The sun is out and you can find the Ryan family spending their days in a perpetual garage party – we’ve leaned in and we are pretty happy about it.
We came to western North Dakota like many people. It was the middle of the oil boom and there was a housing shortage. We felt lucky to get an apartment and tried our hardest not to complain about the close quarters.
People who have lived in this area for generations tend to have farms and ranches and plenty of space for their children to run in all sorts of weather.
The apartment/RV/cabin dwellers, on the other hand, were faced with a problem – what to do with their crazy cooped up children.
Through the first winter we made due. My two-year-old rode his bike up and down the apartment hallway, probably waking up every person on the floor who worked a swing shift. We watched lots of movies and made so many different kinds of tracks – Lego tracks, train tracks, hot wheel tracks, you get the idea.
When the sun FINALLY came out that first year, all we wanted to do was be outside. We needed the sun on our skin and warm concrete on our feet.
An aversion to being inside was not unique to my family though. I quickly realized that my fellow North Dakotan apartment dwellers had a solution – the garage party.
Lined up in rows, the doors to the garages were thrown open in celebration. Camp chairs, BBQ grills and smiling people soaking in the sun. Neighbors I had never met before offered me a drink and our kids rode their bikes back and forth up the alley.
Fast forward to today, our fourth summer among oil boom comrades, and we are garage party pros. Now we live in a townhome development, each little block houses either families like mine or work crews.
Our garage has a plastic roller coaster, a myriad of bikes and scooters, a disc golf basket, bubbles and a bean bag toss. Everyday, I sit out on my chair and my happy boys grab their bikes and ride back and forth on our little block over and over again. The neighbors have electric ride on toys. We share our popsicles and they share their water balloons.
In our previous life, I used to throw my toddler around in a backpack and visit the zoo or aquarium. Now, in a charming little town without a zoo or an aquarium or an indoor play place, my kiddos and I draw pictures on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. Someday we hope to have a house and a yard, but for now, we are happy to smell what is cooking on the grills on our blocks and roll our eyes at the competing music coming from different garages.
The garage party scene is kind of like a summer long tail gate party.
Over the winter, every unit on our block had new move-ins. Such is the transient life in Watford City rentals. Now that the sun is out and the garage parties are in full swing, we are finally meeting the owners of the trucks we see coming and going everyday. It appears that we have folks from all walks of life joining in the garage parties this summer.
Our kids don’t seem to notice anything beyond who can play and who is passing out the best snacks. It is beautiful to hear their squeals of laughter and imaginary games.
I would never have imagined that sitting in a hot garage would bring me so much joy. I never would have pegged myself as a person who considers waving at my neighbors from our respective driveways as we hang out all evening as my idea of a great time.
Then again, North Dakota has changed me in all kinds of ways. I will take every moment of sunshine. I will take videos of my little boys riding their scooters and block out memories of frozen pipes and sub zero winds. I will get sunburned and stay up for late sunsets and every time you see me, there will be a smile on my face.
When the weather turns cold again, we will tuck our chairs back in the corners of our garages and take the propane tanks out of our BBQs and hook them back up to our heaters. That is alright though, I will probably be tired of grilled hotdogs and loud music by then. We will all retreat and hibernate until garage party season comes back around again.