This month is our street’s annual block party. What shall we bring? Something meatless, of course.

Fortunately there are other vegetarians on our street, so we don’t feel like complete odd balls. But the only way we found that out was by attending a previous block party. That’s where we found out that we have Presbyterians and Libertarians and a few septuagenarians on the block. There’s a band leader, a drama professor, a fudge maker, a former teacher-of-the-year, a cartoonist and two stay-at-home dads. It’s amazing what you can learn about your neighbors when you venture out the front door and share a meal together.

Living in the suburbs, we have, by design, bought into a more private back porch culture. It’s a different world from the front porch/front stoop culture of my youth where, for better or worse, we knew our neighbors and most of their business.

While visiting Mexico many years ago, I met a man who was fascinated by American culture. He said, “I hear that in the U.S. you can live next door to people for 20 years and never speak to them. Is that really true?”

“Yep,” I said. “Sad, but true.”

In our current back porch world, if you play it right, you could leave your home in the morning, get into your car in the garage, drive to work, park in another garage and return home in the evening without having to see or talk to a neighbor. And, as a bonus, you wouldn’t have to encounter nature either, as you’d be safely encased in a temperature-controlled environment from your bedroom to your cubicle, while traveling on paved surfaces. A person could go months or years without actually touching the earth. This is fascinating and mind-blowing all at once.

But the block party gives us an excuse to be civil humans. And we all know that everyone else has plastered on their smiles and is thinking the same things, like “I’m supposed to know you, but I can’t remember your name.” Thank goodness our neighbor Bob (who organizes the shindig every year) provides nametags, because it’s hard to remember these folks you only see once a year.

Now I’m not condoning alcohol as a sure-fire way to goose things up, but a few years ago we brought beer to share – the first time anyone had dared such a thing! What happened next was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Pretty soon bottles seemed to appear from nowhere. People stayed later that year than they had ever stayed before. When we cleaned up, there were far more bottles than the six we brought.

And even if the conversations hover around the mundane – who moved in and who moved out to the latest remodeling project to what so-and-so is doing to keep the rabbits out of her hostas – just bear with it, because you not only might learn something, you just might enjoy yourself.