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Front-yard chalkboard charms OB passersby

Questions asked, stories told, neighborhood celebrated

Some stories have a surprise happy ending: some time after I wrote this story, the board returned, much to the community’s delight.
Some stories have a surprise happy ending: some time after I wrote this story, the board returned, much to the community’s delight.

There’s a house on my block with the most delightfully weird front yard. The house itself is a nondescript gray box of a place, but the small space between it and the sidewalk is almost literally bursting with character, color, and quirk. Dispersed between an array of bulging, brightly painted planter boxes, themselves crowded with a rotation of towering sunflowers and colorful succulents, there are pockets of mulch, each holding up a random collection of artfully placed objects and figurines: a limber Barbie in her birthday suit, a cheerful Buddha, a tiny army of toy soldiers poised for action. It’s fun to walk by and observe the expression of flora and art. It’s a cool spot, one of the places that makes me glad I live here in Ocean Beach.

For a long time, the front corner of this whimsical garden boasted a small chalkboard, mounted on an angle and facing out toward the sidewalk. Often, the board would pose a question to passersby, and the surrounding blank space would gradually get filled in with lively responses. A few memorable open-ended prompts were: If you had a superpower, what would it be? What’s for dinner tonight? What’s your favorite sound? Who do you miss? Sometimes, the board asked its audience to each contribute a single word to a story. The plots tended to be hit or miss — if too many cooks spoil a broth, too many authors positively mangle a narrative — but the end result was usually entertaining enough to justify its brief existence. The content of the board was usually family-friendly, mostly on topic, frequently silly, sometimes profound, and almost always voluminous. There would often come a time when the board was too full to take on any further additions, and it would become a momentary museum piece: static, on display. Eventually, it would be wiped clean — a moment that was sometimes hurried along by the appearance of an explicit comment or drawing.

Q: What are your Sunday Vibes? A's: Chanting. Spikeball! Sunshine! Celebrating Jaime’s B-Day! Being ecstatic. Gonna clean @home.

The chalkboard and its house sat on a block busy with pedestrians, and the diversity of characters passing by the chalkboard on any given day reflected a neighborhood even more colorful than the rainbow of dusty nubs that beckoned their scribbles. Every day, locals strolled past, walking their dogs or toting their surfboards — sometimes, several times a day. There were visitors, too, lots of visitors, here on short-term stays in the street’s cottages and condos, on their way to shop or dine on our main drag. Or perhaps daytrippers, swinging through on a Wednesday to experience the wildly eclectic scene at our farmer’s market.

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The chalkboard held prime real estate, monetarily and otherwise. Rents this close to the ocean are, of course, staggeringly high, but beyond that, there is great value in the culture here, or perhaps subculture. The chalkboard and the crazy garden that surrounded it represented that subculture, reflected it, and revealed its character. People here see the journey as the destination. They value the stopping and smelling of roses. They answer questions posed by a front-yard chalkboard. They bestow anonymous awards on local cacti — one of them in this very yard.

I have watched that parade of passersby. I have seen professional types on cell phones pause their perambulatory meetings to contribute a thought. I have seen postal workers delay their delivery of other peoples’ messages to deliver one of their own. I have seen students from the school up the street, sent out for community integration — read: picking up trash under the watchful eye of a supervisor — eyeing the board, perhaps thinking of what they themselves would write.

The parade includes many wanderers, not all of whom are lost. Acrobats, skipping down toward the beachfront park to perform their aerial adventures. Sly shoppers on their way to browse the wares placed on haphazard display by unsanctioned vendors. Kids on the verge, stepping out to try on an identity that might raise an eyebrow at home: pierced, adorned, drawing the eye. Kids who are finally tasting freedom, with all its attendant risks and rewards, unsure what the future holds in store and what it may cost. Some read the board. Some write on it,. Almost all notice it.

Then there are those who are lost — or at least, who seem to have stepped off their intended path. A mother and daughter duo that walks endlessly in shuffling steps around the neighborhood, pulling belongings in a cart, sometimes accompanied by a dog. They rarely engage with each other or with the outside world, yet they seem to be watching and waiting. There is a former neighbor, now unhoused, who vacillates between friendly greetings and vivid vitriol. Their input on the board could be interesting, or worrisome, or heartbreaking.

One time, the easel holding the chalkboard came apart in the rain. When it was erected again, the question posted was: How do you feel about the chalkboard being back? The board quickly filled with smiley faces and words of appreciation. It was a landslide in favor of the chalkboard’s existence. And yet it did not last. I’m not sure when the chalkboard went away for good, but I miss it. I should have taken more photos, documented the phenomenon of this simple, sweet instance of collective community art. It was an antidote to the complexities of the increasingly complicated world outside of our neighborhood, a simple, friendly interaction with the strangers who share our space.

