I drove from Chapel Hill to see Mom and my sisters and nieces in Virginia Beach, and found time to park the car in downtown Norfolk, take out the bicycle and bike around Norfolk on a cold afternoon in late December.
Biking around downtown, I could see that Norfolk is still recovering from being essentially torn down by the government in “redevelopment” during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The modernist skyscrapers of the 1960’s are now looking for their next life; the former Virginia National Bank building (later bought out by Bank of America) was the tallest building in Virginia when it was built in 1967. They were taking the letters off the building; the signs say they are converting the building to apartments.
My Dad was from Norfolk, born in 1911. Until he was thirty years old he mostly lived at his parent’s house at 608 Redgate Avenue, Ghent, Norfolk. He told told me that once, on a dare, he had driven his sister’s Model A Ford through Selden Arcade, all the way through to the street on the other side.
But Dad said he always felt he was somehow different. He told me that sometime in the late 1930’s, after he had spent six months traveling around Spain, he was pretty much the only person in all of Norfolk who spoke Spanish. In the early 1950’s he and my Mom moved around the United States trying to get a graduate degree, but just after I was born in 1955 he moved from Colorado with his new family back to the Norfolk area, in Virginia Beach.
If Norfolk would just try a little harder, bicycle commuting would be a complete natural. It is relatively dense and as the land is as flat as Amsterdam. I doubt it is much more than a mile by bicycle from the center of downtown to 608 Redgate Avenue, the house my grandparents bought in about 1908 and lived in until they moved to Virginia Beach in 1946. It looks completely unchanged.
Here is my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather sitting on that porch, about 1916.
If you ever come here be sure to pronounce the place correctly. This license plate tells it all.
I biked around for another hour of so, going as far as the waterfront in Larchmont, near the Hampton Boulevard bridge.
The New York Times keeps running articles describing Norfolk as ground zero of the effects of rising sea levels caused by global warming. The most expensive residential real estate is waterfront; streets that dead end on a beautiful view. These lots were usually built by filling in former swamps. Contrary to the situation in New Orleans, in Norfolk it is the rich people that frequently face the worst flooding. Still, it was all nice this December afternoon.
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