There’s something I’m super old-school about: I love the idea of people dropping by my house casually, unplanned, just because they were in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s something that seems to be mostly a thing of the past.
When we lived in a suburb of Minneapolis, a young family moved into our neighborhood. The mom was at home for the time being, as was I, so one day while I was out walking I decided I’d stop by and introduce myself. I walked up to the door, wearing my baby in a carrier, and rang the doorbell. No answer. I was sure she was home, so I rang it again. I then decided to peek into the big window beside the door. This was maybe a bad decision in retrospect, but I figured hey, I’m harmless — I just want to say hi.
Here’s what I saw through the window: my neighbor, sitting on the couch, looking at the door with a somewhat terrified look on her face. I thought she’d come to the door when she saw it was just a lady with a baby, but after a minute or so without the door opening, I gave up and continued on my walk. (I later left a card in her mailbox introducing myself and apologizing if I’d freaked her out, and we got to know each other eventually.)
Even in smaller towns, it’s just not normal anymore to stop by someone’s house unplanned. My brother-in-law recently showed me a video of stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco talking about this very topic. “It’s a different feeling when your doorbell rings today versus 20 years ago,” he says. “Twenty years ago, your doorbell rang, that was a happy moment in your house. It was called company.” He details the joyful scene of an unexpected doorbell ring: kids sliding to the door in their socks, Mom getting out coffee and cake, everyone chatting, sometimes for hours.
He contrasts that to an unexpected person at your door today, going on to describe, to the audience’s great delight, a state of total panic: “Get down, somebody’s outside, they’re at the door!” A bit exaggerated, but hitting the point home well. Bottom line: “You can’t stop by anybody’s house anymore. If you do, you have to call from the driveway. You’re like, ‘I’m here, can I approach?’”
It's a great sketch. I showed it to my mom, and she nodded and laughed in recognition. And it’s true — she totally knew what Sanka was, and I had never heard of it. (I just had to Google how to spell it.) For younger readers, Sanka was instant decaf coffee people used to have around for, you know, unexpected evening company.
Maybe to some it seems stressful, but to me, having people stop by my house unplanned is a delight. When we first moved back to Mitchell, one of my friends dropped by our apartment in this exact way. It was just like the old days: he was in the area; he saw the garage door open and figured we must be home. He didn't text me; he rang the doorbell. We chatted for a bit, and he went on his way. It made my month.
I guess I’m longing for a time that was simpler, where people were less busy, and maybe we trusted each other more. I have a sign in our kitchen that says, Come as you are. And I mean it. Stop on by. I might not have cake or Sanka, and my house might be a little messy (I have two toddlers), but we’ll chat. I’ll find some dark chocolate, and we always have LaCroix.
I don’t know about you, but this is something I aspire to — to have people over in an informal, spontaneous way, for a few minutes or a few hours, and just enjoy the company. Like the old days.