These days there is a rule book to ensure that everyone plays nice on the cul-de-sac - a sort of handbook for the new urbanites. Life is ordered and details are sorted out by extensive covenants. We live in communities where another is worrying about the details of neighborly interaction. Some attorney hired by some developer directed by some experience has shielded us from it.
But as befalls all of us to whom life seems easy, life would teach me much more about these neighborhood compacts that I ever hoped that I would know. Through a set of circumstances too Byzantine and uninteresting to share, I found myself serving on the board of our neighborhood association. This construct of modern life carries with it the intrigue of the Roman Senate and the reward of a defeated gladiator.
The kinds of people you'd like to like to have as your shipmates if you ever found yourself leaving Hawaii on the SS Minnow for the proverbial three hour tour. Captains of industry, financial guru's for public companies, rocket scientists (actually we did have one) and other good folks who were all about helping make the community in which they lived better. You know the kind. They pick up trash on the street as they take their nightly walk. They urge the teen drivers to slow down as they pass. They plant flowers every spring and they hang wreaths every fall. How could this not be a good thing? Good people with a good mission - all with a covenant and a deep commitment to keep us safe and sound - free from strife and free to enjoy the fruits of our many labors. What could be wrong with this?
Not long into my naive experiment in local self rule, one in our midst had been wronged (or at least imagined a wrong). Things did not go well. Covenants were invoked. Attorneys were called and the bucolic fiction that I carried about neighborly relationships gave way to the colder, hard facts about why these restrictions on our freedoms exist. A rural boy, I grew up away from the pressures of sharing space with other humans. We had lots of room. That half disassembled tractor at the house across from Granddad for two months invited speculation about the mechanical ability of the farmer but little concern about property value. My first encounter with covenants came at the hands of my dear father-in-law. He, a Wilmette born New Trier Township Trevian, invited me to park my pick-up truck in a neighbor's vacant garage during an early courtship visit to his daughter during college. What a fine man. He wanted my weary truck to avoid to harsh Chicago winters thought I. It was years later before I knew that he was attempting to comply with restrictions that prevented the overnight storage of farm implements on the street.
Since then, I've learned that covenants are a set of imperfect guidelines not Papal cannons that will keep our streets clean and our nights peaceful. Some dogs bark, and some dog owners don't care. Giant RV's block driveway views. And not all can agree on how tall a storage shed can be before it becomes an eyesore. Not everyone wants to get along. And, there is little that we can do to stop their right to be contrarian. So thanks to those of us who labor to make our neighborhoods work - to seek and find compromise. And to those of us who don't - can't we all just get along?