Sunday, July 19, 2015

We Begin Again

Hey, isn't this a baseball blog?
This day, the sixth anniversary of this blog (though the idea stretches back fourteen or perhaps eighteen years, depending on how you count), we're back on the road, once again in North Carolina. This is our second time here—the first was in 2007 to see the Carolina Mudcats, Asheville Tourists, and Durham Bulls—and it won't be the last. But I hope to hell those trips will be earlier in the year. We're told that what fearmongering weathermen call the "heat index" will reach 106 along our route tomorrow. In other news, colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Anyway, this first day hit several of our buttons: a doubleheader, an intentional built environment, curious urban developments, and even the ghost of a downtown pedestrian mall. So, hunch over, put your chin in your lap, and let's begin:

We started off in downtown Raleigh, about which I remembered almost nothing from a brief trip in 2001 with our old friend Red. We went to... um... a museum? But as it turns out, downtown Raleigh has been so wondrously transformed in the meantime that it didn't matter. The downtown corridor of Fayetteville Street was marked along its length by new development, an unusual plaza, and strange double red signals on the traffic lights. The lights are there because, since 2006, cars have been allowed back on the street.* For about thirty years before that, it was a pedestrian mall—of the sort we've discussed before in Fresno, Tulsa, Riverside, and elsewhere.
*I confess that originally I thought the double lights were there because North Carolinians might be kind of slow and need the extra reinforcement—an idea provoked by the signs at RDU indicating where it's safe to meet someone. Because, you know, if you don't know where the Designated Meeting Place® is, how could you know where to, like, meet them? 
Phew! (via the official blog of Raleigh-Durham International Airport)
It's clear that downtown Raleigh has boomed in recent years, and I'm sure that there are those who will say that opening the street was a critical part of that. But last I checked correlation still isn't causation, and the thing that made Fayetteville Street distinctive over our time in town was the throngs of pedestrians—including, yes, PBID Partners of Downtown Fresno, panhandlers—cramming the streets at all hours. (The parallel streets, let me note, were scarcely so packed.)

The past (and present) of downtown Raleigh. Fayetteville Street looking toward State Capitol at night (Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass.). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license via Wikimedia Commons
We also noted with interest and confusion the strange conjunction of our hotel with an office building next door. A ramp from the third floor of the hotel extended across an atrium and over to the (higher) third floor of the office building, providing access to conference rooms and the like but no other portion of the building. We figure there's either a complicated tax-incentive story here, or the hotel saw no other way to expand and perhaps rents the space from the other building.

Not the ramp, but the lobby of this hotel that 's not nearly as old as it wants you to think it is.
We hit the road this morning, taking a turn through the outdoor art walk at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The high point was a small domed hut that Roadside America inaccurately calls a "sensory deprivation" chamber. You enter this hut, which was created by Chris Drury and is called Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, and close the door behind you. It's quite dark, and a little fetid, and you wonder what the other people on the trail think you're up to. But then your eyes adjust, your senses kick into high gear, and you soon realize that you are sitting inside a camera obscura. That you can see, or seem to see, the world outside the hut projected in shimmering tones on the walls and floor feels like a beautiful trick. Which I suppose it sort of is. What it isn't is any sort of deprivation.

We also saw a Vollis Simpson whirligig in action:

video

This was more satisfying than driving far out of our way to see the probably still nonexistent Whirlagig Park that might someday grace the town of Wilson, N.C.

After an unsatisfying Cuban sandwich in Durham, we headed north to Shangri-La. And while our trips would be far the poorer without Roadside America, the directions to Henry Warren's yardful of "leprechaun-sized buildings" (leprechauns not included) need some work: It's east of highway 86, immediately south of Henry Warren Road. Anyway, this is another cluster of roughly bejeweled buildings that together form a sort of suite that, unusually, is echoed in the home itself. Viz.:

Shangri-La and more
And then, wouldn't you know, there was baseball, too. We had planned to see the regularly scheduled contest between the Winston-Salem Dash and the Lynchburg Hillcats, but the scheduling gods smiled on us by tacking on the conclusion of the suspended June 27 game between these teams (in Lynchburg). The rain gods smiled, too, because if there hadn't been a 45-minute delay of the delayed game, we would have been late. The upshot is that we got to see eight innings of one game and seven of another—MILB typically truncates games when unschedule doubleheaders become necessary—both won by the Dash. (Winston-Salem... Winston Dash Salem... geddit? Oh so clever. But better than some of the previous names.)


The second game saw the High-A debut of 2014 draftee Spencer Adams--a 19-year-old fellow who seems to smirk overmuch in his photographs, perhaps because he can bring it from the mound. Adams pitched six scoreless innings, striking out four, before a crowd of about eleven. Well, OK, maybe 250--well shy of the comically announced 3,318.

The Winston-Salem stadium is five years old, named after a bank, and amenity-wise on a par with, say, the Fort Wayne Tincaps stadium--which is to say, far too fancy for this level.

We're off to give Savannah a second try tomorrow, Lord willing and our keyboards don't melt.

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