Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 1: Little House in the City

Moving to a new place means giving birth to a new self. Along the way you’ll go through mixed bouts of grieving and celebrating, trepidation and anticipation, and gradually the incipient becomes the actual, and you find yourself in a once-strange locale feeling just a bit at home, and everything’s different.

I lived six years in Cary. Don’t judge me, please. It had to do with my divorce and my custody arrangements. Moving there ended a brutal triangular commute from inside-the-beltline Raleigh, to my daughter’s school in far western Cary, then up to Duke, where I work. I’d been a bicycle commuter years before, when I worked at NC State, and before that. And now I am again. Today was day 1.

Until I bought my house in Morehead Hill, in central Durham, I’d never heard of the neighborhood, despite 13 years spent working so close. I’m put to mind of Oakwood, in Raleigh, where I lived when my daughter was a baby – old wood frames, ranging from gentrified to hip to dodgy, with downtown hard by. Tonight, the night after day 1, my fiancée and I walked from home to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the American Tobacco Historic District, the Durham Performing Arts Center… We were, to borrow a phrase from the erstwhile owner of our home, Bob Sherrill, urban hikers. Though I’ve often enough visited American Tobacco, emerging at an unfamiliar angle onto a vista of old downtown brick building backsides, I felt myself moving in a new life, in which such a thing is possible: to walk from my little house in Morehead Hill and stand before this view I’d never seen, in the heart of this still-strange city.

And today, I rolled out of my gravel drive and cycled the short distance to Duke. I’d just gotten my old hybrid mountain bike back from the shop. It’s a bike shop that happens to be right along my route, close to my office, but with the disadvantage of seeming, at least at first blush, rather purist in their approach to bicycles. Their first estimate for repairing my vehicle came to roughly what I’d paid for it originally, and while I talked them down to the bare bones, I sensed the work was done resentfully. In fact, I overheard as much: that my repair man had grumbled and fussed his way through the business of restoring my gear shifts. This morning, pedaling up the slight rise of Arnette Street toward Morehead – apparently, the eponymous Hill itself – I discovered only one of my two shifters actually worked, but it was the important one, giving me seven good options, with the chain sitting on the middle of the three front gears. Good enough.

In about ten minutes I was on campus, and after a short spell of being lost at my own place of work, I found the East Campus gym, which I’d reconnoitered the night before. Despite the new façade, it’s mostly old brick, with tight stairs leading to hallways emerging into small rooms in which a few cardio machines have been placed, with weights and showers on the main floor, and a pool somewhere I’ve yet to discover. It was mostly the shower I needed, in any case, though after such a short ride, I felt the need to lift some weights first, to justify it.

Not much of a workout, but this is a southern summer, so there were sweat-soaked clothes to deal with, and the old question of where to put them in ones office. I picked my most obscure corner, and decided I’d better start brewing coffee in my room, to mask any locker-room odor. Several changes of shirts and pants hung from the back of my office door, so I was covered in that respect, at least. I figure I drive past work often enough on weekends to keep my clothes restocked, though careful folding in my pack remains an option, allowing room for my laptop, toiletries, towel, and such. Past experience is a handy thing; the mechanics of this will not be such a challenge. I’m more curious now about how my life will continue to emerge, on these streets, on two wheels.

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