Archive for the ‘Coronavirus Diaries 2020’ Category

I parked at a gas station/mini-mart just to the north of town.   There seemed to be plenty of spaces so maybe no one would care if I left our car there for 3 – 4 hours.

 

I was about a mile north of downtown Laurinburg.   Laurinburg (population 16,000) is ninety miles south of Chapel Hill near the South Carolina line.   This is the farthest I have driven for one of these same day trips, where I take a bike ride and stay socially distant.  I came down here mostly to see the unique airport that is south of Laurinburg.

I biked into town through what must be the poorer side.    Wikipedia says Laurinburg Institute is a historically black boarding school.   Because of COVID I could not tell if it was open or closed.  There was grass growing around the parking lot.

 

I biked onward toward downtown Laurinburg.

 

 

 

 

I bicycled out of town towards the airport.  A lot of people just looked poor.

Smithfield, now owned by a Chinese company, is the largest pork producer in the world.  Just forty-five miles away in the tiny town of Tar Heel NC (population 117) is the world’s largest pork processing plant, where the they kill over 30,000 pigs per day.    I saw Smithfield signs all over the Laurinburg area.   This particular facility was on the east side of downtown Laurinburg.

I biked out of town onto the flat landscape and saw other signs indicating Smithfield.

 

 

The flat swampy landscape extended as far as the eye could see.

The Laurinburg-Maxton airport was built as an Army training base during World War II with a 6500′ runway.   There are today two or three companies in the California and Arizona desert where hundreds of older passenger jets are lined up to be scrapped.   For some reason a minor player in the jet junkyard business is here in humid Laurinburg.   I have been coming out here for several years and most of the same jets have been here the whole time.  This is a Northwest Airlines DC-10.

 

The airport is only lightly fenced.  About ten years ago I was here on bicycles with my late friend Dave Latowsky.   He was always much more brazen than me, he encouraged me and we rode our bicycles through an open gate and out underneath these jets.   But that was then, on a Sunday.   Here today on a weekday I just had to look at these giant 747’s from the road.

 

This former Southwest Airlines 737 is a relatively new arrival.

I bicycled completely around the airport on flat smooth roads with so little traffic that it felt uncomfortable.   There is other weird shit out here.   This airport is not a military base but it sometimes seems that way.   I learn from the web that the Gryphon Group is a private company that does combat training for the military.   Warriors apparently only drive pickup trucks.

 

From the road you could see several of its combat training grounds including a fake bombed out Middle Eastern looking town.

 

I biked back to Laurinburg on Business US-74.   Truckers for Trump.

 

The opioid epidemic is underreported.  I saw a lot of signs about pharmacies and drugs.

There were several cool looking commercial Mid-Century Modern structures that I saw in the Laurinburg area.

The south side of Laurinburg can be quite nice.   I did not go as far south as the six hundred student St. Andrews University.    Searching for a place for my picnic lunch I found Hammond Park.  It was surrounded on all sides by a residential neighborhood and had a picnic shelter.  Peanut butter and jelly.    I tried not to touch anything as I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

I saw almost no efforts of people attempting to social distance or wear masks in Laurinburg.   These kids were playing on the playground.

I biked the half hour back to the car north of town and drove home.   I got there in time to cook dinner for Tootie and me.   I had tried to stop at the drive-in Starbucks in Aberdeen on the way but the line was too long.

Where to go now?   How about the area south of Sanford NC, on US15-501?   I chose Carthage NC (population 2,200) which is fifty miles and a one hour car drive from my home in Chapel Hill.  I parked our Prius at a farm store.    I figured no one would care if I left the car there a few hours.   This would be another bike ride where I would totally stay away from people.   I brought my own food and water.

I pulled out the bicycle and started riding towards Pinehurst.   Here is the route of my bike ride.

Across from the Farm Supply this modernist restaurant sign likely from the 1960’s was flying above what is now a Mexican restaurant next to the local gun store.

