The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.

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The Hubris of Men

“This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself.”
― Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Oblique Strategy: Children -speaking -singing

When our kids were young we used to come over Thanksgiving, or over New Year, or both – to rent a beach house at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, Texas. In the off season you could rent an old rickety beach house for almost nothing. It was great with high maintenance kids like ours- there were only two directions they could go on the beach and nothing they could destroy. It was the best of times.

We had to stop going because in 2008 Hurricane Ike wiped the low sandy Bolivar Peninsula clean.

Now, ten years later, a lot of the beach houses have been rebuilt. Their stilts are noticeably higher now, heavier and more numerous. So we rented one for New Year’s – Lee came from New Orleans and Nick from North of Houston.

It’s great to be back, the only problem is the weather is awful – cold, rainy, and very windy.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

Lee walking in roughly the same spot, fifteen years later. There was no sun and it was very cold and windy. Same ocean, though.

Cedars West

As it lurches wildly out of its Redneck Past, the City of Dallas – now completely strangled by its noose of suburbs – is forced to turn inward. It has to flip over its long-neglected flat rocks and deal with what scrambles out from underneath. It has to somehow transform its neglected barren shadowy hinterlands into fertile soil where it can grow shiny new developments for the future.

Few people in the city fully realize this yet, but the only successful path into the world of tomorrow leads directly and literally to the other side of the tracks and across the river. Success for the city will depend on how well this difficult process is done. It doesn’t have to (and can’t be) done perfectly… but it has to be done and has to be done thoughtfully and has to be done soon (faster, please).

One of the critical junctures in this process is a long-ignored wide spot in the road called Cedars West. If you look at an old aerial photograph of Cedars West from, say the 1930’s, you will see it was an island. The meandering Trinity River split into two branches forming the area that would become Cedars West, and then, only a short distance downstream, they joined back together. The Corinth Street Viaduct, a long, concrete structure joining Dallas North and South, gave access to this swampy little piece of land.

This cheap, almost useless, scrap of land quickly became home to the low-end forgotten businesses that none of the snootier residents wanted in their neighborhoods. Wrecking yards, scrap metal, wholesale auto parts, and oil and grease distributors settled in where they could be easily ignored and for decades thrived in that godforsaken tract.

Until now.

You see, the City of Dallas wants a developer to build a huge multi-use development nearby. The area was to be transformed into a hipster doofus haven (and I mean that in a good way, I really do) where the modern millennial could work, live, and play. Giant piles of scrap metal, reclaimed wood siding, and tanks of used grease were not considered good neighbors for such a cool crowd.

So, in typical heavy-handed corrupt government style, the City Council simply voted to change the zoning in Cedars West, and give all those ugly, smelly, and un-hip squatters five years to vamoose. This was going to force the present stewards of the land, who had been working their asses off trying to build their businesses, employing the otherwise unemployable, and making use of a part of the city that few others even knew existed (I sure didn’t) for several generations now, into oblivion to make way for the wave of the future.

But, in a surprising move, the businesses of Cedars West decided to fight back… and in a very cool and interesting way.

They organized and went to the council to point out that a new urban development that consisted of all shiny, fancy, clean, pre-planned white-bread construction was doomed to fail. Residents of such an area want to live in an urban environment, not in a high-rise version of Plano. Otherwise, they would live in Plano.

They offered to simply clean up their act. They would put up new, attractive fencing and metal walls to hide the ugly portions of their business and to actively encourage artistic uses of their products and to promote the “Green” aspects of their business. Yesterday’s scrap iron and wrecking yards ares tomorrow’s sustainable recycling.

So they did. And the council, in a shocking bit of intelligence, agreed. They gave the businesses of the area two years to clean up their act. Anyone that succeeded in pulling off a transformation from an ugly old low-tech business to a modern artistic vintage funky sort of urban oasis could stay. Anyone that didn’t… had to go.

A fascinating story… and one, I’m afraid, that I missed totally.

Until, looking through the web for something to do over the weekend, I came across mention of the First Annual Cedars West Arts Festival. At first, I was lukewarm to the idea… another Arts Festival? Haven’t I seen enough of these things? But then I heard that one of my favorite food trucks, The Bomb Fried Pies was going to be there, and I took another look.

It threw me when I pulled up the address (2021 Rock Island) in Google Maps and took a look at the aerial photo. There were the swampy Trinity River Bottoms and a little stretch of road that ran through the most awful stretch of industrial wasteland you will see anywhere. It looked like the last place on earth you would hold an arts festival. So I began to read the history of the area and the reason behind the festival. They were throwing this shindig to show off the work they had done to spruce up their area and to demonstrate to the city at large how these types of businesses can contribute to the cultural life of the city.

And I knew I had to be there.

So Candy and I made our plans. We knew it was going to be a hot day and Candy doesn’t like to be out in the Texas blast furnace heat any more than necessary so we wanted to go right when it opened at eleven. We didn’t want to drive and the festival advertised that it had blocked off a lane of the Corinth Street Viaduct so you could take the DART train to Oak Cliff and walk across. I wondered why they didn’t have folks walking from the Cedars Station which looked a little closer, but that was what they planned, so that is what we did.

