Water gun fights, balloon tosses, jump houses, face painting and decorated bike parades, together with lots of barbecue and desserts are just one part of a block party. Besides the fun of playing, cooking and eating together, block parties open doors and households so neighbors can welcome each other with more than nods and waves.
In addition to old-fashioned fun, block parties provide an opportunity to meet new or shy neighbors and open up lines of communication that encourage neighbors to look after each other and their children and to be alert to potential neighborhood problems, such as strangers cruising the street.
Most block parties happen during the summer or early fall, but often as neighbors get chummier, the gatherings lead to house parties during the holidays or progressive dinners to keep up the friendships.
Block parties abound in San Jose. A good many of them convene on National Night Out, the first Tuesday in August, or during summer holidays such as the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day. Other blocks wait until the kids are back in school, when the temperatures are a little cooler and life is more settled.
These events start in a variety of ways and often evolve over the years.......
Menker Avenue in San Jose’s Buena Vista area holds its block party on the Fourth of July. Some 40 to 50 people come, mostly neighbors, although some that have moved come back to see old friends and catch up, says Ruth White, who plans and runs the party.
Her first order of business is to get a permit from the city to close the street. That permit prohibits the consumption of alcohol on the street or sidewalks, she says, and indicates that if the event lasts until it is dark that lights be put on the sawhorses blocking the street.
She begins to plan for the event around Memorial Day. Typically, she passes out fliers for the event one to two weeks before the party. The fliers list events, ask for game ideas and delineate parking and phone numbers for information.
The White family provides hot dogs and drinks. Neighbors bring all kinds of side dishes and appetizers to serve eight and often add soft drinks and water. White says there always are tons of desserts.
“We always invite the firefighters from Station 4 for lunch, and they usually come,” White says.
Once the firefighters have gone, everyone lines up for the annual water balloon toss. It takes about three hours to fill the 300 balloons and most are gone inside of 10 minutes, White says. This toss is structured with some partners working together for the entire eight years of the party.
It starts with the partners lined up across from each other in the middle of the street separated by only a small amount of space. Everyone takes a large step backward and tosses the balloon. Toward the end of the game, with only a few players left, the partners end up on opposite sides of the street. Once a winner is declared, everyone picks up the remaining balloons and throws them at each other, creating a mess but also a lot of fun.
Around 3 or 4 p.m., while the adults relax and chat, the kids get out their bikes, skateboards and inline skates or bathing suits to run through sprinklers. The face paint is wearing off, and everyone is tired. The block party usually ends early, White says. “It’s a long day.”