May Flowers

Foliage and friendships bloom in the garden of Hampton Roads.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve probably noticed that I have a lot of opinions. Many of them are about what needs to change in Hampton Roads—after all, there are a lot of challenges that face our region.
But it’s important for me to remember why I care so much about change in the first place. It’s because I love Hampton Roads. When I lived in California during my university and post-university years, I loved it there, too—the people were nice, the environment was great and there was a lot to do. I would have stayed there. I would have lived there for the rest of my life if I wasn’t from here, because each day I lived there, I was a little homesick. Each day, I talked incessantly about how cool it was back home. My nickname soon became Michael Virginia, and there are people, who, to this day, think that’s my real name.
I could fill this entire magazine with articles containing musings about the things I like about Hampton Roads. And I would ... except my editor wouldn’t like the entire magazine consisting only of my love letters. So, I’ll narrow it down in this issue’s Upfront by thinking about this time of the year.

The dawn of summer.

May and June are some of the nicest months here. The azaleas bloom, and the mayapples fill our backyards with mysterious fruit. Dogwoods lean their white crosses into the sunlight, and the ocean and the bay soak up that same sun and beckon to those on the shore to enter their cool depths. The dawn of summer arrives before the rush of tourists visit us, before the heat lingers, before summer days and nights contain extensive plans and before mosquitoes drive us indoors.

When I was a kid growing up in Virginia Beach, we could sense the impending freedom of summer and practiced for it—weekends spent on bikes roaming the streets, cul-de-sacs and vacant lots of our neighborhood until dusk. We’d leave the house in the early afternoon on a Saturday and build trails to ride on. We’d catch crabs on the Lynnhaven River. We’d play in each others’ back yards. At night, we’d wait for the fireflies to light the woods and then dig holes to cook hot dogs over small fires. We felt like the entire neighborhood was raising us, like we were safe and free to explore.

That feeling has never ended. I also contribute the Unzipped story that regularly appears in the Roads Report section of these pages. In each, I ask someone to talk about what they like about where they live. Invariably, every person lists their relationship to their neighbors as one of their favorite things about living here—that they know they can rely on them for help in times of trouble and for camaraderie in times of joy.
At the dawn of summer, the thawing from winter is complete and neighborhoods across Hampton Roads awaken. Most of our region maintains the importance of the porch, deck or yard—or even the common space—as a place to enjoy the company of neighbors. Where I live, in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, my neighbors are constantly visiting, especially in the evenings. We hang out on the porch over a beer and enjoy each others’ company, we try to start impromptu poker games, and we grill out together and celebrate the sunsets arriving later and later in the evening.

The sense of community that exists in Hampton Roads is one of the reasons I needed to move back here. I love being a part of it.

Perhaps because we are a melting pot—a Southern town with a Northern influence, a water town, a military town, a farming community, a tourist mecca—there’s an attitude of caring that exists here. I’ve been a lot of places, and we are fairly unique in the amount of enthusiasm we have for each other. I’m proud to have people from a variety of backgrounds around me, and am I happy to live in a place where we are proud to know our neighbors.

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