Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Gentrification of Pungo

I read the following at TCC's literary festival during the Norfolk campus faculty reading Tuesday.  I presented it as representative of the unfinished, unpolished work of a slacker who wants to be a writer but who lacks discipline and time.  I stressed the immediacy of blogging by telling a story that had happened 2 days before and that had just been typed that Tuesday morning.

I am a bicycle rider which means I gather with all the lycra people in large groups. To many motorists, we clog up roads and act like we own the world. To many of us, we insulate ourselves from the harm that comes from taking on the streets in Hampton roads alone, finding safety in the numbers.

Anyway, there is one phenomenon that happens for sure in a large group and that’s the disconnection with time and place. The group ride becomes the time and place, much like a very crowded space in a small dark room at a late night party. It takes so much concentration to navigate together as a unit that we indeed rarely stop to smell the roses.

This past Sunday about 25 of us rolled down Nanny’s Creek road in Pungo parade style, a steady 24 mph. Someone called out “Can!” and there was a bit of parting in the group from the middle along with some crunching under the tires. A few had hit a Bud light can with the skinny tires, and we all held our spots and easily got away from the can. I heard someone say “god damn can,” and I figured whoever it was has been in one of the many awful crashes that small items like cans in the road have caused us in the past. We had escaped a hit. It was a gorgeous day, and I knew several other groups would pass by the same place, so it seemed best to police the can before it could do harm.

I rolled off the group. Austin called to me “are you alright.” I said I was going to pick up the can. I heard him laugh a little before he passed quickly on my right. Austin would have stopped with me had I been rescuing a turtle from the road as we have done on a few occasions, but this Bud Light can was not worth his time. I slowed, scooped up the smashed can and tossed it inside an open trashcan on the curb that stood obediently waiting to be ushered back to a yard after a recent pick up.

I remounted and could see the group about a quarter mile ahead on Mill Landing Road. I knew they would be stopping soon at the store on Princess Anne and that trying to catch them before the store would be impossible. I made an effort to keep my heart rate up, plus it was just too quiet and more speed meant more noise through my helmet vents. But I was compelled to slow down . . . it really was quiet out there. . . It brought me back to 25 years ago, when I lived in a Pungo house shortly after high school with a few other young people in an RJ Moore-build with fresh white paint. I would often stray away from the antics of a 20 something household similar to a child breaking from a tension-ridden home and walk the fields of Pungo. Nimmo Parkway was a soybean field, and there were two prominent abandoned houses on Sandbridge Road close to where a strip mall now sits.

It was there I broke into my first abandoned house. I had seen it from Sandbridge Road, and it seemed fitting to walk in as I wandered the fields that day. It was hard to think of it as trespassing when the ties of love and ownership seemed so long gone. The floor boards were rotten, prompting my nimble steps into the living room. Things were thrown about and covered in dirt. It had been emptied first by the owners and probably a few times by strays like me, looking for a treasure. There were 2 old Bibles, articles of clothing strewn about, a bowling trophy, a few auto parts. I found a large plastic S that made me feel it was my place to be there. Schleeper—that S is for Schleeper—that’s my name and that’s what I am here to find. S---sssss. I uttered as I stepped tentatively back outside into a quiet sunny Pungo day. No one there to catch me being where I wasn’t supposed to be reiterated for me that I was supposed to be there to find that S.

I slowed the bike down to take in that long forgotten Pungo silence. It’s a different silence than silence of mountains where trees are close by to speak with their leaves, their birds, their movement over the ground cover. It’s the silence of wide open spaces, of seeing the bird 100 feet away but not hearing it as its whisper is gobbled by open wind and big sky. Spring in Pungo is long before the harvest corn grows high enough to start to absorb sound. I scrambled to embrace the lonely silence, the group ride still in site. I would be back with them soon, but what about this silence?

I slowed to 12 or 13 mph and scoffed at the new homes that I now associate with Pungo. Thousands of square feet on hundreds of acres, pretty fences, architectural shingles, long smooth driveways. But I started to look closer and realized that big houses were only part of the landscape, the part that’s seen by the casual glance from the group ride. Interspersed among the new were the older more modest homes that defined the landscape 25 years ago. And along a 2-mile stretch on Mill Landing Road I counted 3 abandoned places, not including the one place that I could not tell was abandoned or not. They all have trees growing up their east sides, debris scattered over the yard, at least one caved in wall or roof. I admired them from the road and vowed to enter one soon, maybe the green one story with the rusted tin roof that clearly was well kept for many years.

I concluded that the abandoned houses in Pungo are not shrouded in sadness, but show movement and progress. I slowed enough to conclude that most of those who occupied the old houses are the same ones that had built the 4000 square footers across the street. I assume the owners simply stopped keeping them up, and in a rural communities local municipalities tolerate high levels of dilapidation. They still own all that land, don’t they? This isn’t gentrification it’s moving from one house to another on the same plot of land, right? Despite the abandonment, anyone who lives there still has a place in Pungo to call home, don’t they? Didn’t I emerge from that abandoned house 25 years ago with my excavated plastic S to make a new life a generation ago?

And that’s where my story stops—it’s a work in progress, full of possibilities that would never have even been known without media forms like blogging.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well written. We all should take a moment and observe our surroundings.