If you drive east on Fayetteville’s W. Martin Luther King Boulevard, past the university campus and Popeye’s Chicken, eventually you’ll get to School Avenue. Turning left will take you to the square, bar row and my office.
I almost always turn left. Yesterday I turned right.
There were plenty of people around, but nearly all of them were hidden away in the cars passing by. Parking lots were nearly empty in front of liquor and hardware stores and pawn shops. Even buildings I’m sure people live in seemed abandoned.
As I continued southward, featureless, steel-blue clouds spread from the west and blocked the sun, and this feeling of abandoned-ness only intensified. At a wrecked gas station, a bright red rain gutter hung diagonally down to the asphalt, somehow wrenched from the eaves. Several cars, a Hostess truck and a small, hunter-orange excavator were strewn in one of half a dozen overgrown junkyards. A creek from under the road stunk with an oily smell, the kind that clogs up your nose with a whiff.
Farther south the traffic fell. Every side road was labeled a dead end. One of these curved through a neighborhood where the first mailbox read “Wrong Turn!!!” These houses seemed empty, too. Some yards were filled with trash and equipment, or a blanket of brown leaves. Satellite dishes with missing parts and twisted stems grew from another.
Woody vines curved around the rails of a wheelchair ramp that led nowhere. Across the street three stoves were lined up near an old shed near rusted hulk of a boat sat on a rickety wooden platform (apparently something of a pattern here).
If it hadn’t been for the occasional traffic to the west, like a distant waterfall, I might’ve expected a walker to emerge from the tangled pines any second.
This was a new level of urban decay, but as with many things people ignore or forget, it was fascinating to me. The area might be Fayetteville’s answer to Emma Avenue.
About two was miles south of my starting point sits the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where the bail bonds signs take over and I turned around. On the way back I saw a few more signs of life, and not just of humans. The plants around here seem to think spring has arrived or something. Rain started to fall as I got back to my car.