Maybe it’s just a small town thing, maybe not: But whatever happened to the casual visit? The one where friends — and I’m talking about the good ones, the close ones — felt free and welcome to propose a night out, with perhaps an hour to brush your teeth, pull on something decent and then rendezvous. They suddenly had become aware of a good band that was appearing in the area, or a new film was playing just down the road, and they just knew that a quick phone call would result in time well spent. It could all occur in nothing flat.

I’m not talking about being starved for friends or entertainment, but rather a lifestyle that places spontaneity a lot closer to the order of things. These days, even the most casual get-togethers seem to require being “calendar-ed” with at least two weeks notice — let alone neighbors who are comfortable with just swinging by for a quick round of whatever.

It’s true, as a quick look at your own calendar will confirm. Busy, busy, busy! Minor social events get listed with the same — usually less — importance as doctor visits and the work-related stuff. Again, social events — all of them — get listed.

No big deal? Ah, but it is. Because of what it says about us. That all-important interaction with friends, especially the ones we value most, has become formalized, hence the distance has been increased, both physically and emotionally. And priorities gravitate toward issues and actions that, we’ve decided, have more value; the social part of our lives can just wait for a little dead time.

So why is that? What can you blame? Here in the greater Los Angeles area, where the car is king (or frankly, was made so by short-sited civic planners), you basically cannot walk anywhere. Bedroom communities are exactly that and by design are isolated from the nearest restaurant, theater or beach. For us, a typical gathering with friends entails a drive of 30 to 40 minutes (Ha! If the traffic is light!) Spontaneity itself just got a lower-case “s.”

Not that it’s always been that way, at least not for me. For a lot of years I lived in the west San Fernando Valley, an area in the northwest corner of the city. It’s an older part of town, with well-established neighborhoods and the perennial local hangouts and for a long time you could actually call up Ray and say “I’ll meet you over there in 30 minutes” with confidence that you’d have company, along with the whole gang. And there were at least a half-dozen good restaurants within walking distance. 

Where, I guess I’m wondering, are substantive friendships that place their interest and value on themselves? When did we start assigning more importance to scheduling, with the emphasis on “business” rather than sharing the small but meaningful aspects of simply hanging around on the planet? When did a Date in November or July or March take precedence over a last-minute bite to eat with old friends?

Maybe the whole thing is insidious and we simply haven’t been aware of it, or maybe, worse, this is the way we prefer it: that the business of life has become more important than the life part. I know: getting awfully preachy here, but time with friends is time best spent. And  frankly, you and I know that every opportunity to do that once lost is a forever thing.