3/07/2010

Pathways, roads, streetscapes (and the importance thereof)

Lady Liberty was on her cell phone when she should have been jumping up and down to get people to hire the services of Dell Tax. Usually when I drive by, she's dancing up a storm. On foot, I was able to watch her for a little while longer. Being Saturday, there wasn't nearly as many people driving down Cherry Avenue.

I don't usually walk down Cherry Avenue. But, being Saturday, I took Billy for a longer walk than usual. The temperature has finally risen to spring-like temperatures and it was time for us, man and canine, to enjoy a little bit of the splendor.

This winter, I've grown overly tired of walking the same streets over and over again. The park outside my house remains closed off by wire fencing, a barrier that has buckled after being opened and closed so often to accomodate all the earth movers that seem to shift dirt from one end of the park to the other. The new water park remains unfinished, though the fake boulders are now in place for the climbing wall. Soon, though, all will be reopened and reclaimed.

On this Saturday, though, we walked past all of that in search of something new. Our initial destination was the soda machine at the car place at the corner of Cherry and Rosie Brown. The making of coffee is not on a list of skills that Ihave acquired by this point of my life.
There are also times when I wake up with a hankering for cold caffeine.

We strolled past Buford Middle School, and I noted all the trash spread all around. Epic amounts of junk in Francis Fife's forest on the other side of a fence.

Originally, I had thought we'd go west on Cherry after picking up the soda, up the hill and back round to my house, following a loop I often run. Billy had other ideas. Something caught his scent to the east, and he pulled, and I followed. That's when I spotted Lady Liberty taking a break from enticing customers with promise of an affordable tax return.

I'm not a dog, so I have no idea what Billy was after. Instead of pulling him the way I wanted to go, I decided to give him the wheel. Off we went.

The Cherry Avenue is perpetually one of the city's next big things. In 2003, the city changed the zoning to encourage mixed-use development. So far, none of the promised redevelopment has materialized, so the stretch from 9th to Ridge/5th Street Extended has a somewhat dilapidated feel. There are a couple of big vacant lots, that abandoned seafood restaurant, an odd strip mall, and three convenience stores. That big independent resources building takes up a lot of land, with odd parking in the front creating a streetscape with little presence. None of this stretch of Charlottesville is terribly remarkable.

Yet, it is.

It's human. Organic. Real. Not necessarily polished or fancy or inviting, but there's life. I just don't know it very well. I know some of the details of some of the developments that are supposed to take place, but I don't know anything about the history of the buildings that are there now. Maybe there are just stories that are waiting to be told.

I do know this is my neighborhood. As is 7 1/2 street, which contains such a mix of odd building types. Brick structures give way to one of the ecoMOD houses, which mimics the same white-siding material as the ones that come after as you begin to climb the hill. Then duplexes of all manner of design.

Two men drove up in a silver car and parked next to a beige wooden two-story house. They got out, opened up all four car doors and proceeded to blast the sort of song you'd hear at a Mexican restaurant. They looked at me and Billy with suspicion, and my polite nod of hello was not returned. We walked past, and I smiled, thinking of how much I have to learn here in my neighborhood.

I'd like to learn to speak Spanish, for instance, and would even like to figure out how to write news in that language. That might be an interesting development. I'm looking for something new to capture me, always looking for answers that may be blowing through the wind.

However, on this walk, I just kept on going and walked up the hill, trying to get a sense of what kind of street 7 1/2 Street is. I looked at one of these duplexes in the summer of 2004 when I was trying to sort out my life, but decided to go with something else. Six years later and still trying to sort out my life, I came to the top of the hill, I was surprised at how close I was to my house, only two blocks away.

Charlottesville is filled with intersections where four roads meet. I had come to another one. Ninth street becomes Prospect. Forest Hills Avenue becomes 7 1/2. There were blossoms coming up on all four corners, indicators of spring popping up amidst the litter. I'm always amazed by the amount of trash in my neighborhood, and hope one day to do something about it. One day I'll get on the phone to Lady Liberty about it.

I'm typing this as I sit on a wooden chair outside the Regal Cinema, in a place that has been created for maximum pedestrian interactivity. In the 30 minutes I've sat here, I'd estimate at least a thousand people have walked past.
  • There's a father carrying a bag of leftovers on his head, with both children pointing and laughing up at him.
  • Two people in motorized wheelchairs are whirring up the mall together, one of them heading in reverse so they can carry on a conversation.
  • A mother pushing an empty stroller tells her husband that a particular restaurant never appears to be open.
  • A person whose services as career counselor I've used in the past walks by with her partner, with two incredibly cute dogs in tow.
  • The dishwasher from the other restaurant stops by and we chat about the prospects of spring.

People often remark that the downtown mall is on the way out. One of the institutions credited with the success of the mall, the Ice Park, is up for sale and could close. One out of ten storefronts is currently closed. Doom, gloom, and misfortune.

Yet, with the beginning of spring so close you can feel it, people are here. People wanted to go somewhere, and here they are, milling about in this space. unspooling the yarn of their lives into stories that may or may not be mundane. Regardless, there are an awful lot of tapestries here.

Is it possible to think that one day Cherry Avenue might have this kind of feel to it? Realistic to expect? Certainly I don't think anyone will ever talk seriously about bricking over a major thoroughfare, but how will redevelopment occur? How will my neighborhood grow, if at all?

We can't know the future. We can only be aware of what it might bring. Day by day, we make little decisions about how to spend our time, how to spend our money, what course to steer our lives. I enjoy the sense of mystery. I like that the random is always out there waiting to catch our scent. Amidst all of the carnival barkers in this cacophonic life, each of us has a path that we're supposed to take.

Despite everything, I'm enthralled with the stories of my life that are unfolding. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

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