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Know thy neighbor

Residents on Weatherstone Drive have been taking turns meeting in each others' driveways for happy hours for four years, or maybe five. One thing's for sure, no one leaves a stranger.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2002


PEBBLE CREEK -- At its essence, what exists on Weatherstone Drive the first Friday evening of every month is community. Not community as it is determined by a cartographer's pencil or a developer's brochure, but community as it is determined by a welcome-to-the-neighborhood pie and a first name.

Officially, the event is called "Pebble Creek Happy Hour," and it begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. Unofficially, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives, and dogs, gather on a slab of concrete to eat, drink, play, tease, share, laugh and shed fur. No one is punctual.

"We're not the most expensive block around, but we all talk and our kids all play with each other," said Mike Meggison, 50, known around Pebble Creek as "The Godfather" or simply, "King," for how long he's been involved in neighborhood affairs.

"The people here, they've all made a difference building a feeling of togetherness."

A Neighborhood Emerges

Using pink and yellow chalk, 5-year-old Preston Pollard drew a treasure map on the driveway. Todd Pollard brought out cold Miller Lite for the arriving guests. Todd Pollard is a Dad in the truest sense, a man who lifts his son above his head and changes his own oil on the weekends.

Unsatisfied with lost treasure, Preston turned his attention to Spider-Man and Hobgoblin Action figures Again, they were not enough.

Dialogue 1: The Child Rules -- 7:35 p.m.

Preston: I'm going to look for Venom. (Venom is one of Spider-Man's toughest foes) He is a reptile.

Todd: How do you know he's a reptile?

Preston: He doesn't have hair.

Todd: I don't have no hair, does that make me a reptile?

Preston (with certainity): Yeah.

Weatherstone Drive is a semicircle that hits Regents Park Drive on both ends. The 29 homes on it are large enough to be comfortable but small enough to be modest. They are mostly pale colors -- greens, blues, grays, whites -- and the grass is well cared for (formally, it is a deed restricted community). The owners drive Honda Civics and CRVs, Nissan Maximas and pickup trucks.

Pebble Creek Happy Hour rotates driveways every month. Ten to 35 people show up. Some bring food, more bring drinks. The hosts put up a sign on Friday morning at the end of the block reminding everyone: Happy Hour, Tonight!

There are a core group of regulars like Preston, Todd, and his wife, Frances. Todd's parents, Luke and Margit Pollard, who live across the street, are also regulars.

Last Friday, Luke and Margit arrived first with a crock pot of noodles, sausage and sauerkraut.

Twenty five miles away in Plant City, Frances finished her shift as an MRI technician at South Florida Baptist Hospital. Todd and Luke sat in a garage filled with bicycles, tool boxes, a red wagon, and plastic hockey nets, and kicked themselves over missed opportunities.

Dialogue 2: The CarMax That Got Away -- 8:18 p.m.

Todd: Talk about kicking yourself, I should've bought CarMaxstock. (symbol: KMX)

Luke: Would you believe it was the top growth stock last year?

Todd: Eighteen months ago it was $1.38 a share. I should've bought 10,000 shares. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Luke: It went to $12 and we said, 'Golly, we blew it,' and then we checked the next month and it was at $21. Now it's $31. (CarMax stock closed at $31.92 a share on Friday, May 3).

Todd: It think that's it, though. Call me in a year when it's at $50 and I'll have a total stroke. Weatherstone Drive residents have been gathering on each other's driveways since 1999. Or 1998. No one remembers the exact date. Debbie Roach had the idea to turn a block party into a monthly event. "It's always in the driveway so no one's house gets messed up," said Roach. Anyone is welcome.

Happy Hours have gone down in history. The Great Water Fight of 2000 is an epic chapter. Super soakers became buckets became hoses became wet clothing clinging to skin. Todd started it. Or did he? That depends on who writes the history.

"People are more surprised than anything when I tell them about what we do," said Hanneke Olson, 27. "They don't do these kinds of things anymore. People don't even know their neighbors.

The scientific name for happy hour is social capital. You might think of it as Tom Wolfe, novelist and social critic, does: a favor bank. More than warm and fuzzy feelings, it is a term that emphasizes trust, reciprocity and cooperation. Yogi Berra, the baseball hall of famer, makes the point even clearer: If you don't go to someone's funeral, they won't come to yours.

Social capital started filling the driveway around 8:30 on May 3, bearing red grapes and more beer.

There was "pizza in a pot," a blend of pepperoni, sausage, pasta and shredded mozzarella cheese. Hanneke's husband Kevin brought his famous chili, which has sweated a few brows and watered afew eyes in its day. The secret is the habaneros. One tropical pepper heats up several gallons of chili. Kevin throws in two for a gallon-and-a-quarter.

Hanneke and Kevin have been married for three years. He is a commercial contractor, she is a third-grade teacher in Brandon. "I build the schools and she works in them," Kevin quipped in an authentic Boston accent.

Everyone sat on white plastic chairs arranged in a circle. The air smelled of citronella from the burning tiki torches.

Dialogue 3: Selective Memory -- 9:21 p.m.

Hanneke: I always say to Kevin, 'Are you sure?' 'Cause he tells these stories, long stories, about something that happened such and such a way. Then at the end someone will remind him, no Kevin, that's not quite how it happened. And he'll say, 'Oh, ok.'

Margit (eyes on Kevin): So he's making up lies?

Kevin: They're not exactly lies?

Hanneke: Are you sure?

New Tampa is a land where the "second annual" anything qualifies as deep roots. It is two, maybe three, generations away from becoming established. On an evolutionary scale, Happy Hour began in the Ice Age and May 3 was the Stone Age. Chuck and Kim Phillips, the last to appear, came upon a scene of composed leisure. Mike Meggison smoked a vanilla cigar from Hawaii. Alan Rezai-Zadeh dispensed stock advice. He is, after all, the only Weatherstone Drive homeowner who bought CarMax stock at $1.38 a share. Rezai-Zadeh is a senior sales consultant at CarMax.

In hockey, Mack Meggison came from behind to beat his older brother, Kyle, 4-3.

Darby, the aging black Labrador, and Peaches, the fat, white bulldog without a tail, took treats from whoever would give them. Darby and Peaches are authorized mascots of the Happy Hour.

Dialogue 4: Kevin's Revenge -- 10:39 p.m.

Kevin (playfully taunting): Peaches, who's the best dog in the world? Darby! Ha!

Hanneke: Kevin thinks Peaches is a brat.

Kevin: When she's in the house there's only room for one princess.

Hanneke: What about me?

Kevin: There's only room for one princess. (laughs all around)

Happy Hour lasts as long as someone wants. This one went well past midnight.

The end was a meeting of the generations. Todd finished his third helping of chili with Elizabeth and Natalie Rezai, sisters and recent graduates of the University of South Florida.

They joked about Elizabeth's eight hours worked, 20 hours paid job.

"I always fill out exactly what I've worked," pleaded Elizabeth. "I'm honest."

On the radio, Alanis Morissette sang about a secret love affair with her producer. Darby rested in the garage, jaw square to the floor.

"All except for the mosquitoes, this has turned out to be a pretty good night," Todd said.

-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com.

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