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.

While Chapel Hill is considered part of the Triangle of Chapel Hill / Durham / Raleigh;  Greensboro, population about 300,000 and the third largest city in North Carolina is not that far away to the west, especially from Chapel Hill.   It is forty-six miles from my Chapel Hill condo to downtown Greensboro and there are hardly ever traffic delays driving to Greensboro, something that cannot be said about driving the thirty miles to Raleigh in the other direction.

On Easter Sunday morning during a coronavirus pandemic it took about forty minutes to drive our Prius the forty-three miles to Gateway Research Park on the eastern fringes of Greensboro.  I was going to take a bike ride without stopping to talk to anyone, without touching anything other than my bicycle.

Look at the map above.  Downtown Greensboro is between the “s” and the “b” of the word Greensboro.   Look how off-centered the downtown is on the city limits of Greensboro.   Greensboro sprawls from downtown west and north, not to the south and east.   Almost all of the retail and restaurants of Greensboro are downtown and to the north and northwest of downtown.  As you might imagine this situation has everything to do with race.    I am not picking on Greensboro.  I like Greensboro.   It is just an example of the racial patterns in suburban sprawl.

I drove from Chapel Hill to the Lee Street exit on I-40.    This spot is only four miles from downtown Greensboro.  Where is the Walmart?   In Greensboro all the shopping malls, Walmarts, Starbucks, fancy restaurants and bars, even McDonaldes are to the north and west of downtown.  On the west side this stuff sprawls out for more than ten miles.  Here at the Lee Street exit there is almost nothing,  just a couple gas stations and some cow pastures.  These photos were taken from my car.

 

No supermarket.  No Walmart.   In fact, there is just one real grocery store (a Food Lion) on the entire east side of Greensboro.   There are almost no restaurants or retail outlets of any kind on the east side.

The government is doing its part to rectify this by putting money into infrastructure on the east side.   The state government sponsored Gateway Research Park buildings are on the right.   This is just beyond the freeway exit.   But private commercial development hardly exists.

This provided me an easy place to park. I pulled out the bicycle.

 

 

Crossing over Lee Street there were a couple more government and nonprofit buildings recently built: a YMCA and a city park called Gateway Gardens.   It seemed very nice but it felt weird that there were no privately funded businesses.  There was not even a fast food place.

 

Florida Street runs for six miles through the mostly African-American southern part of Greensboro, a part of town I had never visited before.    There were miles of neighborhoods of 1960’s brick houses.

 

 

I passed several modernist churches.

On Easter Sunday during a pandemic this man was preaching with a loudspeaker in the parking lot, his apparent parishioners sitting in their cars.

Florida Street passes by the city-owned Gillespie golf course.

Even at major intersections I saw almost no active businesses.  There was this dead mini-mart.

I bicycled through public housing.

I continued bicycling along Florida Street until it ended at Holden Road.   As befitting the title I have given Greensboro as having the least bicycle friendly streets of any city I know, Holden Road is insanely wider than it needs to be.  It was built to encourage fast car travel.

I bicycled back in the direction of my car but staying in the southern part of town, noodling through residential streets.

 

 

There was one entire block of mostly mid-century modernist houses.

Greensboro has always been a city of manufacturers; originally tobacco and textiles.   There were industrial buildings sprinkled through these neighborhoods.   There still were very very few restaurants or retail stores

 

 

There are two HBCU’s on the east side of Greensboro.   The state-run NC AT&T seems to be booming, new construction was everywhere.

Bennett College, a woman’s college of less than five hundred students is struggling.   About a year ago they had their accreditation pulled but I think they have worked out a solution at least for now.

 

Turning back within walking distance to downtown there is a small area Southside where the neighborhood has gentrified dramatically.  Many buildings were in vivid colors.

Downtown was quite empty on a pandemic Easter Sunday.

North of downtown the company that used to be called Wrangler (as in the blue jeans) has a new name and an impressive mid-century modernist headquarters.

