Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Art of the Possible

Back when I graduated from college, my friend Sheri gave me a book of good quotations.  One of those quotations was from Otto von Bismarck, but I always attribute it to Antonio Banderas because, importantly, he sang it in Evita.  "Politics: the Art of the Possible."

"Besides Che and Puss, name another role of mine you enjoyed."
I usually write in this blog about the stuff we're doing to the house, or trying to do.  Today, I write about stuff we're doing to the neighborhood-- or trying to do, at least.  You see, the U.S. Congress has turned politics from Antonio Banderas's "Art of the Possible" into En Vogue's "Never Gonna Get It."  And that's how my neighborhood has seemed for the past month or so.  Yes, folks, we have re-entered THE H.O.A. ZONE!

(And let me say that, unlike most of my writing/speaking/living, I'm going to try to be fair, even-handed, and respectful of "the other side" in this one... not the least of which because many people with whom I am otherwise perfectly friendly are very much on "the other side.")

Something you may have picked up over the course of this blog is that our neighborhood is populated mostly by older people-- many of whom are older women.  Abby likes to say nothing bad will ever happen to our kids because we have a neighborhood of displaced grandmothers all around us.  But if you look closely, lurking in the shadows, you will find them.  And by "them," I mean "families with kids."  A few months back, Abby and I were approached to see if we could be informal census takers, to find out how many kids were in the community, how old they were, and what they do for fun.  Part yenta, part sentry, we set out over the Interwebs to count our compadres con familias when, amazingly, we discovered there were at least sixty-some kids here.  Craziness!  

But why the census?  And what does this have to do with Antonio Banderas?  Well, you see, there's nowhere to play here.  There's a playground about a half-mile down a steep and winding path through Rock Creek Park, and there's a playground a bit more than a half-mile across a train bridge.  But there's nothing kids can actually do without supervision, apart from going in the Glen.  And that means there's nowhere for them to congregate, which is how come we've lived here for over a year and the kids know no neighbor under sixty.  There's one group of families who live over on Hume Drive, which is around the corner and through the tunnel, who all congregate in the street behind their garages.  But that makeshift play spot is about it.  In a neighborhood surrounded by parkland, there's no play space.

The neighborhood had the opportunity to designate such missing play space, which is why the issue came up now, since a builder had agreed to finance all or part of it if certain concessions were made on the zoning for his project.  (For those of you who know, it's the building with the columns right out our kitchen window, and it'd be fantastic if it were finally developed.)  For a community with a homeowners' association, getting a five-digit check offered to you is not something that comes around every day, but this is where things get murky.

All of a sudden, our little utopian Pleasantville turned-- and quick-- into Wisteria Lane.  People were sending nasty emails and nastier letters, all the while smiling and continuing a perfectly charming outward appearance.  The NIMBYism was actually pretty amazing, seeing it from inside, and we were half-asked and half-offered to give our opinion-- as a cohort of families-- to the situation.  So I asked those grown-ups who belonged to the sixty-some kids to get together for a playdate, to meet each other, to show our progeny the potential in the neighborhood, and to talk about the issue at hand.  Wisteria Lane?  Now we're talking CSI: Miami.

Because as we met, someone (it was a bearded fellow, which made it all the more mysterious) began taking our pictures.  And afterwards some of our conversation was related back to the homeowners' association.  Sorry, not conversation: PLOTTING!  Turns out, the spot where we met was not the Ireland Trail, but the second coming of the Rosslyn parking garage, and I was Deep Throat himself.  (Or was I William Wallace?  I'm mixing way too many movies here...)  Either way: BEARDY GUY!

Now time for an aside.  I don't particularly want a playground in the neighborhood.  I think playgrounds can be a bit ugly, and I know that all it takes is one evening with some dumbass high schoolers and the whole thing will get tagged and/or broken.  Heck, my brother-in-law peed down a slide in North Carolina when he was in high school (Hi Nathan!) and I think of that pretty much every time I go to a park with the kids.  That said, we were up against a group of our own neighbors who didn't just want to vote against a play space, but wanted the very discussion of it to be a non-starter.  In a neighborhood that I'm pretty sure is about 90% very lefty Democrat, we had a loud cohort of what ten miles further south would be veritable Tea Partiers.  And that ain't cool.

So a meeting was called, and I was ready to lead the way.  Only problem is I had plans I couldn't get out of: it was Election Day and I had volunteered to work the polls for 15 hours.  So I enlisted my trusty sidekick.  Um, MY TRUSTY SIDEKICK.  Ah, there she is: Abby.  Abby allowed me to call together our descomisados, have a pizza play date right outside the meeting, and encourage as many of those parents as possible to attend, when otherwise they might never have thought or known to come, given it was a Tuesday evening-- a time most amenable to most working suburban parents of small children.  And I say she "allowed" me because while I arranged, she led.  I made it to the tail end of the meeting, with "our side" smiling and shaking hands, and Hillary-- er-- Abby talking up a bunch of the neighborhood leadership.  She did an awesome job, bunches of parents showed up, our point was made, CIVILITY HAPPENED.

And now we can DISCUSS having a play area.  It doesn't have to be a playground, and in fact, like I said, I hope it's not.  I personally am in favor of a flat, open, grassy area surrounded by trees and bushes where kids can know to congregate, and their parents can send them without fear of having to chase balls into the street or fall off a cliff or get hit by a bus.  But I'm willing to listen to what others have to say too, because I learned from Antonio Banderas that Politics is the Art of the Possible.  Sorry, Otto.
"Für mich Weine nicht, Argentinien." 

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to register a comment: as someone who lives across the tracks, as it were, and has enjoyed the wonderful trick-or-treating of the Seminary neighborhood, etc, I should bring up all the various play areas and fun places that are nearby! That my kids have enjoyed these past 5+ years.

    First, 'across the railroad' can mean one of two things, but if the park on Forest Glen Rd is too far, there is Montgomery Hills, and as you say, there is also the nearer playground on Rock Creek. Further, with an ID - they take many kinds for pedestrians - you can get onto the Army base, which has a playground and eating pavilions near the baseball fields, within sight of the Seminary. Not to mention that if you don't need a playground proper, there is the rest of Rock Creek park right there... and the adjoining nature center, etc.

    I hope that the neighborhood develops well; glad to see someone attempting to make hay with the gym (I know people who used to play basketball there, when it was still an Army facility). I hope that the people can come together in a generous spirit. I figured the witches and monsters on Halloween were mostly just costumed as such.