Missing the Northeast: Block Parties

I always forget about it every year – forget about it, of course, until I receive a call from my mom around noon or pull up to the street on which I grew up only to be met by road partitions and a cruel reminder that I have to drive a few blocks to find a place to park. Both of those things happened this past weekend when I drove down to Northeast Philly for the weekend on Saturday and realized that the annual block party for the section of my childhood street was in progress. Now it has been awhile since I have actually been around for or been able to participate in my street’s block party, whether due to living in a different state or, in the case of breaks during college, being busy with summer jobs. And although attendance does not seem to be as voluminous as it did years ago, I definitely miss the enjoyment I had when block parties were first instituted on my block a little more than 10 years ago. My Block I remember it taking awhile for the block I grew up on to be granted the rights to hold a block party. After all, the whole street (my block is just a small portion of the street) is considered one of the main thoroughfares from Woodhaven Road to Aria Health – Torresdale Campus (although I refuse to call it anything but Frankford Hospital). However, partially because my block is right off of Woodhaven and not right in the middle of the street, we were eventually granted permission. In those first few years when I was around, I remember the block party being this huge affair that every single house seemed to look forward to. Every single house seemed to participate the night before in setting up the signs and flags that stretched the entirety of the block. On the actual day of the party, I remember neighbors walking from house to house and the general feeling that everybody was thrilled to be celebrating with each other despite the fact that the dreaded beginning of the school year was just around the corner. As for me, I remember being able to throw a football around the street without having to worry about scampering to the sidewalk every minute and a half to avoid an oncoming car, or without worrying about accidentally hitting a neighbor’s car with said football. In fact, at the block party, those neighbors would even join in and throw around the ball with you.

To me, the block party was all about comfort; a feeling of being comfortable with the people around you and simply celebrating that feeling by sectioning off the street, hiring a few bouncy castles and a DJ and having a good time.

Other Block Parties I don’t think I’ve been to a single block party since going off to college in New Jersey six years ago, with the exception of making very brief appearances at my family’s own.

However, I remember going to them all the time before and during high school. As far as I knew, they were the thing to do. Before my own block got permission to do its own, I remember trying to make friends with other kids around the neighborhood with the hope of being invited to theirs.

I vividly remember being a kid and trying to go to bed while the sounds of the Four Seasons’  December 1963 (Oh, What A Night) drifted through my closed window from a block party around the corner, silently wishing I could be there.

Now it might just be the certain towns I have lived in since moving to New Jersey full time, but I have not witnessed or even heard talk of a block party. And although I don’t doubt they probably cost a pretty penny, block parties are definitely worth the time you get to spend with your neighbors and simply relax.

Katz Got Your Tongue I actually have a few memorable block party stories – one from eight years ago involves me accidentally breaking a wooden railing that sat in front of my house – but my favorite involves former mayoral candidate Sam Katz.

Off the top of my head, I’m not really sure when exactly this happened, but during one of his campaign races with former Mayor John Street, Katz was traveling around to different communities with his son and an aide.

Seeing a block party happening on my street, Katz and company parked their van and began walking down the street to talk to everybody outside partying. Since my house is one of the first few on the block and various people were gathered in front, Katz stopped there first.

Well, at least as I recall, before Katz could get a word out, my mom was offering up burgers, sausage, salads and the myriad other foods she had prepared for the day.

And my mother, being the excellent host she is, wouldn’t take no for an answer until Sam Katz, his son and aide had their fill. Basically, my mom saw a guest in front of her house and, as far as she is concerned, guests deserve to be fed. And fed they were. Stories like that can only happen in front of my house…on my block…in the Northeast.

Missing the Northeast is a column written by Stephen Wilson, a former Northeast resident who moved to New Jersey for work. You can read his column on the last Monday of every month.

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