 

Fisher Park is the name of both an early twentieth century neighborhood and a park just north of downtown.    I like the look of the neighborhood so much that I find myself wanting to move to Greensboro just to live in Fisher Park!   Not all the houses are as big as these two; many are small bungalows.

 

I found a spot to eat lunch in Fisher Park (the park).    No one was around.  Sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

 

There are large parts of Greensboro to the north and west but they will have to wait for another bike trip.  Fisher Park extends west – east for several blocks, ending on the east at North Church Street and a set of railroad tracks.   Across those tracks are the much poorer east side neighborhoods.  I would have biked around these but it was starting to rain.   I still had at almost an hour’s bike ride back to the car.   I passed this plaque along the way on McConnell Road in eastern Greensboro.

I wanted to bicycle (for once) on a road or trail that I had never cycled on before but was also near where I live.  This is the eighth part in a series of bicycle rides that are done alone without touching anything, not going to a store, not talking to or getting near anyone.   I noticed the Bicentennial Trail the other day on Google Maps.   Like many greenways and rail-trails the Bicentennial Trail starts in the middle of nowhere, this one on the far western edge of the Greensboro city limits.

Before leaving I needed to fuel up.  Breakfast at home in Chapel Hill was avocado toast with a side of cheese toast.  In these challenging times for small business I always want to give a shout-out, so it was local raw milk cheese called Hickory Grove, by Chapel Hill Creamery, Seven Grain Bread from Weaver Street Market, arugula from Lyon Farms, Creedmoor NC.

The start point for the bike ride was fifty-seven miles away, right off exit 211 near the Greensboro airport.   The drive by car took exactly one hour mostly on I-40 and was totally painless.   (Quote from my late father, native of Norfolk, Virginia, spoken in about 1968: “those folks down in North Carolina have been driving sixty miles to play bridge for FIFTY years.”)

I assumed no one would care if I parked for a few hours in a warehousing complex.

 

 

 

The starting point of the trail was inauspicious; no sign, nothing.   I only knew about the trail because of Google Maps which said it went all the way more than twelve miles to near downtown High Point.

The paved trail winds along a stream bed.   Less than a mile along it was in very poor condition.

I found that the trail gets better.  The one small stretch was the worst.  The northern (first) half is bumpier, sometimes with steep hills.   It is not a trail to be done on a road bike.   The southern half south of Penny Road the trail is very well maintained.   Whether the pavement is smooth or not, the trail goes almost entirely through lovely wooded areas.

 

At about the halfway point, north of Penny Road, you have to take the bicycle up stairs.

 

South of Penny Road the trail is newer and better maintained.

 

 

 

High Point University is surrounded by a fence but this trail has an opening that allows it right through the middle of campus.  If beamed down here from another planet and also at UNC Chapel Hill, an alien might pick High Point University as the more impressive looking campus.   I think most of the buildings are very recent.  My cousin Nancy’s son Patrick recently graduated from here.   Nancy if you are reading please send me his cell phone number.

The older neighborhoods of High Point lie just beyond the University.   I will save lengthy comments about High Point for another blog, coming soon.   I did see this apartment building on Main Street, next door to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, at the sort of gateway to one of the nicer neighborhoods.   My good friend and photography coach John Ripley lives on Maple Avenue in Carrboro NC, within walking distance to my Chapel Hill apartment but John grew up in High Point.   In the late 1940’s his parents moved into one of these apartments.   John was born when they were living in this building.

High Point still claims to be the furniture capital of the world, a title that may now be debatable.   Housing seems really affordable.  This house was just a couple blocks away.

 

 

 

I turned around and rode back the way I came, back on the trail.    I found a bench along the way.  When sitting and eating my lunch I took special care not to even touch the bench with my hands!   Peanut butter and jelly.  The same Weaver Street bread.

 

I spent an hour or two bicycling back to the car.   After finding my car and driving home I decided to break all my rules and buy an almond milk at Starbucks in suburban Greensboro, to drink in the car.    It was open for drive-through only.

 

I sat for a minute or two but the line was moving too slowly.   I blew it off and drove home.

