I walk up the long gravel driveway to knock on the front door of 923 Oak Lane. Under the watchful eyes of two curious female neighbors, I figure there’s no turning back now.
My letters, postcards and email to this address have gone unanswered. I have no appointment. But I am driving through this town, one of five in Florida with a 923 Oak, on my way to the gulf coast. I am RIGHT HERE.
It’s the inevitable next step — just showing up unannounced and knocking on the doors of 923 Oaks. This is supremely uncomfortable to me; way scarier than selling random trinkets and food to my Terrace Avenue neighbors to help fund my extra-curricular activities throughout grade school.
The closest I’ve come to knocking on someone’s door on this road trip was a week ago in Indiana. A 923 Oak was just 15 minutes from where I was spending the night at my high school friend Marchele’s house. It was a rundown white-sided duplex, and I was too chicken to knock on the door. I wrote a little note and slipped my homemade 923 Oak business card inside. I carefully propped it in the rubber-banded, jury-rigged black mailbox mounted to the side of the house, hoping the mailman would overlook my non-stamped envelope.
(PS a week has gone by and no response. Bygones.)
So here I am on the gravel driveway on a gorgeous warm day in northeastern Florida. I’m coaching myself with every step to the front door: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “What’s the worst that can happen?”
There are three cars in front of the house and the garage door is wide open. I think I hear voices (from the garage, aside from the ones in my head), and as I get closer, I spot two women sitting at a table inside the darkened garage. I divert my path from the front door and as I near the garage, a third woman comes out of the shadows and stands in front of me.
“Can I help you?” She is petite, probably late 50s, with short hair, sprinkled with gray.
“Hi.” I take a deep breath. “I’m Kristin with The 923 Oak Project.”
“I got your postcard,” she says, and introduces herself before I can apologize for my unannounced visit. She used her last name with a “Mrs.” in front of it, and as I’m not including last names of 923 Oak residents in this project, I can’t share it with you.
“I have mixed feelings about being here,” I jump in quickly. “I’m a little uncomfortable just stopping by because I think that’s kind of intrusive, but I was in Jacksonville last night, and I’m headed to Tampa, and you are right on the way, so I thought ….”
“I’m not real computer savvy,” she offers with a mild smile, which I take as an explanation for why she hasn’t responded to me. “I gave my husband your letter and he said, ‘We’re not calling her back.'” She chuckles and moves her cigarette behind her to shield me from the smoke.
“Well maybe I could send you a few stories of some of the people I’ve met so far, so you can get a better idea of what the project is about,” I propose, telling her about a few of the people I’ve met so far. She thinks it’s funny that the 923 Oak in Georgia is a junkyard. “Maybe sometime down the road, I can come back and we can chat.”
“Yes, it would be better when my husband is here. We can tell you a few stories.” I find out that she is a teacher at a Christian school and her husband is a truck driver. She’s lived in Florida since she was three, when her family moved from Nashville.
I thank her and head back to my car, cheered by the fact that one of the many unresponsive 923 Oaks seems willing to talk with me. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s not immediate — it would be awesome if we could chat right now — but I’ve got places to be and people to see.
More than anything, IT’S A SIGN. I’m not so optimistic that I think this scenario will play out each time I knock on a 923 Oak door.
But I’m hopeful.
And happy that stepping onto the gravel driveway and out of my comfort zone yielded something good.
As it always does.