from the bathroom, my bleary eyes caught sight of a car parked across the street. My town prohibits overnight parking on the street, but I saw a driver was still in the car, with his seat reclined. There are a lot of lights in the park, so I could make out a woman with her head in his lap, and let’s just say her head was not still.
In the past few years I’ve also seen an increasing number of homeless people spending summer days in the park, which has water fountains and public restrooms. The shadiest area is on the south end, directly across from my house, so I’m well aware of them. Sometimes they just sit on a bench all day. I can’t imagine how mind-numbing and soul-wrenching that must be. Police and social welfare workers do come to talk with them. They’re not allowed to stay overnight in the park, but they’re always back by breakfast time every morning.
Definitely in the troubling category is the car which has been parked across the street most days this summer. People walk up to it, get in for a few minutes, then get out and leave. I’m sure drug deals are taking place. I have made a note of the license plate number, but if I call the police, the people in the car won’t have any trouble figuring out who finked on them. The possibility of retribution deters me, especially since my daughter and grandson live next door. There are also two young children in the next house to our east. It troubles me that the police can’t spot something so obvious.
Would I buy the house on the park if I had it to do over? Definitely. In spite of some negatives, I love my “front yard.” Other people seem to as well. While working in my yard (my own yard, not the park), I’ve had several people stop their cars and ask if I would consider selling the house, simply because of what it is and where it is. That gives me confidence that, after I die, my wife won’t have any trouble disposing of it.
As a somewhat claustrophobic introvert who lives in a crowded inner city, it’s a relief to have all that open space out my window and know there will never be annoying neighbors (or any other kind) over there, or anybody over there for more than a few hours at a time. I enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the greenery and the luxury of having other people take care of it. Some of my friends are retiring and moving into condos where they don’t have to do their own yard work. I already enjoy that advantage. The park has inspired me, though, to work on my own lawn and flower beds, something I enjoy more than I could ever have imagined.