 

Of course I had never read, or even previously heard of, Albert Camus’ 1947 novel “The Plague.”    The book has now been mentioned several times in recent publications.  It describes a French town during a plague.   A New Yorker reader named Kyra Morris pointed out one scene where two principal characters of the novel get tired of the stress of the plague and jump in the ocean to take a swim.  She says:

The physical leap that (these characters) take into the sea is made possible by an imaginative one: they free their minds, if only for a moment, from the grip of the plague… (the characters) do not naively assume themselves to be free; they carve a form of freedom out of a landscape inimical to it.  To resist the psychological effects of COVID-19 we need to find a form of imaginative freedom that, like (those characters) does not ignore the pestilence.   Camus calls this “a happiness that forgot nothing.”

I am sure that Tootie and I have a lot less to worry about than the inhabitants of the French town in Camus’ novel.   Still, we prepared to free our minds by taking a bike ride together.   We took proper precautions and drove over to the south side of Raleigh to take our break from the plague, even if that meant just not watching TV news for a few hours.   It is not difficult in North Carolina to go on a bicycle ride and still maintain social distancing rules.   It took only a minute or two to get two bicycles in the back of the Prius.  I had to remove Tootie’s front wheel.

We wanted to ride on the Neuse River Trail but wanted to park somewhere where no people were around.   We drove about thirty miles to Raleigh, then to Worthdale Park on the more isolated southeastern side of town.  We found no one around so we thankfully pulled the bicycles out.

 

We biked first on the Walnut Creek trail which eventually merged into the Neuse River Trail, heading southeast, away from central Raleigh.

 

 

This trip was to be an up and back.   After about ten or twelve miles we stopped for  a picnic lunch.   At home we had been out of peanut butter so I had a tuna fish sandwich, she had egg salad.

We did not bicycle all the way to the end of the trail near Clayton.  Instead we turned around and had a great bike ride back to the car.

There was not much competition for a parking space for our white Prius at Crabtree Valley Mall, likely the largest mall in the Raleigh/Durham area, six miles from downtown Raleigh.   I pulled out the Surly Long Haul Trucker out of the back.

 

Crabtree Valley Mall sits on Crabtree Creek and the Crabtree Creek Trail runs along the creek, part of the huge Raleigh system of greenways.   These Raleigh greenways follow streams, floodplains, land that would otherwise be left fallow.

I biked on the trail in the direction of the center of the city.   After the trail passes under the I-440 beltline neighborhoods of fancy houses sit on the steep bluffs rising above the creeks.    A lot of money has been made in and near Raleigh in the past twenty years, much of it from tech.  For those looking to impress, the area above Crabtree Creek has the double whammy of Inside The Beltline and proximity to Carolina Country Club.   I biked off the trail and up the steep streets of this neighborhood.  The Teardowner has become the norm for the past ten years.

There used to be a lot of houses that looked like this.

I have never liked the “colonial ranch” style but the new houses that replace them are too gaudy.

 

It was fun looking for yin/yang houses for big and small next to each other.   I wonder how many of the smaller ones are living on borrowed time.

 

 

These two new houses here:

sit next door to this 1951 modernist gem:

These two houses, just being completed,

 

sit next door to this:

The Raleigh/Durham area has a wealth of mid-century modern homes from the 1950-60’s.  Many are a product of the excellent NC State School of Design.  Anyone interested in this should see the very thorough website http://www.ncmodernist.org.  On a prime lot overlooking the golf course I bicycled by this house which was completed in 1950:

 

These modernist houses were usually built on deeply wooded lots and most are difficult to see, even if you are standing right in front of them.   It reminds me of why people go to Palm Springs CA to see such houses, in the desert with no trees.  Here is a photo from the internet of this same house showing the side facing the golf course.

 

I bicycled back downhill and got back on the greenway system.

 

I stopped at this bench for lunch; peanut butter and jelly sandwich.   I made sure not to touch the bench with my hands!

I bicycled a little further, then back to the car for the drive home.  I had not gotten near any person nor had I touched anything other than my bicycle and stuff.

