Neighbors bond in Party Block

On a Party Block, a neighbor is always outside, drink in hand. � On a Party Block, this neighbor might be you. But more than likely it's Chuck, a great guy — two tween kids, attractive wife, solid short game — who keeps a cold case of Miller Lite on call. � On a Party Block, you're not allowed to stroll inside your house after a brutal day at work. Not even on a Tuesday. Don't even think about it. Instead, upon pulling into your driveway, you sling your bag onto the roof of your Mazda and have a laugh with Chuck, who immediately offers you an adult beverage. � On a Party Block, Chuck does not take rejection well. � So you say, sure, Chuck ol' pal, one beer won't hurt . . . and before you know it, five more neighbors have wandered over, someone has busted out beach chairs, AC/DC is cranking from a radio, 15 kids the same age as your own are playing ghost in the graveyard and Chuck's wife, Lisa, is offering to make a Publix fried-chicken run . . . and you and your briefcase STILL haven't made it inside your house. On a Tuesday.

If living on a Party Block sounds like fun, you're right. It's also convenient and safe and, in these penny-pinching days, a cheap alternative to going out. Instead of dragging our brood to Chili's, we hang in the 'hood, cook out, gather in someone's yard. A Party Block, usually fueled by four or five families with like interests, is the very essence of community, Norman Rockwell painted on the side of a pony keg.

Cocktails are a crucial part of my Party Block (although I'm sure there are some that get along on softer refreshments). Just as crucial are tolerance and the ability for large groups of people to get along. There are no secrets on a Party Block. And if there are, the gossip train will take care of them soon enough.

On my tree-lined street, in a cozy corner of mid-Pinellas' Feather Sound, we've contemplated getting T-shirts made with the slogan: "This place is going to kill me."

But the truth is, we wouldn't live anywhere else.

"Our homes are designed to live in the back: the pool, the TV rooms," says Erin Powell, a 39-year-old Cleveland transplant who has lived on my street for seven years. A few summers ago, Powell — three children, podiatrist husband, boundless energy — decided to throw a Fourth of July party because "there was no sense of community. I wanted to look out my door and see kids playing with other kids."

Talk about a catalyst. Powell's Fourth of July party has become a shut-down-the-streets monster. And you better have 15 bags of candy (the good stuff) ready on Halloween, 'cause the surrounding streets know about our Party Block rep, as well.

But more than that, Powell helped jump-start a social scene that now exists right outside my front door. It's the impromptu get-togethers, on Tuesday or whenever, that really make the Party Block cook. This includes the day Chuck, Erin and dozens of others helped me — a longtime Northerner who only socialized with his neighbors when digging out after a blizzard — sod my front lawn.

The next day, my hangover was brutal, but lemme tell you something: My yard looked awesome.

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The Party Block "used to be a typical thing around Tampa Bay," says Helen Torres, a St. Petersburg Realtor who has worked the homes beat for 20 years. "I lived in Boston before this, and they weren't nearly as common. They work here because of the weather, but also because this area is just much more relaxed."

When she's showing a house, a Party Block is often a huge selling point, "especially if (the buyers) have kids." That makes sense. Young swinging singles have places to go, and empty-nesters are done dealing with brats. The Party Block is inherently family-friendly.

It's also becoming a rarity. "You see it less and less," says Torres. "More and more people are involved with gadgets that distract us, that keep us inside. Video games, wide-screen TVs." There are fewer and fewer thriving outdoor communities, although she points to 14th Avenue NE in St. Petersburg as one of the great remaining Party Blocks, especially during the wilds of Halloween.

Mario Levesque, a Realtor based in Wesley Chapel, says New Tampa is known for several burgeoning hot spots, including the family-rich hamlets of Seven Oaks and Meadow Pointe. But he, too, has noticed a social disconnect between neighbors. "It's because of the way we watch TV," he says. "And then there's that Wii. Everyone is playing the Wii. Who's outside?"

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A few weeks ago, a crucial part of my Party Block, a fun family of five, folks who planned lots of our group events, moved away. They left us. Just like that.

The husband was my Rays buddy. The daughter was my daughter's best friend. Their toddler was going to grow up with mine. And they left, to Atlanta.

The Party Block was over for them, but would we survive? Would we succumb to the allure of wide-screen TVs? When it's quiet on the block for too many days, we get worried.

"We're doomed," someone said. "It'll never be the same again," someone added.

Both of these "someones," I should add, were me.

But then Chuck stepped in, 'cause Chuck knows about these things. Chuck is wise.

With a beer in his right hand, and some sort of awesome power tool in his left, Chuck said:

"Just give it until Halloween. Then this street will come alive again. Trust me on this."

On a Party Block, we all drank to that.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467.

Start your own party block!

Chemistry is everything on a Party Block. So if you like most of your neighbors, and can stand most of your neighbors' kids (especially the one who always wanders into your house without knocking), here are five ways to juice the party action on your street.

1Cornhole! That's right, the Midwestern beanbag game is now a popular Florida attraction. It's fun, gender neutral and gets everybody outdoors and thirsty. For more information, go to the American Cornhole Association at playcornhole.org.

2My driveway or yours? In the city, they call it stoop-sitting. Where I live, it's driveway-squatting. Move your car onto the street and set up beach chairs in your driveway. Bring a cooler; fill with delectables. Halloween is a perfect time to start.

3Play dates. Looking back, this might have been the true genesis of my Party Block. As all the kids played together, the moms gathered in a loose circle and started making plans. Then they came home and told their husbands: "We're all going to Chuck's for a barbecue tomorrow night. We're in charge of rolls." A Party Block was born.

4Shine a light. Chuck has a back deck complete with a beer light. When the light is aglow, it's a signal to the 'hood that he's open for business.

5Fire your lawn guy. Yes, this is a bold move. But nothing bonds dudes better than moaning about sun-scorched yard work and then celebrating completion with something cold.

Neighbors bond in Party Block 10/24/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 25, 2008 2:03pm]

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