“Can you remember why you ever lived in another neighborhood?” my neighbor Maria asks me with a grin. It’s true– though I’ve only lived in Durham’s Duke Park a few months, I think it was my home before it was my home. Tonight’s gathering is more evidence that I’ve made the right choice in moving here.

While ’80s music plays through computer speakers, Katherine O’Brien is orchestrating the last-minute details for Duke Park’s first Beaver Queen Pageant. Katherine is one part Julie McCoy (cruise director from The Love Boat) and two parts Spanky–always ready to gather the gang and put on a show. At the center of every social activity in the neighborhood, Katherine serves on the neighborhood association board, has organized the Monday Night Bike Ride, and led countless parades. She’s also a founding member of Beaver Lodge Local 1504, sponsors of tonight’s pageant and a group that formed following controversy around a family of beavers that had dammed a neighborhood waterway.

As a generator groans in the distance, the Beaver Queen contestants gather in the makeshift dressing room in front of Duke Park’s bathhouse. Emcee Bucky Beaver keeps the crowd entertained with karaoke and the inevitable beaver jokes, stalling for time as various neighbors scramble to hook up sound and light. This is going to be good.

Finally, the magic begins with swimsuit competition. Who knew that beavers like to swim in buckskin and Minnetonka boots? Apparently, even seashells and board shorts are part of the latest in beaver beach apparel.

During the talent portion of the show, Latta Tail’s impressive demonstration of walking down stairs on high heels without falling is overshadowed by Beverly Woody’s ability to actually clog while wearing stilettos and crinolines. Besa La Beaver, a sort of Spanish Marilyn Monroe, lip syncs while shaking her beaver tail seductively. And Butchie Beaver regales the crowd with a kung-fu fighting performance.

In the end, it’s Beverly Woody who takes home the first place trophy among the cheers and tears. If for any reason she is unable to fulfill her duties as Beaver Queen, Butchie Beaver will take the crown as runner-up.

Durham gets a bad rap. Yes, we have crime; true, there is the poverty and inequity one finds in many cities of this size. But there are also neighborhoods where people gather to enjoy each other’s company and to celebrate the diversity of Durham life; streets where neighbors look out for each other’s kids; blocks where folks lend a hand when help is needed.

So I have to say, “No, Maria, I can’t remember why I ever lived anywhere else.”

Viva la beaver!