 

At the end of the day I took a photo from the other side.   It is missing one of its four wings.  That is a white horse in the center.

 

It was just a mile or so bike ride to downtown Carthage.   I think downtowns should look like downtowns.   North Carolina is about the only state where the design, building, and maintenance of a large percentage of the roads are under state rather than local or county control.    Because Carthage’s main street McReynolds Street is considered a state highway (even though it is really not all that important a highway) the NCDOT has made sure that Carthage’s main street is so wide and efficient that it provides no intimacy to the downtown.   Carthage is the county seat of Moore County but downtown Carthage mostly looks like a highway.   This trend goes on all over the state.

 

The historic courthouse sits in the middle of the road.

Across the street sits the newer actual courthouse.   I usually like contemporary architecture but this place gives me the creeps.

 

There were a few signs of life downtown.

 

 

I guess no one but me cares that the town hall of Carthage is out on the highway one or two miles from downtown.

 

I cycled southward out of town into the Sandhills which stretch south for at least a hundred miles from North Carolina into South Carolina.    North of Carthage the forests are primarily deciduous hardwoods.   In the Sandhills it changes to almost exclusively pines.

 

This is not snow, this is white sand, at least a hundred miles from the coast.

I biked through mostly pine forest for the first ten miles south of Carthage.   Miles from any house a white cat crossed the road in front of me.

 

 

All by itself at a crossroads sat this place.

Pine forests in sand are likely not great farmland so back in the day (and maybe even now) land here was cheap.  It turned out to be a great place to build golf courses.  In the 1890’s a Boston developer purchased land right on a main north/south rail line for $1.25 an acre and built a hotel and a golf course.  Even then one could take the train here overnight from the Northeast.

I knew I was getting close to Pinehurst when I passed the first housing development.

 

Among Pinehursts there is Pinehurst (the village), Pinehurst (the resort), and Pinehurst (the country club).   The entire Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area now has a whole bunch of resorts and country clubs and golf courses.  By itself Pinehurst (the resort) has NINE golf courses.  Number 2 is supposed to be the best.   My ride into town passed a gate for Pinehurst No. 8.   The gate was open so I biked into it to have a look around.

 

 

During a pandemic I thought the solution was for each golfer to have his or her own cart and then stay a social distance from each other.   I am not sure these guys were totally playing by the rules of Coronavirus; it was hard to tell.

 

Frederick Law Olmstead died in 1901 at age 81,  America’s most famous and original landscape architect.  He had designed Central Park in Manhattan.   I learned from Wikipedia that in about 1895 he designed the winding streets of Pinehurst village.   Olmstead’s designs mostly started with empty land but make the landscape appear natural, like it was always that way.   By bike I noodled around Olmestead’s curvy Pinehurst streets and looked at houses.

 

I do not consider the weather in Pinehurst to be an attraction.   There are real winters and the summers are unbearably hot.   Pinehurst is more than an hour’s drive from any of the major cities of North Carolina.   I have always wondered: who lives in these places?

 

On these bike rides in populated areas during a pandemic with restaurants closed one unanticipated problem has been that there is nowhere to go to the bathroom!   In historic Pinehurst I found the Carolina Hotel, built in 1901.  There was almost no one around but it appeared open.  I walked inside to use their restroom.  There was a bellhop and a desk clerk, neither was wearing a mask.  I thought someone would question me but it seems an older white guy with decent manners can get away with a lot.

 

 

 

 

I decided to bicycle onward to the town of Southern Pines, six miles to the southeast.   There was an almost continuous progression of golf courses, housing developments, and cemeteries(!), including Pinehurst Country Club and Country Club of North Carolina.  There were lots of golf carts, even on the streets.

 

 

 

 

Stuff I saw on the way to Southern Pines.

 

 

Southern Pines has an attractive downtown with restaurants and gift shops.   I parked the bicycle and found a picnic spot on this bench in front of the post office.   With my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

 

I had to bike fifteen miles north back to my car in Carthage.   As I left downtown Southern Pines I saw lots of what looked like family groups walking around.   There were no masks.  In fact, I only saw four or five people all day that wore a mask.   All but one were African-American.