 

I was going to take a bicycle ride to Durham without touching anyone or anything and without getting within twenty feet of a person, unless I happened to be passing that person at twenty miles an hour.

I keep my bicycles on the commercial parking level of our building Greenbridge.   Tootie and I have two cars, one inherited from her late mother, the other inherited from MY late mother.   We own only one indoor parking space so we are constantly moving the other car around, usually to a space on the street alongside the building.    The coronavirus has caused the law firm in our building to work remotely, so all their parking spaces sit empty.  When I walked down to get my bicycle for the trip to Durham our car sat comfortably indoors.

I got the bicycle and was prepared to leave but I realized I had forgotten to fill my water bottle so I took the elevator back up to our apartment and left the bicycle in the hallway.

 

Our building Greenbridge looks different on each side.

I bicycled the mile down the road towards the University of North Carolina campus.  Normally I would bicycle on side streets but now Chapel Hill’s principal street Franklin Street was totally empty on a Sunday morning.

 

I turned the bicycle to cut through the UNC campus.   Old East from 1793 is the oldest state university building in the USA.

 

One building down from Old East is Davie Hall, from 1968.   Everyone probably hates this building so I will say I really like it.

 

A quarter mile from the center of campus is Gimghoul Castle, the clubhouse of a secret UNC society.   Some say the building is haunted.

 

The bike ride to downtown Durham from UNC Chapel Hill is between twelve and sixteen miles each way, depending on the route.    This morning I took the longer way.  I starts with the bike path along state route 54, I took this photo as I whizzed by the woman as we were going in opposite directions.

 

 

Barbee Chapel Road:

 

to Stagecoach Road,

 

then the America Tobacco Trail.    There were families walking on the trail but I did not see any socializing between any of these people.  I wizzed by.

 

There were no people on the streets when I cruised through downtown Durham.

 

 

 

My older son Sam lives in Vietnam.   His brother and my son Jack owns a house one mile the other side of downtown Durham in an area called Duke Park.   I bicycled over to Jack’s house and stood at the street and talked with him at a distance.

I turned around and bicycled back to Chapel Hill, this time on the shorter route.   I went again through downtown Durham.   Almost all these apartments have been built in the past two years.

 

 

The bike ride home to Chapel Hill took about an hour and a half.

 

This bicycle ride was once again to get out of the house but not further this pandemic.   The solo bike ride would start in Henderson NC and continue to the towns of Soul City and Warrenton.  Compared to those places Henderson NC (population 15,000) felt like the Big City.  It was and is the home of the variety store Rose’s.  Henderson was also the site of several textile mills.

As a child the first bicycle trips of my life were the most basic.   At about age ten or eleven I was finally allowed to bicycle alone or with a friend from my suburban tract house to the closest commercial center; 31st Street in Virginia Beach; a distance of two and a half miles.  The two main draws for me were a Seven-Eleven and Rose’s.

Rose’s was a competitor to Woolworth’s but in Virginia Beach at that time we had only Rose’s; what my mother would call a “dime store.”   It felt fundamental to our Virginia Beach life.  Like a Woolworth’s it sold practically everything except groceries.  They had a lunch counter.  During my early adolescence friends and I biked to Rose’s and practically lived there, just wandering around the aisles.

Rose’s was founded in Henderson NC in 1915.   After Walmart laid waste to Rose’s and most other competitors in the dime store business in the 1980’s the retailer Variety Wholesalers bought up the name and the remnants of Rose’s in 1996.   Variety Wholesalers’ CEO and primary stockholder is Art Pope, a man who has another gig:  being the Darth Vader of Republican politics in North Carolina;  the man behind the curtain pulling the strings.  He funds a host of conservative think tanks.  He supposedly masterminded the Republican takeover of the NC state government in 2010.

There is still a Rose’s in Henderson NC.  Searching for somewhere to leave my car for five hours I chose the Rose’s parking lot.

