It all started in the late Spring of 2005. Our close friend Dillon, between interviews for teaching positions at local colleges, needed to let off some steam. What better, we thought, than to tip back a few brews and throw some skewered meat over hot coals? And to chat out the nuances of the grueling interview process over a few healthy rounds of competitive lawn bowling.
This was a Tuesday.
Wednesday came, and with it, Dillon’s next interview. The results: he got his first tenure-track gig — yes, a working philosopher. What better way to celebrate, we thought, than to tip back a few brews and throw some basted chicken legs over hot coals? And to chat about the nuances of retaining students’ waning attention over a few healthy rounds of dog wrestling (let’s just say that Luke The Dog unnaturally craves Dillon’s attention.)
This was also a Tuesday.
But this time around, since the food had been so good that previous Tuesday, we invited a few more friends. By the end of the night, bathed in the goodness of stout and mesquite smoke, we all agreed that this should happen every Tuesday.
We let yet a few more of our friends know: every Tuesday — tip back a few brews, bring something to throw across the hot coals, and chat about the nuances of…
So it came to pass that BBQ Tuesday was born. Every Tuesday, All Summer. That’s how we advertised it. Everyone we ran into got the invitation and everyone who came was free to bring more and more people along. Our rotating guest list grew: from fashion designers to building contractors, from philosophers to historians, from city planners to programmers, anyone and everyone got involved.
We live in a modest house in a modest neighborhood in an historically working-class city, grown from a booming 20th C. citrus trade. Our 1912 Craftsman Bungalow sits on a narrow, quarter-acre lot, slightly wider than the house. Every week, on our four-foot-wide solid-oak door, we would put up a sign inviting everyone to follow their noses to join us in the back yard. The signs set the mood with whimsical word jokes such as “Birth-B-Q Tuesday” on birthdays and “Baby-Q-Saturday” — a special event to celebrate the birth of fellow barbecuers’ triplets. (Disclaimer: we have never actually grilled a baby.)
Centrally located, and with very tolerant neighbors, the regular BBQ attracted a solid crew of about a dozen people and a rotating list of semi-regulars. In all, every week 25 or so folks would wander into our official barbecue area to partake in the merriment.
By the end of the season, the grind of such a large weekly event started to wear on us. But soon, we were truly missing it, and so was everyone else. We got to talking about what might have made such an eclectic group gather mid-week for no particular occasion. We came up with a few things:
First off, it gives you something to look forward to half the week and something to remember the other half. (Wednesday doesn’t count because you’re guaranteed to still be cloudy from Tuesday night. And I take Fridays off, which I heartily recommend, so Tuesday night is actually the middle of my week.)
Interestingly, the whole thing is out of our hands now. We stopped going out of our way to invite people, yet new faces showed up all the time. We figured that was a good sign because it implied that the interest in the event went far beyond us (we’re not anywhere near interesting enough to sustain this kind of pace): the event had its own momentum besides what we put into it.
Why the momentum? The geometry of our back yard helps. Though smack-dab in the middle of a city of a quarter million, the yard is rather isolated — by an alleyway, 100-year-old trees and bushes, and the house. It’s a little world unto itself. The official BBQ area is no more than a few hundred square feet, sectioned off by a low picket fence, tucked amid our various citrus trees, and adjacent to our workshop. Our rolling storage cabinet used to be our fence, which we took down and recycled at my wife’s dad’s suggestion. I built our legendary, green-stained picnic table as a bit of a rite of passage: it had to live up to my late father-in-law’s expectations in a son-in-law. It seats 10 comfortably, 12 in a pinch, and is solid enough to park your truck on. You might say it’s part of the reason that I’m married at all.
An umbrella sticks through the table and is strung with Christmas lights. It’s enough to let everyone see their food, but not too much to stop you from noticing the sunset. There’s a power strip into which you plug a rice cooker or crockpot — essential ingredients at a BBQ from our perspective — one must have a rice cooker and crockpot, right? The rolling storage bin has a light so you can always find extra forks and plates and cups, and we keep a few floodlights shining into the trees in the late evening to set the mood.
In sum, another crucial point is that we have a pretty good atmosphere.
Given the atmosphere, our BBQs are sort of suspended in time. Politics and problems, though not explicitly off limits, don’t tend to crop up. Most topics are jokes or stories or news about families and jobs. In all, the tone is always light-hearted but heart-felt.
This has a lot to do with the people. The incredibly wide range of folks is somewhat astounding. Marcus, a building contractor who used to own a body shop, and I were musing recently about our surprise that Darren, who runs a furniture warehouse, talked with Scott, a programmer and poker player, for three hours about China and whatever else came to mind.
Sharon, the Queen of all things Margarita who works in IT at a bank (where I also work), dives head first into kid talk with Erin and Aaron, an architect and a lawyer, who are expecting their first in a few months. Sharon’s husband Rick, an ex-Marine who runs a body shop, and I discuss the finer points of grilling tenderloin pork and spicing up the meanest chili we can muster.
Rich, philosopher and musician and no longer vegetarian, talks with Bryan, a CPA and philosopher, and with Gene, an Australian and crew coach at USC, about recent basketball shooters and scores. Ginger, a botanist who teaches at a local college, swaps teaching stories with Jill, a fifth grade teacher and now mother of triplets. Karen, a philosopher and musician, Sean, an English professor and now father of triplets, and Victoria, philosopher, swim coach, and programmer, swap stories about — well look at their backgrounds: what the hell aren’t they talking about?
Julie, Marcus’ wife and fashion designer, holds Walnut, the kitten that we rescued from the lumberyard. Tanya, my wife and an architectural historian, talks City Hall gossip with Janet, historic preservationist, and Steve, a neighbor who works in County Government. Jay the neighbor, ex-Air Force, talks to everyone, including Tom the neighbor, an entomologist with a regular Sunday BBQ and a tarantula collection in his beer refrigerator. Tom’s wife, Enza, a realtor, knows everyone — that’s her job.
Catherine, an environmental toxicologist, comes after her regular ultimate Frisbee game and blends right into the crowd with extra beer. Ben, Karen’s husband and film and television editor, talks movies and football with John, who manages road construction projects for an asphalt company. Larry, my philosophy advisor and former racecar driver, and his wife Gerry, who has tricked me into liking both sour cream and mushrooms, talk to Marcus about all things automotive. Eileen, accountant and Scott’s girlfriend, watches in fear as Amy, a philosopher whose boyfriend is Gene, belts out Bon Jovi songs to the live guitar and drum tracks that Rich and I are laying down….
These are some of the regulars, and I certainly even missed a few (sorry about that). The list goes on, and will inevitably grow this year.
One of the greatest things that has come out of the regular BBQs is that all of these folks now know each other fairly well. And they help each other — we have all come to legitimately care about one another. All because of meat and charcoal?
Well, not entirely meat and charcoal. We’re all pretty social creatures with few hang-ups about ourselves and our lives, so we’re in good position to get along swimmingly.
Given how well it has turned out for us, we want to share the idea. Hence this history of the event as it enters its second season. As we see it, we inadvertently brought together a whole lot of people who would never have met one another otherwise. We genuinely enjoy one another’s’ company. You might say our goal is to release the idea open source. It’s not exactly revolutionary to suggest having a BBQ. But to have a weekly, open invitation is worth considering if it is community that you seek to build.
If you’re interested in some of the banter we create, you can check out our new discussion forum — designed partly to help coordinate who brings what, and partly to let us all talk to each other off-season. If you have your own stories about similar events, or if you’re inspired and decide to start up your own, we’d love to hear from you.
Peace and charred meat ~|}-<
(That’s our BBQ emoticon)