I grew up in a close knit neighborhood. While it was very different than what you see today, it was pretty common in those days. Huntsville, Alabama, started transforming in the 1950s (like many cities around the country) as Redstone Arsenal was established and took on an important role in research, national defense and space exploration.
Once the US Army Missile Command and NASA began to grow operations in the area, young engineers (like my dad) starting families flocked to the cotton fields converted to new subdivisions in North Alabama. Huntsville was well on its way to becoming a leading technology hub with one of the highest concentrations of degreed engineers per capita in the country.
While engineers have learned to blend into their surroundings for the most part today, back in the 50s and 60s you recognized them by their short sleeve white dress shirts, skinny black ties, and dark-rimmed glasses. Our neighborhood was full of them. All new to the area and most with children about the same age that went to school together, participated on rec sports teams, and played Kick-The-Can outside until well after dark.
It was truly a community. Families were connected and close. The kids played together. The parents socialized.
One of the highlights of the year was our annual neighborhood Christmas party that rotated to a different family’s house each year. There was a very defined and clear rotation. Everyone brought almost the same dishes every year, and each participating family hosted every 6 years (sort of like Haley’s Comet). We had that party for over 20 consecutive years. It was even featured on the local news one year.
Another thing I remember vividly was my parent’s bridge group. It consisted of 4 permanent couples with 2 alternate couples that rotated in (sort of like the UN Security Council). Couples took turns hosting the game each month.
When it was my mom’s turn to host bridge, the card tables were set up in the living room (the room we didn’t go in) a couple of days in advance. Cards and scorepads were set out, and a nice assortment of snacks was soon to follow. Prizes were awarded to the couples with the highest score and the lowest score each night.
I’m sure they enjoyed playing cards, and a couple of them (my dad definitely included) were competitive. But what I remember more than anything was all the talking and laughing…lots of laughing. More than anything, Bridge night was social, a great way to stay connected and have fun.
As I got older, I played cards with my friends during my high school and college years. We started on Friday nights and played well past midnight, usually Hearts or Rook (I knew how to play Bridge, but I wasn’t a nerd). Great fun, with lots of talking and laughter, and good memories.
Like so many friend groups from our youth, people get married, start working real jobs, and many even move to other parts of the country. Nothing moves faster than life. Our time becomes consumed with building careers, raising families and going to Little League games. Soon, the time and opportunity to have a weekly (or even monthly) card game just disappears.
Our society is different today than it was 40 years ago. Obviously. We have so many more entertainment options at our fingertips. We’re more affluent, geographically mobile, working longer hours, and traveling more for work than ever before.
While most of this “progress” improves the perceived quality of life, it may also come with a price. A recent study from the Survey Center on American Life reveals that people in the US have far fewer close friends than they did just 30 years ago.
And (you guessed it), Covid has only made matters worse. The National Center for Biotechnology Information may have said it best by describing our efforts for over 2 years to slow the spread of the virus as leading to “elevated levels of loneliness and social isolation.”
For many of us, working in an office and collaborating with a team every day facilitated some of our best friendships and social interaction. While employees are returning to the office at some businesses, the days of the shirt-sleeved engineers crowded around conference tables and workstations (smoking cigarettes) 5 days a week are probably gone forever.
Where does that leave us?
After the last several years (even long before Covid), I’ve often thought about those Bridge parties and how we just don’t have an equivalent to that. Sure, I have friends and they even come over every now and then, but it’s hard to maintain a consistent social outlet with our most important relationships.
Another great thing about Huntsville and the transformation that started in the 1950’s is the embedded entrepreneurial spirit that also lives here. Those problem solvers that put a man on the moon left behind a legacy of not accepting the status quo, but always looking for a better way, a better solution. This indomitable spirit extends beyond defense contractors and traditional technology companies.
It extends all the way to a new company seeking to use technology and one of the oldest card games of the modern age to create more opportunities for friends to connect and have fun together.
PokerCows is an online poker game, but it’s not what you think. As with most innovations, PokerCows was born out of the need to solve a real problem. When Covid hit, Bill Collins (THE Poker Cow) couldn’t get together with his friends to play dealer’s choice poker . So, instead of giving in to isolation and letting those friendships slip away, he went to work creating an online poker game for friends.
PokerCows facilitates up to 16 different versions of poker (like 5-Card Draw, Iron Cross and Follow the Queen), includes a high-quality AV interface, and is designed to be a social event you play with your friends. Maybe a weekly poker night to laugh, have fun, be a little competitive, and have great conversations with your friends is within the realm of possibility, even in today’s world. Pokercows is not designed for hard core Texas Hold’em with strangers. It’s designed for fun dealer’s choice action with friends and family.
Is it putting a man on the moon? Maybe not. But, to help friends, families and even coworkers maintain connection and cohesiveness is a plus. Deal me in.