 

It was to be a coronavirus bike ride.   I was not going to allow myself to touch anything, certainly not anything that did not come from my apartment.   I could not eat at restaurants so I brought along a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I had filled up with gas for the hour-long drive from Chapel Hill to Henderson using a disposable glove.   My mission on this ride was to see again the towns of Soul City and Warrenton.   This was the eventual route.

 

I bicycled first towards downtown Henderson.

 

The west side of Henderson is within walking distance of its downtown with many attractive affordable older homes.   Some are underutilized, some not.  They sell for less than half the price of those in Durham or Raleigh.

 

I bicycled through downtown.

 

Downtown mid-century modernism.

 

On the northeast side of town there were the remnants of factories or mills.

In some neighborhoods there was former mill housing.

 

Unions have never really worked out in North Carolina, certainly not in the textile industry.  Norma Rae!

On the northeast fringes of town, more modernism; Greystone Concrete Products.

 

I bicycled out of town towards Soul City, twelve miles to the northeast.    Henderson is in Vance County but I soon crossed the line into Warren County.  Warren County is one of several counties in northeastern North Carolina that are majority African-American.   Despite being only fifty miles from Durham the population is not growing.  Warren County had a population in 1840 of 13,000; 1880: 22,500; in 2020: 19,500.   I did not see a lot of productive-looking agriculture.   People seemed to be living in small settlements spread across the rural landscape.

This small dog risked his life on a highway to try and chase me down.

In places the landscape looks like the caricature of Old South.

 

 

Soul City is a planned community first proposed in 1969 and initially developed in the early 1970’s by civil rights activist Floyd McKissick.  The organizers got some federal money; apocryphally because McKissick had agreed to support Nixon in the 1968 election.  The town was to have 18,000 people by 1989 and 44,000 people by 2004.  Clearly that did not happen.  Still, Soul City is not dead and since my last visit here five years ago the community looked slightly more spruced up.   Some new construction is underway, new single family houses.   I would guess the total population is several hundred.   Bicycling through the countryside I knew I was upon Soul City when I saw this street sign hanging on the edge of a cornfield.

 

 

 

The park and community swimming pool both looked well maintained.

I have always found the Soul City sign appealing.   The sign’s monolith design reminds me of other monoliths from that same late sixties early seventies period.

Cycling away from Soul City I saw the large building that Soul City had originally intended for industrial use;  it has been converted into a prison.

Five miles past Soul City the town of Ridgeway is not much of a town, just several houses plopped around an intersection on two lane US-1.    I had not heard of the Ridgeway Opry House but it seems like it was very much a going concern up until the coronavirus thing.   YouTube has videos of people even older than me singing and playing Old Time/Bluegrass/Country for six dollars cover on Saturday nights.

 

I continued to bicycle through countryside.

 

Warrenton, the seat of Warren County looks bigger than its population: 858, less than the 1,500 people who lived here back in 1860.   Soul City had had no extant businesses.   Warrenton has several restaurants including a Hardee’s.

 

 

The three houses below were built before 1850, the last one in the 1700’s.

 

 

 

It was time for lunch.   There were a few people on the street but no one stopped to talk, which was fine with me.   I found a bench in front of the Episcopal church.   I could eat my sandwich and read my Kindle.

Back on the bicycle I headed out of town.  It was eighteen miles back to the car at Rose’s in Henderson.

 

I made it back to the car with no problems.   I did actually go into one establishment during this trip, at the end, into the Food Lion in Henderson next door to the Rose’s store.   I wanted a sack of potatoes and a bag of lemons.   I was able to easily get them without getting too close to anyone.   Other people in the Henderson Food Lion seemed to making no effort to keep a six foot social distance.

Last Saturday night we pushed the boundaries of social distancing and had one guest over for dinner; Maxine.   We all tried to stay six feet from each other.  Really.  The three of us had nice long conversations about all sorts of issues.   I asked Maxine for suggestions on where I should bike the next day.   Maxine is somewhat of a doyenne of artsy people in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina.   She said she knew artists who were moving, or at least talking about moving, to Roxboro, thirty miles north of Durham. Roxboro?  Really?   She said she had heard houses there were “practically free” and there were lots empty warehouses for studio space and potential performance venues.

