I'm slowly getting my Brooklyn rhythm back, after six weeks on Shelter Island and a week in the UK, and one of the things that I've noticed very acutely over the past few days is something that my wife and I first noticed when we moved to Park Slope five years ago: you have to budget an extra ten minutes whenever you walk somewhere in this neighborhood, because you invariably run into people you know, people with whom you inevitably want to have a fun little neighborly chat. Yesterday morning, coming back from the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket with breakfast (green tomatoes!), I ran into one of my best friends from college out walking his dog. This morning, picking up pastries for the family at Colson Patisserie, I saw my college girlfriend with her two kids sitting outside in front of the bakery. So both days, I showed up fifteen minutes late with breakfast to a household of ravenous boys.
I've started thinking of these little incidents as social traffic jams -- you're trying to get from point x to point y, but your social network gets in the way. I think they're probably pretty rare, at least in most environments that Americans now call home. They don't happen in car-centric cities and suburbs, for obvious reasons; you need public space and pedestrian speed of sidewalks to stop and have a chat with your neighbor. And at least in my experience, they rarely happened in Manhattan, because the extreme density of Manhattan forces people to enter into an implicit agreement that they won't talk to each other -- otherwise you'd never get anything done. (That was my experience in the Village at least, though I'm sure some will disagree. When I lived around Columbia in grad school, I had more social traffic jams because of the campus environment, I suspect.) I think the phenomenon is yet another sign of that unique mix of big city density and small town conviviality that you get in Brooklyn brownstone neighborhoods. I'd be really interested to hear if this is a common experience in other communities around the city (and in other cities around the world...)