Community is a slippery thing to describe, more easily understood by its absence than presence. Usually it’s best captured through stories of people and places. Here are three wonderful examples.
(1) Wrigley Is Wrigley, and Nothing Else Is
Native Chicagoan Dave Eggers captures the communal essence of Cubs baseball at Wrigley Field—an experience soaked in history, fraternity and beer. Every so often, fans also take in what’s happening on the field.
Known as the “Friendly Confines,” Wrigley is one of the oldest—and arguably the most neighborly—of all major league ballparks. (Bostonians will make their case for Fenway Park, which is two years older, but the fierce intensity of its crowd creates an entirely different atmosphere than laid-back Wrigley.) “I grew up with the Cubs,” Eggers writes, “and I don’t remember the possibility of winning ever being high among the reasons we went to Wrigley.”
Despite (or perhaps because of) the Cubs’ perennial futility and heartbreak, fans flock to Wrigley as “[a] place that celebrates not just a team but a city—and a city’s refusal to plow the past under. [It] is the ultimate neighborhood stadium, the ultimate urban stadium, the ultimate statement that some semblance of tradition is more important than the money you could make with a hundred new skyboxes in some spectacularly soulless new stadium.”
(2) Dr. Don
Don Colcord is a pharmacist in the small, rural town of Nucla, Colorado (population: “around 700 and falling”). As proprietor of Nucla’s Apothecary Shoppe, he is, within a two-hour driving radius, the area’s de facto health care provider, dispensing medicine and medical advice in equal measures. He knows his customers’ names, and also their circumstances. When someone’s insurance has lapsed, or he or she simply can’t afford to pay, Don rings up the order anyway and sets aside the receipt for payment at a later date (if at all—each year he writes off ten to twenty thousand dollars in unpaid bills).
“At the Apothecary Shoppe, Don never wears a white coat,” the author tells us. “He takes people’s blood pressure, and he often gives injections; if it has to be done in the backside, he escorts the customer into the bathroom for privacy. Elderly folks refer to him as ‘Dr. Don,’ although he has no medical degree and discourages people from using this title. He doesn’t wear a nametag. ‘I wear old Levi’s,’ he says. ‘People want to talk to somebody who looks like them, talks like them, is part of the community. I know a lot of pharmacists wear a coat because it makes you look more professional. But it’s different here.’”
(3) Keep it up and we could solve our gang problem
(The above link opens a PDF.) The Vine’s own Chris Grant is the architect of an ambitious project in which star players from the Great Britain hockey team (field hockey to Americans) trained and mentored a group of youngsters from East London’s poorest neighborhoods.
“The scheme is quixotic, to say the least,” the writer comments. “Take 30 unsporty 11 to 14-year-olds from tough areas…, introduce them to a sport associated with toffs and private schools, organise a highly competitive fixture in three months’ time, and get star players with little or no background in coaching to teach them how to play.” Without giving away the ending, it’s a Disney-esque story of redemption for the kids and stars alike.
“Society is increasingly stratified,” Chris says. “But the hockey project showed that those barriers can be broken down very easily. People from different backgrounds need to be brought together. We need to revive the idea of the club as a focal point for communities.”
Photo credit: Seth Anderson