Retorts: Cheers for a sense of community

CHEERS, (from left): Woody Harrelson, Kelsey Grammer, Paul Wilson, John Ratzenberger, George Wendt, 1982-93. ©Paramount Television / courtesy Everett Collection

One hesitates to build a philosophy around a TV sitcom that’s been off the air for nearly a quarter of a century, but I heard the theme song from “Cheers” the other day and the lyrics really hit home.

If you’re over 40 – or happen to be into retro entertainment – you know how it goes:

“Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. 

You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same 

You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

In the coverage area of the Tribune – Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster – our cities are undergoing a visible and sometimes jarring transformation. Drive along Edinger Avenue or Beach Boulevard in “Surf City” and you’ll see block after block of mid-rise, high-density development, often in a mixed-use format with stores on the first floor and condos or apartments above.

Get caught at the light at Lampson Avenue and Brookhurst Street in “The Big Strawberry” and watch the imposing rise of the Brookhurst Triangle project on the site of what was once a car dealership (anyone remember Smith Ford?).

If you’re old school, you may view this with dismay. More housing means more traffic, which is getting worse all the time. All that high-density … what happens to the American Dream of a single-family house with a backyard, all on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac?

The future, as it unfolds, may look dismaying, but consider this. It’s all a part of a basic human impulse to be with other people. We are social animals and crave a sense of community. We love and have benefitted from progress and technology, but it has also helped to isolate and atomize us.

Freeways encourage us to work far from where we sleep. The Internet has created virtual societies with people who may live thousands of miles away. The soaring price of housing has pushed the younger generation far from hometown and helped spur the thorny problem of homelessness.

It’s been said that every solution creates new problems, and vice versa.

In “The Tempest,” Bill Shakespeare wrote that “what’s past is prologue.” A couple of generations ago, most Americans lived in small towns or in big cities, and each offered a sense of community which – with all their complications – offered a feeling of place and continuity. You shopped, went to the movies, attended school, and worked in a relatively modest orbit of your neighborhood. Although it was rarely Utopia, it was comfortable and it was a place “where everybody knows your name.”

Most of what you needed was either within walking distance or reachable by hopping a streetcar. There was no need for three autos in the driveway. Neighbors might be nosy, but they looked out for you and there was a connection, which went beyond a vague wave as you drove down the street on your way to the onramp.

I’m not saying that the “olden days” were some sort of paradise, or that there are no joys in suburban living. But I’m asking people to consider the possible virtues of the changes we see all around us.

Maybe it might not be so bad to trade in your expensive car for a bike, provided there are safe cycling routes. Maybe that apartment building going up could mean that your son or daughter won’t have to move to East Overshoe to find a place to live. Perhaps when you get to know folks around you, you will discover they’re just as interesting as your virtual pals and a lot more real. Maybe you’ll enjoy a more walkable world with new friends who are “always glad you came.”

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears each Wednesday. Fingers crossed.




Leave a Reply