Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Here's the church, and here's the steeple, open the door -- where are all the people?

When I was little, we had those Richard Scarry books in our house -- with all of the scenes and pictures of everything from airport tarmacs to life on the farm.  There were no words -- just hundreds of things to look at in each scene -- details and colors and busy-ness.  What I remember most fondly about the books is, in fact, the airport scene, because I thought that the bear who had the job of directing the planes to the terminals was holding giant lollipops as signals.  How did I get that job, I wanted to know, and, more specifically, those lollipops?

I'm still on that same  quest for job with giant lollipops.  And I hadn't thought about those Richard Scarry books for years until I was driving through Wicker Park one Saturday afternoon with my friend, Dave, on our way back from beloved Saturday basketball.  We came to a stoplight at the intersections of all intersections -- North, Damen and Milwaukee -- and had a few moments to look around.  Here, in adult incarnation, was a Richard Scarry scene!  This one was hipster meets Lincoln Park, with the bikers and the faux-homeless and the short skirts and the heels with jeans and the boots with skirts and the little dogs and all of those shopping bags filled with more boots and heels and short skirts.  I remarked to Dave that the scene was Richard Scarry-esque, and we probably laughed and made some judgmental comments at the expense of the folks of Wicker Park.

In my attempt to figure out where the hell I currently am and what the hell I'm presently doing here, I go back to Richard Scarry, to his depictions of everyday people and places.  And if Richard Scarry were to draw scenes from Durham, I'm not quite sure what he would draw.  So far as I can tell, his scenes might be on the empty side.

Take, for starters, downtown.  Now, my very first reaction upon seeing downtown Durham just a mere couple months ago was: okay, now take me to downtown.  There was nothing there -- just empty storefronts and a couple of banks and one-way streets and a few people crossing those streets.  But who were those few people?  And why the heck were they downtown?  Were they going to the bank?

(The upside of this emptiness is that you can pretty much bike, drive or walk around downtown blindfolded and ears-plugged and not worry about getting hit by a car.)

Along with the empty downtown, Richard Scarry would have to include hills in his scenes of Durham.  In the eight years that I owned a bike in Chicago, I don't believe I ever shifted my bike gears.  In fact, I didn't really know why I needed bike gears.  No, it wasn't until Durham that I appreciated the gears on my bike or the fact that an incline, no matter how small, is an incline.  And in climbing this incline, whether on bike or foot, I only need a sidewalk square to feel like an out-of-shape huffing and puffing old woman.

In his scenes of Durham, Richard Scarry could not draw bike lanes, as they don't exist.  This is occasionally a problem for a biker, as Richard Scarry could also not draw sidewalks on which his biker could ride (see title of blog).  What's a biker to do?  Especially when the streets are narrow and curvy and hilly and when cars are not necessarily used to bikers.  Well, lucky for Richard Scarry and the biker, he doesn't have to draw too many cars in his scenes of Durham. (One way to achieve bike safety.)

And yet, aside from the emptiness, there are a few things that I would tell Richard Scarry to include in his scenes of Durham, a few of my favorite things, if you will.  For one, there are solid well-functioning blue mailboxes with large signs on the side that tell you what time the last pick-up is.  And these pick-up times actually vary, allowing someone without a job or anywhere to go to schedule her afternoon walks based around the 3:00, 4:00 and 5:oo mailboxes.

And although most of the storefronts downtown are empty, Richard Scarry could slightly expand his downtown radius to include my new favorite store, Dolly's -- a cool, vintage, they-carry-some-of-the-same-stuff-as-Strange-Cargo shop with an even cooler owner, a place called the Scrap Exchange, which is where the Durham hipsters hang out, as far as I can tell (it really is a place of scraps -- from paper to science to sewing), and LocoPop, a store that sells exotic ice and cream-based popsicles with flavors like mojito and apple mint.  

On the other hand, Durham probably isn't Richard Scarry material, and some days the deserted-ness is downright depressing.  I don't know how I feel about the fact that I can drive backwards down a one-way street when I've realized I've gone the wrong way and not encounter any car for a solid 3.7  minutes.  

But, even if the job of holding up giant lollipop still eludes me, at least I know where to go for a pomegranate chocolate chip popsicle, some small beakers and a hooded sweatshirt that says: Durham - Love Yourself.  And, who knows, maybe that bear directing the planes has retired anyway.  Perhaps he spends his days walking to the bank and mailing letters.


1 comment:

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

Ahhh, I LOVED those Richard Scarry books. I seem to remember a lot of dogs and cats in them, and yeah -- just windows and rooms with stuff going on all over the place. Those things ROCKED. Okay, I can't WAIT to see your new Durham finds -- I'm liking the sounds of those places big time. I keep wanting to ride a bike here, but nooooo way -- that is crazy action, a total Evel Knievel stunt bravery requirement. Loving the blog, lovin'.the.blog. GOOOOO WTNN.