 

I got back to my car and was home in Chapel Hill by about 4:00 PM.   On this whole trip I had not gotten physically near anyone and had not touched anything.

 

Tootie and I had a free place to stay so why not escape for a couple days?    My late mother’s house was sitting empty.   We could still keep to ourselves and social distance.  We brought our own food and drove the four hours from Chapel Hill to Virginia Beach.

I have always had a soft spot for Bruce Springsteen because like me he grew up in a beach town, hanging around the boardwalk.    “as the wizards play down on pinball way on the boardwalk way past dark…you know this boardwalk life for me is through.  You know you ought to quit this scene  too.” 

 

 

 

 

Bruce may have hung around the boardwalk but I did not hear from him sing about bicycles.  For me the boardwalk was always about bicycles.   My friends and I rode our bicycles up and down that boardwalk.  Back and forth. We rode bicycles to our jobs working at various hotels and restaurants.   We rode bicycles to the amusement park Seaside Park so we could play skee-ball.

On this recent Coronavirus Sunday morning there were two bicycles sitting in the beach house garage.  Tootie and I started at 83rd street to ride down to 1st Street and back.

 

All the streets north of 40th are zoned residential.   Atlantic Avenue heads south and the streets tick off one by one.   There is a pleasant side street along Atlantic Avenue that locals call the Feeder Road.   For forty  blocks it functions beautifully as a path for walking and bicycling.

 

 

South of 40th street (the South End) the scenario changes abruptly to hotels and the boardwalk begins.   The boardwalk is just its name, it has always been made of concrete.   Hotels line the oceanfront for forty blocks.

 

In my sixty-four years I have witnessed the complete teardown of these hotels twice.   The photo below is from the 1940’s.   When I was a child in the early 1960’s the older wooden oceanfront cottage hotels had not changed much since this 1940’s postcard.

 

One by one starting in the late 1950’s with exactly one exception every single cottage type oceanfront hotel shown above was torn down and replaced by a motel.   The new ones had catchy names like the Gay Vacationer.   The old pictures below are taken from the internet.

Or this

 

By the mid 1970’s I had moved away and I only came back to visit family.  Over the past forty years almost every one of the Googie Mid-Century Modern architectured 1950-60’s motels have themselves been torn down, one by one, to be replaced by flat higher rising hotels along the oceanfront.

Tootie and I continued bicycling down the boardwalk strip heading south.   Back in my day there was not this bike path and the bicycles had to mix with pedestrians on the concrete boardwalk.

 

The boardwalk ends at 1st Street and Rudee Inlet.   Tootie and I turned around and headed back north.  Where we live in Chapel Hill and in some parts of Virginia Beach people cautiously keep social distance and wear face masks.   Here at the south end on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning people did not seem to care.

 

We biked back north, this time on the street Atlantic Avenue.   In the 1970’s my friend Steve used to work at the Schooner Inn motel.

I had said that every single wooden oceanfront cottage hotel in the South End had been torn down except one.  The De Witt Cottage was owned by three elderly sisters when I was a child.  They went to our church.  One of them used to baby sit for us.   Their home has been saved as a museum which sits forlornly between high rises.

This shows Tootie biking north on Atlantic Avenue.

The 1950’s-1970’s Mid-Century Modern motels are now historic structures and in Virginia Beach on the oceanfront only two or three remain, including the Seahawk Motel.

On less expensive non-oceanfront land there are other remaining motels, including the Cutty Sark and the Royal Clipper.

We bicycled back to the beach house.   It was almost lunchtime.

It was another beautiful spring day during a coronavirus pandemic.   I had to stay close to home so that I could  bike ride in just a few hours and still drive home.  I had to do the entire ride without stopping to buy food or water and not talking to anyone.  (Keep social distance!)