It was a long walk; the Corinth Street Viaduct is about a mile long. Sure enough, they had barriers up the entire length, blocking off an entire lane. They went to a lot of expense for us – we didn’t see anyone else using the viaduct to walk in. I enjoyed the trek across and over the trackless wilderness of the Trinity River bottoms, with a view of Downtown on one side and the DART trains/Testle Trail and manmade river rapids on the other – but it was already too hot for Candy.

The Arts Festival was really a lot of fun. The local businesses went all out in making everyone welcome and showing off the work they had done in beautifying, hipster-ing, and funkifying their places. OKON Scrap Metals had a big pile of used iron which their employees were picking from and creating sculptures behind clear yellow welding screens.

I was really impressed with Orr-Reed Wrecking Company. Their business is in tearing down old buildings and  homes and preserving as much as they can. Their place in Cedars West is a big, long shed full of salvaged materials. From hardwood flooring, to bathroom fixtures, from vintage lighting to stained-glass windows… they had it all. If you are in the DFW Metroplex and are remodeling a home, be sure and go down there and see what they have to offer. It truly was an amazing place.

Beyond simply saving, preserving, and selling – Orr-Reed Wrecking was touting itself as a home and source for artists. There were rooms full of furniture and sculptures made with materials culled from their vintage collections for sale. They even offer low-cost studio space for anyone wanting to work with what they have to offer. Walking around was an eclectic crowd of relaxed artsy-looking young folks that worked there, both providing labor for the company and providing their inspiration for the aesthetic of their products.

Candy and I wandered around the place for a while, but it soon became too hot and we decided to head home. We were both really hungry and I wanted to find a local place that I had never tried before. Candy dreaded crossing that bridge again in the blistering afternoon sun so I suggested we walk the opposite direction to the Cedars DART station and get something to eat in that area.

Big mistake.

We soon discovered why the Arts Festival closed off the lane and suggested folks walk across from Oak Cliff. The stretch along Corinth to Lamar was the most awful, neglected, and scary war zone of urban decay you will ever see. It’s amazing how the city could even think of forcing out the businesses of Cedar’s West while they could let their own streets and sidewalks run down into a horrible condition like that.

Intrepid and idiotic as we are, we made it through, hungry and dehydrated. We ate at The Cedars Social bar and restaurant, a really nice cool oasis in the urban wasteland. It felt like stepping into the set of Mad Men… with a brunch menu.

I’m going to be keeping an eye on Cedar’s West going forward. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, there are surprising things happening in places you don’t expect, and I think this may be one of them.

Although the Trinity River Channel has been redirected to the bottom of the photo, the Cedars West is still pretty much an island in the river bottoms. The Arts Festival was on Rock Island, the part colored in yellow.

Two employees/artists at Orr-Reed Wrecking. Her T-Shirt says, “Show Us Your Junk,” which is their motto.

Reclaimed hardwood flooring from Orr-Reed. They had acres of the stuff.

Before and After. Recycled bathroom fixtures.

Using vintage products as art and architecture. The exterior of Orr-Reed Wrecking.

The King of Junk. Surveying his kingdom.

The Arts Festival had a nice, downhome, neighborhood feel to it. Here is a smoking grill a food vendor was using to make burgers and a little trailer selling refreshments.

Links:

Businesses:
OKON Metals
Orr-Reed Wrecking

Cedars West Arts Festival
History

Cedars West Now – Call for Artists
Dallas council lets longtime Cedars West businesses stay after hearing beautification plans
Cedars West businesses plan arts festival as they approach two years after zoning show-down with Dallas City Hall

The Cedars Social – bar, restaurant, and club

Google Map Photo of Cedars West

The route we walked out along is so God-Awful that there is a proposal for a pedestrial bridge to skip over the whole thing. I doubt it will get built – but wouldn’t this be cool?

New Orleans Architecture – The Garden District

The Garden District in New Orleans is one place where time has ceased to exist. The ancient, worn mansions, massive greenery, and unique architecture keeps sitting there in the humid gulf air, sticking a middle finger at floods, storms, and modernity itself. The best place for a peaceful afternoon walk. It’s no wonder so many rich and famous end up there.

The Garden District is famous for its collection of giant stately mansions. But I like some of the little details the best. Look at this beautiful little curved porch off a bedroom overlooking Magazine Street. I would like to have a morning coffee on a balcony like this at every dawn for the rest of my life.

Look at the iron railings and the colors on this building. I love the lime green on the underside of the porch overhangs. All through New Orleans you see the little round punched tin lights like you see here – they are beautiful at night.

Another cool overhang. this one is painted sky blue and you can clearly see the round lights.

The trees and the porches – they seem to be growing together.

I never get tired of looking at the intricate and beautiful details on the wooden overhang bracing.