Paul Chai, writer:My wife and I were driving past a friend’s place recently and she suggested we drop in for a visit. I was shocked at my reaction, which was shock at the very suggestion. Drop in? Are you mad? Who drops in these days?
But, time was I used to love the drop-in. When I was in my late teens and had just moved out of home, I was one of the first of my group of friends to live alone and was dropped in on by all sorts at all times of the day and night.
There was the “quick, social drop in” – friends in the neighbourhood who came by to say ‘hi’ -- these usually involved coffee. The “long-haul drop-in” which could last for hours -- these usually involved someone bringing beer, drinking beer and, on one occasion, making beercicles (There is a reason that these are not commercially available, by the way – eeuggh.). And there was the “girlfriend drop-in” where my partner would come around unannounced – these usually involved telling her mother she was at her girlfriend’s place.
My 20s were a busy time for drop-ins, too, and were the beginning of strangers appearing alongside friends at your door. Several hours later these strangers were now fast friends and could be added to your very own drop-in list. The fact I worked shifts also meant that I was occasionally the subject of the “after the pub” drop-in, the drop-in’s poor, and far less welcome, relative.
So why have I become so anti-drop in?
My friend calls it the holy trinity: age, kids and technology. “There is always some family madness going on, the kids are either asleep or should be, and in this day-and-age there is no excuse for at least not giving a quick text before you arrive at the doorstep.”
That’s true – but I can’t help thinking that a pre-emptive text robs the drop-in of a bit of spontaneity. A true drop-in meant the tension of not knowing if the target was home, the initial surprise on the target’s face (hopefully “good” surprise, not “oh, sh-t” surprise) and the chance you might catch them in their pyjamas.( I know I spend a lot more time in my pyjamas now there is almost no chance of being invaded by visitors.)
Another nail in the coffin of spontaneous visitation is the fragmentation of family and friends, the tyranny of distance. I know this because I am writing this column from a country town where my grandparents have lived most of their life. Their house is almost perfectly set up for the drop-in. They have a lounge room that faces onto the driveway so any potential dropper-inners do a parade past until they get to the front door. Sadly, Nan and Pa no longer live here but when we are in town staying in the house it goes straight back onto the town’s well-worn drop-in route.
My wife remembers her grandmother’s front door as drop-in central too. Neighbours, friends and family would all call by to check on her and some would even be coaxed into a Lambrusco run when she was running short of vital provisions.
Perhaps, the drop-in is not dead, maybe in my dotage the drop-in will return, and like a random visitor at the front door bearing a sheepish grin and a couple of beers it will be welcome because I kinda miss it.
And what about my friend who I decided out-of-hand could not handle being dropped in on? Well, he called a few weeks later and I told him what had transpired.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “It would have been great if you dropped in, our kids haven’t seen each other in ages.” Then when I told him what day it was. “Oh, Saturday, no that wouldn’t have worked, but call us next time you think you’ll be in the area.”