Nowhere to Run...Nowhere to Hide

Last week, on his final day of school, my older son and I walked the two blocks from our place to Tucker's, a best-ice-cream-in-the-whole-land, 70-year-old family-owned business here in Alameda. A couple doors down from our destination, some kids on bikes behind us called a greeting out to my son. "Hey Joe," he said to one of them.

It was the third time in a row we'd been walking down that way and run into somebody he knew from school. And it made me realize that this is how it's gonna be for the next untold amount of time or so: We go out. We recognize and/or are recognized.

It was a strange feeling. I've become somewhat accustomed to anonymity. I've worked at 4 different branches of my employer bank now and none of them have been near where I lived. I've only on the rarest of occasions run into customers outside of work. And I also haven't had a kid in school where I lived before this past year, so I had to go way out of my way to run into other parents I knew.

Then we moved to a city that feels like a town, though we're right smack in the midst of the ultra-populated northern California Bay Area. A lot of people who live here grew up here. Many of them have generations of family dug in.

And then my younger son played t-ball. We sat with some parents at a game we got tickets to through the little league last Friday night, and then two mornings later, no makeup and hastily clothed and in full-on hag mode, I ran into one of those t-ball moms at Safeway. It was 8am on a weekend, and she was in the same haggish mode, so that eliminated the awkwardness, but still it was...different.

I'm used to being able to hag it up at any given hour on any given day at the grocery store with zero fear of run-ins. And it's not that I'll fear these run-ins in the future. But I do have a heightened awareness of their increased likelihood.

This is something I've longed for. In the brief period I spent living in Flagstaff, Arizona, I experienced the feeling of community. My girlfriends Nicole and Kelsi and I always ran into people we knew when we were out, and this gave the town a sense of magic for me. Somehow, every encounter felt meaningful.

I spent the years that followed living in large cities, and while I often ran into people I "knew" waiting for a bus or lightrail in downtown San Jose, they were more likely to be transient folks I'd encountered in that same spot before than friends.

What we sought in moving to this town-y town was a place that felt small. Somewhere our kids could grow up and feel safe, where we could walk to places we wanted to be and where schools were well supported (most important was finding a place like this that didn't also feel horribly suburban and distant from things like public transportation). Now we've found that and I've realized I have to get used to all of what it entails.

Community is not something you can really be selective about. You are part of it or you aren't. You can't know the people who live nearby but then UNknow them when you see them at the grocery store without the proper anything on.

One of my girlfriends moved here from a small town in Kansas and every time she goes back now, she and her husband run into multiple ex-boyfriends and their families all around town. I can't imagine. There is something so wonderful to me about the fact that I'd have to make a truly concerted effort to make physical contact with anyone I went to high school with back in Arizona. And it makes me wonder if our kids will one day want to be as far as they can be from this island where they've come to land.

They'll cross that bridge (literally and figuratively) one day if they need to. For the time being I'm glad we'll be surrounded by other parents we'll come to know. I may even want to work at a branch in this town one day, if I think I can handle the idea of knowing all my neighbors' financial business (which would not be my preference). 

I just have to make the mental shift into Smallsville mode.

And I think it is time to implement mandatory hair combing before any venturing outside the house. 

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