Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The days were getting shorter and colder, and I begged to turn on the heat in the house, but instead my husband just put two more wool blankets on the bed and offered me a selection of fine aged flannel shirts to wear. I drove to my parents house and got all my sweaters out of their attic, and put away all my summer dresses and skirts. Then, a few days later, it was 87 degrees again and I found myself chasing the ice cream truck down the street because I thought I was going to die if I didn't have something frozen to eat. Such is the fickle nature of the Southern autumn.

Sunday was a warm and gorgeous fall day, and C and I decided to explore our neighborhood. We had heard tell of a new renovated pedestrian bridge that crosses a major highway near our house, and so we set out to find it. An hour later, sweaty, dirty, and clutching our knives (we have to arm ourselves in my neighborhood--or at least we feel better if we do) a seemingly dead-end street on the wrong side of the tracks led us to our destination, and we stood atop the R. Kelly Bryant, Jr. Bridge, feeling the refreshing breeze from semi-trucks speeding below us, and gazed at the romantic Durham skyline. But we didn't cross the bridge, because on the opposite side there was a sketchy looking man with a bottle in a brown bag, just loitering. The main reason for renovating the bridge, I heard, was to make the walls transparent so that people couldn't get mugged and beaten up on it without being seen by cars below, but we didn't want to test things.

Now, I may be painting a negative picture of my neighborhood and town, but I actually really love Durham, and I loved exploring my neighborhood with my husband. Walking, you see so many things you would never see in a car. We passed a cement factory with amazing huge cement-rendering vats protected by cement fences. We saw what used to be a huge train yard, where the depot is now a "green" flea market space. When we passed it, dozens of Mexican families were packing up what must have been a huge food-oriented gathering. We walked down shanty-lined streets, where the poorest tobacco-factory workers lived back in the 1930s and 40s, and where things haven't gotten much better. And we traversed streets of once-gorgeous Victorian houses, bedecked in crumbling gingerbread trim, now with broken windows and gaping holes. Someone's carefully constructed quartz-studded sidewalk is now cracked and edged with overgrown weeds. Some places in the middle of town felt like we were in a rural setting, the vines had so taken over. A red and white stucco church we passed made me feel like I was in a Mexican village, but the watchful eyes of a guard dog living on a tight leash under a porch brought me back to reality. People don't have much here, but they protect it fiercely. C and I both love to see the decay, the layers of time and weather, even though we wish things were better for the people and places on this side of town. We are fascinated with our neighborhood, even while alert for the danger it holds.

The pinecone-strewn trail leading away from the bridge brought us to a busy road, where a tattoo parlor vied with a beaux arts church for attention. A tattered awning fluttered from the side of the next nearest building, abandoned and caved in, but still bearing a trademark feature of this town: glass block windows, half broken, half gleaming in the brilliant autumn sun.

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