During Pandemic, ‘Driveway Happy Hour’ Lets Neighbors Get Together — While Apart

Neighbors in Mt. Prospect began doing “Driveway Happy Hours” in order to keep socializing during the coronavirus pandemic — at a safe social distance.
Neighbors in Mt. Prospect began doing "Driveway Happy Hours" in order to keep socializing during the coronavirus pandemic — at a safe social distance. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ
Neighbors in Mt. Prospect began doing “Driveway Happy Hours” in order to keep socializing during the coronavirus pandemic — at a safe social distance.
Neighbors in Mt. Prospect began doing "Driveway Happy Hours" in order to keep socializing during the coronavirus pandemic — at a safe social distance. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

During Pandemic, ‘Driveway Happy Hour’ Lets Neighbors Get Together — While Apart

It’s just after 5 p.m. on the second Tuesday of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, and in most of northwest suburban Mount Prospect, it’s so quiet you can hear the birds chirping.

But about a dozen people are outside, near the curb, along one block of ranch homes and newer, much bigger houses.

Despite the statewide order and the COVID-19 pandemic, these neighbors here have found a way to get together.

Mike and Nancy Naranjo are sitting on camp chairs near the curb in front of their house. They’ve broken out their best bottles of Wisconsin craft beer.

“I’m holding a New Glarus Spotted Cow,” said Mike Naranjo, the retired postmaster of Mount Prospect. “The good stuff.”

“Gotta break it open for this, right?” added Nancy Naranjo.

This is what they call “Driveway Happy Hour” on the 500 block of North Russel Street.

Colorful letter flags next to a sidewalk spell out Happy Hour
The neighbors decorate for Driveway Happy Hour, too. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

Candi Dirst, who lives across the street from the Naranjos, came up with the idea just last week, after she got furloughed from her job as a corporate travel agent.

“Our neighbors are the best, so we always like to have fun and do something,” Dirst said.

Every summer, they throw a block party they call Russelmania. But Dirst said the coronavirus outbreak called for more immediate action.

“I knew everyone was sitting at home, not doing anything,” Dirst said, nursing a brandy old-fashioned sweet. “I’m like, ‘Let’s have a happy hour on our driveway.’”

A woman wrapped in a blanket stirs a  drink
Candi Dirst, wrapped in a blanket, stirs her happy hour drink, a brandy old-fashioned sweet. Dan Mihalopoulos

The first was last week. Dirst posted photos from it on a Facebook page for people who live in the community 20 miles from downtown Chicago.

“There’s almost 300 responses, and then other neighborhoods are like, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’” Dirst said.

Besides drinking, everybody at the Driveway Happy Hour just sort of shouts down the block or across the street at one another.

“Have a couple cold ones and shoot the s***,” Mike Naranjo said.

There’s not much else to do these days indoors, other than watching TV, of course.

“I’m a Netflix guy now,” Naranjo said. “Breaking Bad — awesome. Better Call Saul — saw that. Just started Ozark.”

Another neighbor from the block, Flo Pollina, said she and her husband, Vince, were happy just to see everybody at the Driveway Happy Hour. And don’t worry — everybody’s sociable, but they’re also practicing social distancing.

“We’re six feet apart!” Flo Pollina said.

Nobody wants to take any chances. As of Friday, there were 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mount Prospect, which has a population of nearly 54,000.

At one point Tuesday evening, Naranjo asked Vince Pollina to toss some of his tasty peanut-butter pretzels across the street into his wide open mouth. Just typical, after-work messing-around among neighbors, right?

This time, though, they quickly think better of sharing the pretzels.

“You don’t want to get corona from me, do you?” Pollina joked to Naranjo — who closed his mouth.

Later on, Mike Naranjo takes out his cell phone and plays a new song called “My Corona” — a parody of “My Sharona.” And after a couple hours of hanging out in the 45-degree weather, the self-described “Russelmaniacs” make plans for the next Driveway Happy Hour.

Flo Naranjo promises to bring the limoncello that her aunt made. Someone asks how they will share the liqueur safely.

“Well, it’s in a bottle,” Flo Naranjo replied. “We’ll just leave it there and get rubber gloves.”

They’re planning to do a couple Driveway Happy Hours each week.

Others are welcome to join them — as long as they don’t get too close.

Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @dmihalopoulos.