One of the nice things about where I live is that it is laid back. Traffic is light. Truck-sized parking is free and easy. If you go to a big concert downtown it’s a flat fee of $5 to park. You’re not having to do crazy things to get a ticket or a table or a seat or a place in line. Usually there isn’t a line. There are no rat runs on the way to school. And so we are not at each other’s throats.
It was a little crazy when the Lilly Pulitzer for Target went on sale. And, recently, we have encountered nervous dog-owners, the likes of which one finds in Chicago, where dogs live cloistered lives in apartments. It’s going to take a lot of change for this place to be like Chicago, but change is coming. I can smell it like an infusion of muddled kale.
It was a beautiful night, perfect weather for sitting outside and listening to music at one of the converted mills. Bring your dog. We were meeting friends. My husband and I were arriving separately. My younger daughter, who was with him, is texting me: hurry, parking full, park on street, street full.
Normally, there is ample parking at the mill. They have a field where you can park and men with illuminated pointer things to guide you to your spot. One never has to do much in the way of looking for a spot. One forgets how to parallel park.
In the gloaming you can still discern the outlines that define alternative culture. I pull into a side street and park. I have just switched off the lights, when there is a rapping at the window. An oldish woman in an ivory housedress with a tan and navy geometric print and kind of askew white hair is telling me, You can’t park here. My son is coming over and he needs to park here.
On the one hand, I sympathize. Growing up, my neighborhood was a destination where people flowed in to shop and be punks on the weekends. I understand the irritation a person feels watching the masses descend. When my friends and I picked places to meet we looked for cool and undiscovered and, if it wasn’t cool, we’d settle for empty. Empty was cool.
On the other hand, the way she leads with anger makes me angry, too. And also, not sound like a 5th grader, but you can’t save spaces. And, furthermore, get your hands off my car.
She lives in a tiny house in a neighborhood with no supermarket. People have been parking here all night and she’s been shooing them away. She has to save the son a space or the hipsters will win. There are still spaces a few cars down.
I will move, I say, but I am doing it as a favor.
You’re not doing me a favor, she says.
Yes, I am. You don’t own this space.
I’ll call the police, she says.
I’m thinking, the hell she can, but I don’t know, maybe there’s some weird by-law or she knows the sheriff. (Yankee paranoia; yes, I still get it sometimes).
This is a public street and I can park here, I say, but I will park over there so your son can park here, but I am doing it because I am being nice, not because I have to. So you could at this point just say thank you.
Because stop ranting at me, I am thinking.
She says, thank you, have a nice night, with contempt.
You, too, I say, in what I hope is a measured, way: I hear your sarcasm and I will not return it. As I roll up my window, I hear her say to some people she must have been sitting with on the porch of a house across the street, They really have to do something.
I wonder if they are going to mess with my car as revenge, as an effigy for everything that pisses her off about the parking issues on concert nights that invade the neighborhood and the expensive, artisanal food trucks, the noise, the people.
I park in front of a house that looks abandoned. And then, with as much dignity as I can muster, I remove the equipment I will need for the concert. I get my folding chairs with their carry straps. I place in my handbag the rustic hand-painted iced tea jars that you invest in so that you can purchase less staggeringly expensive refills. They have such a cute Instagram. To complete the look, I take from the back seat of my car a sparkly hula hoop that I sling casually over my shoulder. At the last concert we went to here the lawn in front of the stage was filled with people using hula hoops and the Older Daughter loved this so I have gotten her one of her own. Thus, absurdly freighted down as a social stereotype, I will have to pass by the woman and her companions and hear whatever they may have to say on the matter. Mercifully, they say nothing that I can hear. I can’t look. I can’t look.
We have our evening, with music played on cigar box banjos, with a guy riding around on an illuminated bicycle, with a variety of dogs, with all the young people and their tattoos, in the courtyard of the mill, which came into being when northern regulations about working conditions drove the mills south. There was community here, but also subsistence poverty and child labor.
On my return to the car, the street is quiet. The Older Daughter has mercifully taken the hula hoop with her to the other car, parked within the zone of hipsterdom. I note that the house where the woman was hanging out, the one across the street from her parking spot, is even smaller than I had thought, the mere width of a door and a window, a miniature house, maybe 12 feet high. The porch has some soft furniture and is hung with a strand of old-fashioned, incandescent colored lights and things, which I do not stop to examine, that suggest the decor of the Dew Drop Inn, a southern-themed bar I used to frequent after college in New York, where they served drinks in Mason jars. Even now, city joints hanker for down home authenticity, serving up regional fusion cuisine, okra and grits and so forth, while rejecting other aspects of the culture they have left behind.
Two summers ago we ran into a college friend in Williamsburg and a friend of his who sported a cap with the name of a rural county: we’re from near there, we said; he was from there. We had switched places and so understood the trades we’d made. Was the hat his claim to realness? I had initially assumed he’d have bought it in a thrift shop, and wore it to be ironic about America and her civic pride, her catfish festivals, her sweet potato corn dog queens and their court. Who’s the poser? He in Williamsburg with the hat or us down South or, worse, us from down South up North, me asking if we should go to the Domino Sugar Factory, another site of industrial age worker exploitation turned art gallery? Everyone milling around Williamsburg or all the people grooving at the Mill?
It is a porch that cries out for a mannequin. Was the housedress vintage, I wonder? Did the lights signify ownership by an early hipster settler, not the descendent of a mill family, but a potter who has been there just long enough to share the indignation of higher rents as the food trucks roll in? Most likely not. Her son, his truck, their small street on the margin of change, I drive away as quietly as I can.