Waving to passersby from the porch

20 comments on Waving to passersby from the porch
2 minutes
James Whitcomb Riley home, Lockerbie, Indianapolis
Nikon Df, 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor, 2023

As a young adult I lived on a traditional city street lined with foursquares and bungalows. Most of them had a porch that spanned the entire front of the house. In the evening, I sometimes walked to the park at the end of the street. As I went, sometimes people would be sitting in their porches. They’d wave; I’d wave back.

That was 30 years ago. Go back another 30 years, I’m told, and it was common for folks to sit out on their porches and walk the neighborhood in the evening. It was a way of connecting with your neighbors. People would wave and say hello, and perhaps stop and chat briefly.

I’ve always been charmed by that idea, so much so that as my wife and I dream about where we’d like to live next, I’m drawn to houses with front porches.

But it’s all fantasy. People sat on porches a long time ago because their houses weren’t air conditioned. Heat built up in the house during the day, and after dinner it was usually cooler on the porch. The social opportunity this brought was just a happy accident.

I remember cool evenings from my 1970s kidhood. But the seasons’ weather has changed considerably since then. Now the hottest part of a central Indiana summer day comes after 4 pm, and the evening cools off slowly. We have far more days in the 90s now than then. My wife and I like to sit out on our deck in the evening, but we can do that comfortably only in early spring and in autumn.

Still, I won’t be surprised if our next house has a wide front porch. I’m a fool for fantasy.

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20 responses to “Waving to passersby from the porch”

  1. Marc Avatar

    The modest streetcar suburb where I live has porches on almost all of its houses and many small apartment buildings. People still do sit out and say hello! Not everyone, and not every day. But most of the time! It’s not limited to any one generation. If you can find a place with street fairs and community events and porches, you may find this still happening. I’ve found it very nice during the isolation and polarization of the past few years to just experience some common humanity with people whether I know them or not.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice! You’re fortunate to have that.

  2. Marc Beebe Avatar

    My childhood home didn’t have a porch, but oh so many in the village did. I experienced this phenomenon first-hand, and it was pleasant indeed. Not everyone had or bothered to watch TV in those days either; no electronic addiction so more real-world interaction. Strangely enough those two things converged at one point as we kids would walk around the neighbourhood looking for rotary TV antennas and see if we could catch any ‘on the move’ as the people inside changed channels!
    Now we have cable/satellite/internet with hundreds of channels and nothing to watch but we stare at it anyway. Something has gone horribly wrong with society when we know actors in a show better than the folks next door.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember those aerials on a rotor! My grandfather had one.

  3. DougD Avatar

    Yup, doesn’t happen too often here, especially when it’s too hot to go outside. I’m reminded of the 2003 power blackout, many folks in our neighborhood went for an evening walk and talked with others. It was quite a friendly event, too bad it was never repeated (without the power loss)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Kind of reminds me of the easy human connection after 9/11, for a while.

  4. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Seems like a very suburban way of life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This was an urban way of life until the 1950s.

  5. brandib1977 Avatar

    I live in the country but in a busy county road. You still see a lot of people sitting on their porches at all hours- waving to passersby. Personally, I sit on my screened porch on the back of the house where it’s cooler and shaded. It’s quieter too. However, if I lived in a nice neighborhood with foot traffic, I would like to think I would sit out front and meet the neighbors like people used to do.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Even though I’m a city boy, I’ve lived in a neighborhood with front porches only once. The neighbors really didn’t sit out on them. It was kind of too bad.

      Where I live now, our back deck faces west and it’s fairly open behind our house. The sunsets can be spectacular — but the bright, hot sun in late afternoon and early evening makes the deck not all that fun in the summer. I wish we had something of a porch across the front of our house as it would be shaded all evening.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        What about some kind of awning or maybe a pergola that would filter the light without blocking it? Ooh. Or maybe just an umbrella table to keep you comfortable? I sat at an outdoor restaurant on Mackinaw Island this week and there was lovely shade thanks to all the overlapping umbrellas!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’d have to remove the flower bed that’s there and put some sort of solid, flat surface down first. If I wasn’t itching to move far away from this house I’d probably invest in that. Within whatever the HOA would allow, of course.

          1. brandib1977 Avatar

            I could never live with an HOA. Of course, where I live in the country, people are free to do as they please and that’s annoying too. Ha! I’m never happy.

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              It’s a mixed bag. I did not appreciate it AT ALL when the HOA sent me a shittygram about minor warpage in the siding on one side of my home, demanding I replace it or risk fines. Fixing that cost me $1,000. On the other hand, we do have a community pool and community parks, and my neighbors can’t do crazy stuff like the neighbors in my previous, HOA-less neighborhood did. One neighbor built a ramshackle carport out of 2x4s and tar paper on the side of his house and then neglected it forever more, and it became an eyesore. The HOA here would put the kibosh on that pronto.

              1. brandib1977 Avatar

                Well, that all does sound nice- perhaps worth the sacrifice of tolerating their nit picking.

  6. Denny Gibson Avatar

    I believe Michael Wallis (of Route 66 fame) has talked about porches in every speech I’ve heard him make. It’s such a constant that I’ve even joked about it but it’s entirely true. We miss a lot when we shut ourselves inside.

    I live in a condo so don’t face a real street but I do sit on my “porch” quite a bit. My “porch” is a screened in area that the builder called a “Florida room”. Almost all of the other residents have sealed their “Florida rooms” with glass windows, air conditioning, etc. but, as I tell anyone who asks, I don’t need more indoors, I want more outdoors. I do get to share waves and sometimes words with passersby although they’re mostly neighbors I’m already familiar with.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You know, I do understand why people screen in their porches. BUGS. We would use our back deck a lot more in the summer if the mosquitoes weren’t so thick. I don’t want to slather myself in Off just to sit out there for an hour.

      1. DennyG Avatar

        Oh, yeah. I very much appreciate the screens — and the ceiling fan. I intended to put “I’m sitting there now” somewhere in my original comment but forgot. So I also appreciate you giving me an opportunity to fix that while I’m still sitting there.

  7. J P Avatar

    It is interesting how suburbia has re-oriented life from the front of houses that faced the public street to private areas in the back yard.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Which are nice, because of the seclusion. For the most part; I mean, your nearest neighbors can see you. And except in my neighborhood where a surprising number of house back up to a road.

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