In an era and area where people often seem too busy to know others in their community, there is a street of residents in south Los Altos who have crossed the white picket fence divide between neighbors.
Residents of Ben Roe Drive gather every Friday night during daylight saving times to eat, drink and socialize. Seventeen of the 20 households regularly participate. They call it “Curbside Cocktails.”
“It has given the neighborhood a feeling of home,” said Anna Iannacone, who moved to Ben Roe in 2007. “I feel like we belong here. And we know everybody, making the neighborhood feel really safe.”
Before “Curbside Cocktails,” Iannacone recalled knowing little more than the names of the two families who lived in the homes next door.
“I hadn’t ever really talked to them that much,” she said. “I just knew a little bit about them from chatting when we got the mail.”
That changed five years ago. After the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July block party, longtime resident David Head had the idea to keep the party going. He suggested hosting neighborhood parties every Friday for the nearly seven months of daylight saving time.
Head made fliers that read, “Curbside Cocktails! A VERY casual Ben Roe neighbor happy hour meet-up,” and slipped one into every mailbox on the street.
At 5 p.m. the following Friday, Head set up chairs on his curbside and waited.
His wife, Sharon, jokingly called from inside the house and said, “‘No one’s coming to your party,’” Head recalled, but approximately 30 minutes later, “one person came, then another and then the whole thing filled up.”
But would it last? He wasn’t so sure at the time.
“We thought, ‘OK, this will happen maybe for a little while,’” said Head, who moved to Ben Roe in 2003. “But then I was surprised – every Friday we do it.”
Beyond the bonding
Based on observations at a recent Friday gathering – at which neighbors chatted and children played – the ritual has become a bonding experience. In turn, it has also become a support system for the residents of Ben Roe. They have created a Neighborhood Watch program and plans are in the works to hold CPR and first-aid classes this year through an emergency preparedness grant the city received. At the June 14 event, Head distributed earthquake safety bags to every family.
The neighborhood’s safe environment extends to their children. Iannacone’s two boys know every adult on the street by name and address. She said the interaction has made her children feel more confident when talking to adults.
“If they’re ever in trouble, they can knock on anyone’s door and they feel 100% comfortable,” Iannacone said ofher boys. “That is the No. 1 draw to keep these relationships going.”
The residents vary in age – from infants to those in their 80s – which Iannacone said benefits all of them.
“It’s nice, because I’ve become friends with my neighbors who are my parents’ age,” she said. “I don’t think I would have necessarily reached out to them to get close.”
Theresa Iantosca, who moved to Ben Roe in 1975, said she would not be able to attend the gatherings without their help. She walks with a cane, and a neighbor always escorts her to the party, giving Iantosca the ability to get out of the house and socialize.
Beyond the bonding, the weekly block parties have another benefit: one less work night to worry about dinner. Everyone brings a dish of food to share – from a main course to a side – along with a beverage of choice. Neighbors rotate hosting the parties outside their homes, signing up on a shared Google Drive Calendar.
The online calendar is a modern convenience, but the block party concept is nothing new.
“This is how it used to be,” Head said.