Yard Wine | Welcome to the Neighborhood

Written by and Photography by Charla in Long Beach, Wine & Dine

Several months ago, before I moved from the action-packed streets of Long Beach’s Belmont Shore to this quiet neighborhood in Belmont Heights, I got out of my car outside Charla’s apartment and saw a skinny dog running loose in the empty nighttime street. But it was a little too skinny, a little too skittish.

A woman who lives in the corner house walked outside to shoo it away but the coyote just watched her and me, unimpressed. Then it turned and walked away. Still, the neighbor and I bonded over that coyote and how unafraid of humans he seemed. It was worrisome; after all, hungry coyotes frequently make off with unattended pets.

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A few weeks later I saw the woman from that corner house again at the latest Yard Wine, an occasional gathering of neighbors in the afternoon over wine and appetizers for no reason other than the desire to connect with our neighborhood. Here’s how it works: At some point, one of the neighbors decides to host a Yard Wine and announces it to everyone else over an email group and by sticking a flag in the ground outside their house. And that is all there is to it – people will just show up. Or not. Some neighbors miss one and the reappear at the next one.

“You’re the one I saw that night, about the loose coyote!” I exclaimed. Having just finished moving – Charla next door and me from a mile away – I met my new neighbor. We were standing in someone’s front yard, four doors down, wine in hand and picking through a table loaded with appetizers and munchies that each neighbor brought.

About twenty adults mixed in our neighbor’s front yard while nearly as many kids played up down the street. A typical picture of an ideal summer day – the kind that I experience as a kid growing up and an experience that I had wanted for my own child.

This is not exactly a groundbreaking discovery – families meeting in the neighborhood and kids playing outside with no electronic devices in sight – and yet it took something like Yard Wine to start it up.

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And why not? More than a decade ago, the alarming book Bowling Alone shined a light onto a deepening American fear, that the communities that bring us together are slipping apart. Churches, school groups, local service clubs, and friendly sports teams were giving way to long commutes to soulless corporate jobs, over-scheduled kids, and endless choices from hundreds of cable TV shows.

That risk, if we let it, could still get worse rather than better. After all, this book was written in 2000, before the advent of smartphones and electronic devices, and right when the internet was just entering adolescence.

Rather than continue to worry, we just put down our books and devices for a few hours on a hot Friday afternoon, make a favorite appetizer or two and walk – yes, walk – a few doors down to visit with our neighbors. Some of them, I learned, have lived on this street for more than three decades. Others moved away a short distance but are drawn back for the next Yard Wine. Still others a new. A young professional couple moved across the street a few months ago, while it seems that every week we come across a new set of parents out for a walk with their kids.

Just a few days ago at a recent Yard Wine, we learned about a jogger who was chased by a coyote. In broad daylight. The runner tried to get the attention of the driver in a nearby car in order to honk the horn and scare it off. In the end the coyote disappeared and the shaken runner continued on her way. I walked to the front of the street and looked up and down. No coyote; nothing but me and the Yard Wine sign in the grass, and the voices of people drifting across the lawn.

So is Yard Wine right for you? In a word, yes. You could buy the Yard Wine book ($22.95 hardcover / $12.95 paper) and the Yard Wine flag ($19.95). If that is what it takes to get it started, then it is worth every penny. But it’s not really about the book or the flag. In the end, all you need is a glass of wine (or anything, really), something to eat, a pleasant Friday afternoon, and the desire to connect with another human being.