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Slices of Life: Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Mr. Rogers made the most of his neighborhood. I try to do the same — by walking the different streets in the name of “exercise.” As a bonus, along the way I make interesting and not-so-interesting observations. You can learn a lot by walking the neighborhood, which is completely different from casing the neighborhood. Which I do not condone or recommend. In any circumstance. 

While walking the streets you can practice your botany skills, learning which trees bud out first in the spring and which flowers bloom when. You note which neighbors grow their own vegetables and who cultivates rose bushes and perennial beds. You also discover who prefers low-maintenance shrubs instead of finicky roses and who takes the hands-off approach one step further by sticking artificial geraniums in their window boxes.

You learn who is planning for an addition — lumber in the driveway. You also learn who is planning for a smaller  addition — infant stroller box next to a garbage can.

Yards with swing sets and driveways with little bikes make for houses with children. Same goes for sidewalk chalk art.

Some people have fire pits surrounded by circles of lawn chairs and tiki torches. I think those people might make good friends. Ditto that for decks and front porches with porch swings.

Other people have bird feeders. Feeding the birds is a nice thing to do. People who feed birds have friendship potential written all over them. They probably hobnob with the neighbors with fire pits and porches.

Speaking of birds, remnants of a tiny blue eggshell lying on the sidewalk reveals baby robins have recently hatched in a tree nearby. 

A home’s size does not dictate the expanse of the corresponding garage. Tiny homes often have colossal garages. A person’s garage is their castle. Makes me wish I had a bigger garage. #garageenvy.

One of the most critical and important aspects to pay keen attention to during neighborhood walks is dogs. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they do not always give the same love to walkers — male, female or of the zombie variety. You can usually tell friendly dogs from the non-friendly sort by examining their tails. An upwardly wagging tail is a happy tail and a dog’s tail does not lie. Still it’s safer to give dogs a large berth and cross to the other side of the street when confronted with one of unknown temperament.

Sometimes you come upon a cat, but you can’t be sure which house the cat owns because cats prefer to be mysterious that way. Once a kitten followed me for about three blocks. I got to a busy intersection and was afraid to cross for fear the kitten would get hit by a car. Luckily, the little feline decided to head to her own home instead of following me to mine. 

During an early morning stroll, you learn who recently cleaned out a closet or garage because they have a bunch of stuff sitting on the curb next to a piece of cardboard with “free” written on it in large capital letters. A yard sale indicates a neighbor has cleaned out their entire basement and not just a closet. A moving sale lets you know you will soon get new neighbors.

And new neighbors can be exciting. You’ll never know if they’ll feed the birds or install a new fire pit or invite you over to sit on their deck. The possibilities are endless. 

I’m pretty sure Mr. Rogers would agree. 

— Jill Pertler’s column appears Thursdays in the Times. She can be reached at