Just a couple of blocks behind the Whole Foods on Wade Avenue on the northwest side of Raleigh I parked our car on a residential street.  It had been a half hour drive from our Chapel Hill home.   I pulled out the Bike Friday.

 

I will keep this report simple.  I just want to show pictures of buildings.  I have said on previous posts that Raleigh has an impressive system of paved greenways that follow stream beds, where one can walk or bicycle without traffic and without even climbing hills.   On more recent rides during this pandemic on Raleigh greenways I have felt uncomfortably close to too many people.   Social distancing was difficult.  On this day I decided to ride through residential streets where there were fewer people.   There were lots of steep hills.

I have also spoken before about inside-the-beltine-Raleigh’s trend of teardownerism.  It was fun looking for a newer gaudy house next to a much smaller house, which likely looks much like the house that used to be next door before it was torn down.

 

I cycled downtown.   The North Carolina State Legislative Building makes me proud to be a North Carolinian, even if the current occupants are majority Republicans.   It is one block from the 1833 classical State Capitol building which had become overcrowded.   Completed in 1963 and designed by architect Edward Durell Stone in cooperation with the local firm Holloway-Reeves, this building speaks optimism.   I daresay Virginia or South Carolina never would have built this building.   North Carolina in 1963 was excited about its future and not held back by the past.   I think the building has aged really well.

I biked back to the car in northwest Raleigh.   I was home in Chapel Hill for lunch.

It is sixty miles and a one hour drive from our Chapel Hill apartment to the Reidsville exit off US 29,  twenty-five miles north of Greensboro.  North Carolina passed a law back in 1988 that raised the gas tax but the proceeds could only be used to building freeway outer loops around the largest cities in North Carolina.   These outer loops are still being built in 2020.  I find this insane.  The newly named I-785 for ten or fifteen miles northeast of Greensboro had no traffic on this Sunday morning during a pandemic but I doubt there is ever much traffic on this road.  This photo was taken from the car while driving.

I parked our car south of Reidsville in the lot of a Southern States Cooperative which was closed on Sunday.

I pulled the Bike Friday out.  This is during a pandemic.  My non-negotiable personal plan was that I would not stop at any establishments and not go near any other people, and at those goals I succeeded.   I started biking.  Reidsville was ten miles north.

 

 

 

This facility was in the parking lot of a mini-mart on the southern outskirts of Reidsville.

 

I did not know much about Reidsville (population 15,000) other than my good friend Nancy lived there a while as child.

I noodled around town on the bicycle.  This 1920’s looking house seemed unique, one does not see Spanish Colonial Revival much in North Carolina.

I continued to cycle around Reidsville.

 

 

Downtown on a Sunday morning during a pandemic was like a neutron bomb had gone off.

 

Reidsville’s huge cigarette factory (with its Lucky Strike smokestack) is right next to downtown and seemed very much in operation but online I read reports that it is in the process of being shut down, with a loss of 110 jobs.   Production is being moved to the larger cigarette factory in Greensboro.

 

 

During this pandemic restaurants are closed for seating but many people in North Carolina I suspect would rather to stay in their cars anyway.    The drive-throughs were busy at locally owned restaurants.

I ate my peanut butter sandwich at a public park in Reidsville.

I like to look for mid-century modernist commercial buildings.   Here is Reidsville there likely not as much economic pressure to tear these down.

 

On the way back to my car I biked for a short period on the US29 Bypass and discovered my now favorite building in Reidsville, the Holy Infant Catholic Church.

Near where my car was parked was this graveside funeral.   No one was social distancing although a few people were wearing masks.

 

On these coronavirus rides I drive my car somewhere and take a bike ride of just a few hours.  I keep totally away from people.  I do not stop at any establishments.  I bring my own food and water.

My son Jack’s girlfriend Mary Hannah is now is in graduate school at UNC but was originally from Stoneville NC, a place I had never heard of.   I had to check Stoneville out.   It is just over thirty miles north of Greensboro near the Virginia line.

