Walking the river side




Walkers are a rare breed along River Road these days.

It is just too risky a proposition where the sidewalk sputters out into broken asphalt along one side and a parade of used car lots line the other.

Ancient autos from an oil rich era are posted along here like the bones of dinosaurs, with extinct yellowed placard propped behind each windshield with the words “unbeatable deals.”

Even the buildings sag with passing of time, dirty windows exposing empty show rooms and newsprint strew offices where dealers offered cut rates to speculators.

Ghosts, all, with 1950s calendars yellowing on the walls.

Unluckier still, are those though which fire roared, an act of God or prank or insurance fraud, left undemolished for lack of interest, trees growing through the rubble where customers used to stand.

My grandfather and uncles cone walked this way often before the county sold out to the auto industry the way the state once sold its soul to railroads.

These days this way is a race way for speeding cards, people in a rush to get from nowhere to nowhere, taking notice of nothing along the way.

I revel in the survivors like a dreaming, making my way passed those places that attempt to keep up with time: the fence company with its new sandstone façade and the gas station with pumps so modern they step out of a Jules Verne novel: eerie and strange.

But even on the good side of the street, new struggles to overcome old, and the line of run-down houses make new look old the way old neighborhoods in my grandfather’s time did when I grew up here: ageing quickened until everything looks old.

The city and state blame the river, repaving the road or digging canals as if either might change the basic nature of the place.

Yet on rainy days at high tide, the water still runs over the banks and the cars still splash as they rush passed, and pedestrians like me still struggle to stay dry as we make our way from ruins to gas station to the waiting cup of hot coffee at Service Diner.

The waitress serves predictions of doom with each order, telling me and the vanishing breed of English-speaking truck drivers that the diner and its way of life will soon vanish.

Someday, someone will bulldoze it all into one big pile and start over, she says, building something here nobody can afford.

I think she’s wrong.

I think they would need to pave over the river first.

Still I make a point of walking this stretch of road as often as I can, fearing that she might be right and one day I’ll come here to find it all gone, and deeply regret its loss.



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