Sunday, March 19, 2017

Memories of walls and light.

The experts say that the sense of smell is the one that evokes the strongest memories. I agree with that, especially when I drive past the Krispy Kreme Donut Shoppe on the way to work. I am immediately transported to the Krispy Kreme store that was right at the bus stop where I got off the Southside bus after band or track practice on school afternoons where a donut and a small coke would tide me over until dinner which was still hours away. A two block walk took me to the bus stop where I would pick up the 22 Lake Shore bus to complete my trip home.

Left: A view of the "T" at the foot of the Acosta Bridge. The wall in this story is to the right of this view. But to me, light is a strong memory enhancer as well. There is a certain actinic light that appears on late winter, early spring days that does that for me. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, near the foot of the Acosta Bridge before the old metal bridge was replaced by the new structure, Riverside Avenue was elevated over the local rail yards and formed a T with the traffic going onto an off of the bridge before going into downtown. There was a brick and mortar wall that lined the east side of the roadway. I remember late one afternoon noting the sunlight glancing off that wall as I rode the bus past it. I wondered if this must be what it looked like in the really big cities. I had never been outside of the state of Florida at the time. But my imagination took me to those faraway places to the north.

When I came to South Carolina to go to school, I found that wall and that light cattycorner across from my dormitory on the corner of Devine and Sumter Streets. It isn’t there anymore but next to the rear of Longstreet Theater there was a wall and steps that lead up to Davis Field that captured the same light and feeling as I walked up to the main part of the campus and my classes. When the light was right, I would see that wall on Riverside Avenue and the faces of my classmates on that bus. Those were special moments of peace and tranquility in those hectic, sometimes stressful college years.

Now you may be wondering if I ever saw “that wall in that light” in any northern city. I’m glad to report that the answer was yes. The first time was in the mid ‘90s while riding in a cab driving 80 MPH on I-76 between Philadelphia International Airport and a theater on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I can’t remember the name of the theater now but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The driver didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak his language which I presumed was Russian when I heard his say “spasibo” to his dispatcher on the radio. He kept telling me that “The University of Pennsylvania is a very big city” and that he didn’t know if he could find the theater in time for me to make an important production meeting. As we sped off the interstate, into downtown Philadelphia, I saw it! The Wall! In the right light! Immediately I knew all was going to be OK and sure enough several blocks later while stopped at a red light, there was my destination, just a block away. “Let me off here!” I said, and after paying him, walked the last block an into the theater scant moments before the meeting was to start.

Did I find my wall in New York City, you might ask. Yes indeed. It was 2006 and I was driving on my way to a project site in Hicksville, NY out on Long Island. My team and I had rented a car at LaGuardia and taken the Grand Central Parkway past The Met’s Ballpark and Flushing Meadows, the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A tight spin off the Parkway placed me in the right most lane of the Long Island Expressway right in the middle of rush hour traffic. “Oh BOY! This is gonna be interesting, I thought” because I needed to get across five lanes of one of the busiest highways in the country at one of the busiest times of the day. One of my team members started looking for alternative routes in case we couldn’t get across all that traffic.

All of a sudden, off to the left, while still in Queens, there was “my wall” again. The light was just right as it was on Riverside Avenue. I knew, then and there that it would be ok. I flicked on my left turn signal and to my amazement, the car behind me in that lane slowed to let me in. I was astounded, that would never have happened on I-26 leaving Columbia in rush hour traffic. OK! I had one down and three more to go. About 100 yards later I tried it again and again I was let in. I made it to the far left lane in plenty of time to make my exit off of the LIE.

I have to tell you, that I made that same trip 20 or so times during the life of that project and I never had problems getting over once having spotted “my wall.” I saw that wall every trip, but I never saw that wall in the same light as I did on that first trip when the stress level was pretty high.

St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. But I think I am blessed to have a patron wall as well. I can see it now, bathed in sunlight. I can see me as a teenager wondering if that was really what it was like up north, with the sun hanging low to the southwest in an azure sky. It just occurred to me that azure is defined as the color at 210 degrees on the RGB color wheel, the same direction as the sun in all of these memories. Oh MY!

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