Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to get to . . .

It's not uncommon to liken one's neighborhood to towns of pop culture gone by. How many talk of growing up in Maybury or fearing they may one day move to Stepford?

I shared a revelation recently with John: Our neighborhood is Sesame Street. All quaintness aside, I remember that show being my first encounter with urban living -- people of varied cultural backgrounds, working as police officers or teachers, chatting with each other on front stoops as they keep watch over their blocks. Litter comes grumpily alive and giant oddballs share their simple wisdoms.

And I realized that sometimes I watch my neighborhood as if it's a television show. I hope I don't put it under glass, but there's a palpable thrill in taking up a fixed perch somewhere and watching what unfolds over the span of half an hour.

Yesterday I wasn't so much stationary as slow-moving, leisurely riding my bike home from work after an uncharacteristically good day, looking ahead to getting home to celebrate John's birthday but also wanting to take my time and enjoy the last grip of chill before warm air settles in for good.

There's a low-slung brick building on my route that houses two separate businesses: A brand new pie shop that's had its grand opening delayed by red tape, and a longstanding dry cleaning & alterations shop, with plants so huge and viney I imagine they're holding up the ceiling.

First scene: Two quick seconds of the pie shop -- A 3-speed bicycle in front whose basket, at last, holds a red "Open" sign and people gather in lines for a slice of Shaker lemon or banana cream.

Second scene: Two equally quick seconds of a mid-life Asian man, tailoring a pair of dress pants in the front window of the dry cleaner, surrounded by the hulking arms of decades-old philodendron.

I've been replaying this scene in my mind since yesterday. Possibly more than any other 5-second increment before, it tells the story of our neighborhood. Old vs. new, conventional vs. cutting-edge, utilitarian vs. decadent, cluttered vs. minimalist cool. But these worlds, while distinct, are also largely indebted to each other (a pie shop borrowing from homespun traditions, a dry cleaner benefitting from added foot traffic), and they manage to co-exist peaceably.

That tiny scene was so expertly spliced together that you couldn't even see the seam anymore. This is the kind of neighborhood I prefer to call home, where my own internal contradictions are written across the built environment, appearing not as juxtapositions at all, but as stories at their midpoints with many chapters yet to be read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sweat Well Spent

This is our beautifully restored Logan Theater, which celebrated its grand reopening yesterday after several months of excavation and rehab, not to mention coughing, discovery, and worry on the part of its reanimator -- a guy who's part real-estate mogul, part pain in the ass (we first met 10 years ago, after a very public fight over affordable housing), but still manages his charms.

Along the way, he found old murals -- each one painstakingly restored and brought back to its original glory -- and the stunning Tiffany-style glasswork over the box office. You have to fall in love with a building to take that kind of care.

You also have to fall in love with a neighborhood, even one you consider too dicey to raise your own kids in. But you make your investments -- he's preserved hundreds of local rental units and even helped fund the prairie garden near the square -- and you help affect positive change.

As a theater two miles or so to the north faces its own demise -- a megachurch has set its sights on the building -- I'm grateful for the inner madness that would compel a developer to see importance in this building. Thanks to his investment (and make no mistake, his equity was more than just sweat), we won't be a community that gets swindled out of that history. We'll be a community that hails its rescue.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Mind and Body Conspire to Give My Lost Hour Back

I woke up in a panic this morning: House to clean, leaky faucet in the kitchen, food to cook before it turns. And it was a full hour later than it would've been yesterday after my standard six hours of sleep. Not enough. Never enough. Curse you, extra hour of daylight. I'm not ready for you.

So I went about the house, changing the clocks. I balanced my checkbook, put away last night's dinner dishes, called my mother, did a few stretches, brought in the paper, and headed out the door for my morning run.

I started on a full-on sprint. Gotta get this done before the day is half over. But after a couple of blocks, it dawned on me exactly how beautiful it was outside. Sun shining overhead with just a few wispy clouds across all that blue. Crocuses coming up at Jeannie's house. A guy ahead of me walking with his toddler and the gentlest pit bull I've ever seen. A local brunch restaurant setting up for outdoor seating (it's March 11th!). People gathering for breakfast, church, bike rides, or walks. A guy in a knit hat carrying his pod of a baby in his arms. Dogs chasing rope toys on the boulevard.

Without realizing it, my pace had settled down to a steady cadence. The air smelled of muslin. Birds chased each other through the trees. A neighbor painted his porch.

When I got home I figured it must be close to lunch time by now, but I hadn't even eaten breakfast yet. Nice while it lasted, I thought, but back to the grind. But there in the house, all the clocks I'd just changed said the same thing: 10:20. Still morning. Plenty of time.