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How to meet your suburban neighbors, for a dollar

I like living in Arizona, and I always wanted to live in the suburbs, which I do. It's quiet, peaceful, and safe, and I live on a "no outlet" street, so the only cars that go past my house are either my neighbors, or people who didn't noticed that the street doesn't go through, sometimes making a U-turn in front of my house.

I have six-foot block walls, and the front of my house is mostly a garage door, which opens up with a remote control and allows me to enter my house without anyone ever seeing me. I like it here.

But all of this leads to a strange feeling of being surrounded by strangers. If you're like me, you'd rather know the people who live around you. I grew up in Minnesota, and I have that typical "Minnesota friendly" spirit. And I do know some of my neighbors, in spite of the fact that most of them drive past with tinted windows and never get out of their cars, except when they're stopping at the mailbox, and their car door is open, and the engine is running.

I've seen people do a lot of stuff trying to meet their neighbors. But walking over to someone's house in the 'burbs is just kinda creepy. Of course, if there's an emergency, it's OK, but just walking over to introduce yourself makes you seem as if you were selling something. But I want people to know who I am, to be comfortable around me, to know that I'm one of the good guys, a good neighbor. And I discovered a great way to do it, for a dollar. Go to a garage sale.

When I first bought this house, about twenty years ago, it only cost 25 cents to meet a neighbor in a garage sale, but nowadays it's good to pay a dollar. This how it works - walk around your neighborhood on a Saturday with a dollar in your pocket, and buy something at a garage sale. I have found the most standoffish people will welcome total strangers onto their driveway for a dollar. I suppose back in the fifties, you could have done it for a nickel.

Now waitaminute, don't get carried away here - all you're doing is buying something at a garage sale. You're not interviewing these people, you aren't introducing yourself, you don't even have to give your name. Just the fact that you're on foot shows them that you're a neighbor. Mention how beautiful the weather is, smile, make a little bit of eye contact. And pay full price for some little do-dad that they're selling. Give them a dollar. Smile and be pleased with your purchase. If someone chooses to talk to me, I will listen. I will tell them my name, I carry business cards with me so they can visit my website if they want to. My neighbors can find out that I'm a Graphic Designer, that I draw cartoons, and that I taught over at the Community College. My business cards don't have my address, but they just saw me walk over from my house, a few doors down, so they know where I live. And I certainly know where they live - I'm standing on their driveway.

There is something so human, and so reassuring, about a garage sale. A dollar is your ticket to this. Don't wear a hat, or sunglasses, let people see your face. When you get back home, you've made your neighborhood just a little bit better.

Image at the top of this post: Palm trees in Phoenix, Arizona.

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