It took about ninety minutes for me to drive the ninety miles from Chapel Hill to Stoneville.   On a Sunday morning I parked in a church parking lot and took out my Bike Friday.   There were three other cars in the lot.  I guess the church was trying to preach remotely.

 

My ride would take me from Stoneville (population 1,200) to the much larger town of Eden (population 15,000.) I would seriously noodle by bicycle around Eden, then ride back to Stoneville.   

A lot of North Carolina towns look terrible with commercial downtowns that have been essentially abandoned.  Stoneville is not like that; they are definitely keeping up appearances.

 

A main line of the Norfolk Southern runs right through the middle of town.

There is a mid-century modern post office.

 

Biking on Sunday mornings during this pandemic I have seen various ways in which Christians seek to connect without physically connecting.   Here on a stage in downtown Stoneville NC this woman was singing to an audience of exactly zero, at least until I got there.   She was accompanied by a young man drumming who appeared to be about twelve years old.   Maybe she is broadcasting this on Facebook; maybe she is just fulfilling her need to get the gospel music out.   The music sounded much better live than it does on this recording.   I found the music quite moving

I biked out of town on the older highway eastward towards Eden.   Although I knew Eden would have many abandoned textile mills there is still some textile manufacturing going on in North Carolina.  On a country road just outside of Stoneville NC Sans Technical Fibers was very much in operation even on a Sunday morning.

 

 

There were a few interesting things along the highway from Stoneville to Eden, including tobacco barns.

 

 

 

Wikipedia is changing the world.   I can so easily learn all sorts of factoids that I otherwise would never have known.   For example, who would have known that Eden NC (which I had definitely heard of) was created as a town in 1967 as a result of the merger of three towns: Leaksville NC, Spray NC, and Draper NC.  All three were the site of large textile mills, all within three or four miles of each other.

On the outskirts of the city of Eden was a drive in movie theater.   At least pre-coronavirus it seems still fully functional.

 

 

 

I first visited the former Leaksville, one the three towns that combined to make Eden.

 

I pedaled through neighborhoods towards its downtown.     It looks like a factory town.

 

 

 

 

 

Downtown Leaksville seems to function now as the downtown Eden.

 

 

 

former armory

 

recording studio

 

Down the block from these downtown buildings is the Karastan carpet mill, which seems very much in business, although it was not working on a Sunday morning.

 

The modernist offices of the carpet mill.

 

I biked downhill east from downtown.   This lot had about twenty or thirty original Volkswagen Beetles.

Eden sits at the junction of the Smith River and the Dan River.  There must have been a waterfall or steep set of rapids here on the Smith River.   Historic signs pointed out that power has been generated here since 1813 and cloth has been woven by this power since 1836.   Cloth for Confederate uniforms was made here.   There are the remains of at least three huge mills, none of which seem to be operating now.

 

 

 

There was one more area I had to visit, the original town of Draper that now comprises the other half of greater city of Eden.   Draper is four miles farther east and also has mill type housing.

The principal street of the area is Fieldcrest Road, presumably named after the towel manufacturer that used to be here.   The street runs into a large former textile mill, now used as a trucking terminal.

I was out by myself during a coronavirus pandemic and it was time to turn around and head back towards my car.  Two miles west is the municipal complex for the town of Eden.  In the 1960’s there must have been farmland between the Draper area and the former Leaksville downtown.   All the textile mills surely were running at full tilt.  With the optimism of the era Eden NC  on this farmland built a complex of mid-century modernist civic buildings, schools, and a city park.   I stopped for lunch in parkland in front of what I believe is the police station.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of nuts and chips.

 

 

The Osborne Baptist Church is so close to the police station that at first glance it looks like they are connected.

 

Across the street is this high school.

Behind it is this middle school.

After lunch I got back on the bicycle and rode the ten miles back to Stoneville.  It took about an hour.   Here is one last shout-out to prewar gas stations I had seen on this day.

