I have been married to Tootie for thirty-five years. I have been to her hometown of Winston-Salem (twin city!) more times than I can count. I can honestly say it is almost a second or third home to me.
Everything I ever did in Winston-Salem was on the west side. Everything. The west side is a land of surburban houses, Whole Foods Market, Wake Forest University, golf courses, and country clubs. I have always thought that Winston-Salem is one of the most segregated cities I have ever visited. Not everyone on the west side is rich, far from it. And clearly not everyone on the east side is African-American and poor either. But there seems to be a huge cultural gap.
Winston-Salem has been recently successful with Wake Forest University in turning a huge former tobacco factory on the east side of downtown into a center for biotechnology, a sort of urban Research Triangle Park. I wanted to bicycle around this redeveloped neighborhood. But first I would bicycle south of downtown, an area I really had never visited.
The historically African-American Winston-Salem State University is on the southeast side of downtown. I had never seen any part of it, not even on a drive-by. This Wednesday afternoon I parked the car in student parking, pulled out my bicycle, and started riding. The tall buildings of downtown were visible in the distance.
I biked off heading south, passing through the campus.
If you go down a steep hill from WS State you can get on Salem Creek Greenway.
I biked west down the greenway for a mile or two before turning south on Main Street, which is also called Old US 52.
In the area south of NC School of the Arts was an attractive early twentieth century neighborhood I had never seen before.
From there I decided I would bike fifteen miles south to the town of Welcome NC, where the map indicated some kind of stock car racing museum. I would have to check it out.
On Old Highway 52 there were well-preserved pre-WWII gas stations.
The further out I biked from Winston-Salem the more I felt I was leaving one planet and arriving at the next. Increasingly the traffic passing me was predominantly pickup trucks.
This guy’s boat has twin banners, a blue TRUMP, and the Confederate stars and bars
I realized several years ago that some of the best museum experiences in America are in privately owned and operated museums. I recommend always stopping and visiting these places, even if you do not think you have an interest in their subject. These museums frequently display a passion not always present in a public museum. (Tip: go visit the Hank Williams museum in Montgomery Alabama.) For some people Richard Childress is a big deal, a huge player in the stock car world. I confess I had never heard of him. His Wikipedia page describes him as “one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina.” I do not follow stock car racing. To me the word “racing” means high school cross country running, or horse racing. But in Welcome NC “racing” means stock car racing. With the over 55 discount I paid $8.50 to visit the Richard Childress Racing Museum in Welcome NC. The young women at the front desk were friendly and helpful.
There were dozens of actual racing cars artfully arranged.
Except for one elderly couple I was the only visitor on this weekday.
Even more, uh, interesting was the other stuff. Richard’s former office was on display.
There were two or three rooms just to display all the animals that Richard Childress had killed.
There was his tribute to the NRA.
And of course, what stock car museum is not complete without a display honoring the music of Brooks & Dunne?
I had wandered around this surprisingly large space for almost an hour. I had to get out of this place. I got on the bicycle and headed back towards Winston-Salem, looking for a place to eat lunch.
In about seven miles was Cagney’s Kitchen.
It is a popular place.
Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beens, one quarter sweet tea. The meat loaf was a little too soft and chewy for my taste.
All along Old US52 are prime examples of bungalow architecture.
A rounded top building, the tallest in the Winston-Salem skyline, was built as Wachovia Bank headquarters just before management sold out and moved to Charlotte in 2001. As I approached the city on South Main Street / Old US 52 I could see the Big Penis rising off in the distance.
Just before downtown I biked up a steep hill through Old Salem. Yes, it is wonderful that they preserved buildings dating back to the late 1700’s. But these buildings should be used in a modern context. Maybe it is because my parents were always dragging me to Colonial Williamsburg as a kid, but trying to re-create the year 1800 in exact detail gives me the creeps.
I biked through downtown, looking for a place to get a coffee. I love the look of the Nissen Building. It has nothing to do with the Japanese. Nissen, based in Winston-Salem, was one of the country’s largest wagon manufacturers. The Nissens managed to sell off the wagon business in 1925 before the Depression, and built this office building in 1926-27 with the proceeds. The building was recently renovated into apartments.
I found the coffee shop Sweet Aromaz on Trade Street. It makes a decent oat milk latte. I sat around, read my Kindle, and soaked up the vibe.
I had read about Innovation Quarter in an article I read about two years ago in Politico Magazine. The headline was How Tech helped Winston-Salem Quit Tobacco. The North Carolina city was once a major producer of cigarettes in the country; now it’s manufacturing human organs. The article describes how a group of influential people of Winston-Salem were watching their city decline economically. They put aside their personal differences and worked with Wake Forest University to create this technology center.
More than fifty years ago in another part of North Carolina 100 miles east of Winston-Salem, locals changed the world by creating Research Triangle Park. Research Triangle Park sold itself for its rural nature, a high tech campus in the piney woods surrounded by major universities. Their first big client was IBM. While that was all a big success, tech firms in 2018 want a more urban setting. Young technical talent now want to live in cities.
While there was not a lot of street life on this weekday, and there are huge surface parking lots, Innovation Quarter still looks like an impressive achievement.