By Cara Rogerson
I live in an ugly little apartment complex, in an ugly part of the city. Each building in this complex boasts a paint-flecked and withered stucco finish, in two varying shades of mustard and rust. The railings are old and droopy, the courtyards are barren, and every few yards you drive into the parking lot, there is a gnarly oak tree jutting up from the cement as if it had erupted from Hell itself.
For the first couple of years, I barely saw any of my neighbors. We all kept to ourselves, tucked away in our nests and minding our own business. Occasionally something momentous would draw us all outside at the same time. I shook hands with people during the 2016 solar eclipse, and then never spoke to them again. In another instance a police helicopter was buzzing low around the complex for a couple of hours, and though nothing came of it, I shared some concerned looks with a few neighbors before ducking back inside. We were all caught in some invisible undercurrent, pinning us facedown into our own endless flow of mindless daily tasks.
In 2020, even though I lived at eye level with the activity of our courtyard, it was particularly silent that year. Since any neighborly sighting was considered a medical threat, I marched in and out of my door with my eyes down, blinders on, and mask secured. Nothing had really changed for me, besides the extra face padding. That is, until I looked out of my bedroom window one evening.
It was a Tuesday – such a random day for a gathering, I thought. The pandemic had been raging several months, so the sounds of laughter and chatter that filled the parking lot were striking and unusual. People aren’t allowed to laugh in 2020, are they?
When I peeked out of my bedroom window, I saw the usual sliver of parking lot and the rusty stucco wall of the opposite building. Standing among the parked vehicles and cement was a group of people- of neighbors -all armed with beers, smokes, and happy dogs on leashes. They were circulating around the corner unit of the adjacent building, some sitting and some standing at a distance, but all relaxing in a way that I hadn’t seen since before the virus. I couldn’t believe how I’d never noticed them before; it’s as if they had manifested from thin air one late summer night.
Like clockwork on every Tuesday evening, they would gather around the corner unit and spill out into the parking lot. Sometimes the group was larger, sometimes it was lean – but they always had beer on hand, and smiles on their faces. It was only inevitable that I would have a close encounter with them, and when I did, they welcomed me into the pack like I’d been there all along.
They called it “Beer Me Tuesdays”- very appropriately -and the more I spent time on the outskirts of the group, the clearer my vision became. They were an indiscriminate mixture of ages and races, of different life paths and personalities. Each person had lived in the complex for a unique set of years, in varying buildings. After a few Tuesday nights I began to remember my own identity: into my 30s, creative professional, college grad in another lifetime. I used to be a social butterfly, used to feel energized holding conversations with strangers.
Through this group of neighbors, I was reinvigorated to participate not only in my own life again, but in my community. They weren’t just a tired bunch of neighbors who needed a midweek buzz; they were friends and comrades, looking out for one another. We shared news updates and local gossip, comforted each other, kept each other informed and safe. It was a kind of congregation, a secular worship just a few feet from my doorstep.
By the start of 2022, Beer Me Tuesdays had faded. The neighbor who rented the corner unit moved away and the vaccine opened up the outside world again, pulling everyone in separate directions. The sacred little community has passed, but it left its mark on all of us. The sense of isolation has disappeared almost entirely, and I frequently stop to chat with old Beer Me folks when our paths cross. I even catch myself smiling at neighbors I haven’t had the chance to meet yet.
When I leave my apartment, I no longer study my feet. And I think, maybe that rusty stucco is more of a rustic terracotta. Maybe these modest gravel courtyards aren’t so bad. These parking lot oak trees are awkward and charming. Maybe this cactus is more of a desert flower.