This region clearly has many Trump supporters.  Their passion is terrifying  This person cannot walk out his front door without stepping around this banner.   It was faded, it has been flying there a long time.

This was another bike ride where I touched nothing and neither talked to or allowed myself to be near anyone.  Although I could have started biking directly from my apartment I chose to drive the first few miles and then leave the car at a mall parking lot.

 

You may remember that a week or two ago I parked at the largest mall in Raleigh.   This time I parked in front of the other giant mall of the Raleigh/Durham area:  Southpoint Mall, on the freeway between Chapel Hill, Durham, and the airport.  The mall is a ten or fifteen minute drive from our apartment and was pretty much totally shut down.  There was plenty of parking.

 

My mission on this ride was to see as much of Cary NC as possible.   Cary’s original downtown is nine miles from downtown Raleigh, halfway from Raleigh to the airport.   For many years it was just a tiny town.  In 1930 the population of Cary was 909; in 1970 the population 7,700.   The current population is 170,000.   Huge subdivisions, many of them upscale, have been built in the past thirty years.  There is a substantial population of well-to-do Asians as well as many professionals who have relocated here from everywhere on the planet other than North Carolina.

The American Tobacco Trail is a twenty-three mile long rail trail that runs right by the mall.   I biked from the parking lot and then turned down the trail.

 

With the trail I could reach the western fringes of Cary in about six or eight miles.  Cary is difficult to bicycle through because most neighborhoods are deliberately designed with dead end cul de sac streets.   My plan was to just get lost in Cary residential neighborhoods and see what happened.   I got off the trail at O’Kelly Chapel Road.

 

 

 

 

 

I bicycled a quarter mile down the country road to the first Cary subdivision.

 

These houses were built in the past ten years by the company Del Webb.   It is called “Carolina Preserve at Amberly.”

 

 

 

The next subdivision which is also part of the faux-ville Amberly tries to look like Georgetown.

 

 

Right down the street were apartments that resemble many being built all over America right now.  Here I could see the detail on how this low cost building is done;.  They first build a wood frame, then cover it with styrofoam and then cover that with thin stone siding.

 

 

 

I biked across the major highways 540 and 55, and then came upon the”town” of Carpenter NC.  When I used to drive through here in about 1989 Carpenter was only this tiny collection of buildings surrounded by tobacco fields and woods.

 

Now a quarter mile away Carpenter gives the developer a name for his new subdivision;  “The Estates at Olde Carpenter.”   I bicycled through the gates.

The latticework of streets led to other subdivisions with the Carpenter name.   There are some big houses around here.

 

 

I crossed over Morrisville Parkway to the next big neighborhood called Preston.   The NCDOT has built giant roads like this all over North Carolina.   There is nothing intimate or picturesque about this street.  Cary is a collection of major state funded streets like this that connect pods of dead end residential streets.

 

Preston is a real estate development started in 1993 by the man who also started the very successful software company SAS.  It has mushroomed into a large set of neighborhoods, some centered on a golf course, each neighborhood with its own name.   As far as I can tell the name Preston was just some word they made up.

On a sunny weekday during a pandemic there were lots of golfers out.   It does seem logical to let golfers play, if they keep distance and each golfer takes a separate cart.

 

 

Biking through the Preston area it became clear that I could play a name game.   Sort of like bird watching, I could “score” each time I photographed a neighborhood entrance sign with the Preston name. (How do they think all this stuff up?)  I scored big.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stopped for lunch at a pond likely reserved for Preston residents.  There was a bench and no one around.   I sat and ate the lunch I had brought;  avocado, sun-dried tomato, and leftover asparagus sandwich.

Here was the sandwich in my kitchen four or five hours earlier.

After lunch I noodled by bicycle around more Cary neighborhoods.   Not all houses were this big but the big ones are more interesting photographs.

 

I eventually started meandering around back in the direction from which I came; I got back on the American Tobacco Trail.   Here is the total ride, a little more than forty miles total.