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Some stories have a surprise happy ending: some time after I wrote this story, the board returned, much to the community’s delight.
Some stories have a surprise happy ending: some time after I wrote this story, the board returned, much to the community’s delight.

There’s a house on my block with the most delightfully weird front yard. The house itself is a nondescript gray box of a place, but the small space between it and the sidewalk is almost literally bursting with character, color, and quirk. Dispersed between an array of bulging, brightly painted planter boxes, themselves crowded with a rotation of towering sunflowers and colorful succulents, there are pockets of mulch, each holding up a random collection of artfully placed objects and figurines: a limber Barbie in her birthday suit, a cheerful Buddha, a tiny army of toy soldiers poised for action. It’s fun to walk by and observe the expression of flora and art. It’s a cool spot, one of the places that makes me glad I live here in Ocean Beach.

For a long time, the front corner of this whimsical garden boasted a small chalkboard, mounted on an angle and facing out toward the sidewalk. Often, the board would pose a question to passersby, and the surrounding blank space would gradually get filled in with lively responses. A few memorable open-ended prompts were: If you had a superpower, what would it be? What’s for dinner tonight? What’s your favorite sound? Who do you miss? Sometimes, the board asked its audience to each contribute a single word to a story. The plots tended to be hit or miss — if too many cooks spoil a broth, too many authors positively mangle a narrative — but the end result was usually entertaining enough to justify its brief existence. The content of the board was usually family-friendly, mostly on topic, frequently silly, sometimes profound, and almost always voluminous. There would often come a time when the board was too full to take on any further additions, and it would become a momentary museum piece: static, on display. Eventually, it would be wiped clean — a moment that was sometimes hurried along by the appearance of an explicit comment or drawing.

Q: What are your Sunday Vibes? A's: Chanting. Spikeball! Sunshine! Celebrating Jaime’s B-Day! Being ecstatic. Gonna clean @home.

The chalkboard and its house sat on a block busy with pedestrians, and the diversity of characters passing by the chalkboard on any given day reflected a neighborhood even more colorful than the rainbow of dusty nubs that beckoned their scribbles. Every day, locals strolled past, walking their dogs or toting their surfboards — sometimes, several times a day. There were visitors, too, lots of visitors, here on short-term stays in the street’s cottages and condos, on their way to shop or dine on our main drag. Or perhaps daytrippers, swinging through on a Wednesday to experience the wildly eclectic scene at our farmer’s market.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The chalkboard held prime real estate, monetarily and otherwise. Rents this close to the ocean are, of course, staggeringly high, but beyond that, there is great value in the culture here, or perhaps subculture. The chalkboard and the crazy garden that surrounded it represented that subculture, reflected it, and revealed its character. People here see the journey as the destination. They value the stopping and smelling of roses. They answer questions posed by a front-yard chalkboard. They bestow anonymous awards on local cacti — one of them in this very yard.

I have watched that parade of passersby. I have seen professional types on cell phones pause their perambulatory meetings to contribute a thought. I have seen postal workers delay their delivery of other peoples’ messages to deliver one of their own. I have seen students from the school up the street, sent out for community integration — read: picking up trash under the watchful eye of a supervisor — eyeing the board, perhaps thinking of what they themselves would write.

The parade includes many wanderers, not all of whom are lost. Acrobats, skipping down toward the beachfront park to perform their aerial adventures. Sly shoppers on their way to browse the wares placed on haphazard display by unsanctioned vendors. Kids on the verge, stepping out to try on an identity that might raise an eyebrow at home: pierced, adorned, drawing the eye. Kids who are finally tasting freedom, with all its attendant risks and rewards, unsure what the future holds in store and what it may cost. Some read the board. Some write on it,. Almost all notice it.

Then there are those who are lost — or at least, who seem to have stepped off their intended path. A mother and daughter duo that walks endlessly in shuffling steps around the neighborhood, pulling belongings in a cart, sometimes accompanied by a dog. They rarely engage with each other or with the outside world, yet they seem to be watching and waiting. There is a former neighbor, now unhoused, who vacillates between friendly greetings and vivid vitriol. Their input on the board could be interesting, or worrisome, or heartbreaking.

One time, the easel holding the chalkboard came apart in the rain. When it was erected again, the question posted was: How do you feel about the chalkboard being back? The board quickly filled with smiley faces and words of appreciation. It was a landslide in favor of the chalkboard’s existence. And yet it did not last. I’m not sure when the chalkboard went away for good, but I miss it. I should have taken more photos, documented the phenomenon of this simple, sweet instance of collective community art. It was an antidote to the complexities of the increasingly complicated world outside of our neighborhood, a simple, friendly interaction with the strangers who share our space.

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