Twenty-five years ago doing freight sales I made many drives to Roxboro (population then and now: about 8,500.)   At least then there was as a lot of manufacturing.  Those factories had freight.  “Ship with my company” I would tell them.  Roxboro is in Person County.

The racetrack Orange County Speedway is more or less on the way when driving from Chapel Hill to Roxboro.   Orange County is immediately to the southwest of Person County and is the county surrounding Chapel Hill.  Orange County has a reputation for being the one of the most liberal counties in North Carolina. (In the 2016 election: Clinton 76% Trump 22%)   I have lived in Orange County for thirty-two years and have never seen an ad for Orange County Speedway.   I have never heard anyone talk about Orange County Speedway or go to its events.  I have thought about going but somehow have never gotten around to it.  People talk about going to Durham Bulls baseball games all the time.  Why not small track auto racing?   Clearly the target audience for Orange County Speedway is not Orange County.

Orange County Speedway is tucked up into the far northeast corner of the county.   Here is the bicycle ride I took that Sunday.   Like previous bicycle rides in this pandemic, I tried very hard not get near anyone or touch anything and did not stop for lunch anywhere.

To get to a starting point I drove our car with the bicycle in the back.  When in my car at a stoplight in downtown Chapel Hill I saw these people trying to keep a social distance at the Purple Bowl, which serves açaí bowls.

 

Forty minutes and twenty-eight miles later I parked the Prius at my starting point:  the post office on the highway for Rougemont NC;  about fifteen miles north of Durham.

The NCDOT and its policies of widening roads have made places like Rougemont NC not seem like real towns. The “Main Street” of Rougemont is just a couple of gas stations, a church, and a dead restaurant on a four lane highway.

 

 

I bicycled off the main highway and down a two lane road heading the two miles towards the address of Orange County Speedway.

 

I came across what seemed like Orange County Speedway.  Depressing.   It was now a cow pasture.

 

Dejected, I biked about a quarter mile down the road.

To quote Homer Simpson “Doh!”  I had been looking at the OLD Orange County Speedway, or some sort of abandoned adjacent track.   The current Orange County Speedway next door looks much better.

 

This is a YouTube video someone took in 2016.   I still have never been to an Orange County Speedway race.

 

I turned the bicycle towards Roxboro, thirteen miles to the north.    This is stuff I saw along the way.

 

 

 

 

I biked some of the way on the main highway US15-501.   It being a Sunday morning during a pandemic there was not much traffic.

I have always thought that Roxboro NC rivals Shelby NC and Asheboro NC as an extreme example of a town where all downtown businesses have closed up and moved to a bypass multilane highway one mile from the original downtown.  Roxboro does have something like two miles of commercial sprawl along US15-501.

 

Preparing to triage patients.

 

Roxboro has been a town of manufacturers.   It still has several factories, including a large GKN auto parts plant.  I got off the main highway and biked into town from the south along South Main Street,  passing several abandoned factories.

 

 

 

Downtown in most small towns on a Sunday morning is pretty chill but here in Roxboro during a coronavirus it was like a neutron bomb had gone off.

 

 

 

I like the Person County courthouse.  Is this Art Deco?

Maybe because they have been less economically dynamic many towns like Roxboro still have mid-century modernist buildings around downtown.   The Roxboro Municipal Building.

 

 

 

This may have been one of the arts venues Maxine had talked about.

 

 

Roxboro has attractive residential buildings adjacent to downtown, some nicely kept up, some not.

 

 

 

 

Sorry for being so smug but check out the prewar gas station for sale in Roxboro, $ 62,500.00!

(click on link above)

I headed back out of town, heading south on a different two lane road.

 

 

There are lots of old tobacco barns out here, some reused some not.

 

 

Just before I arrived back in Rougemont I passed this rare car, a 1960-62 Ford Falcon Ranchero.  It has no license plate which would indicate it does not run.

 

I put the bicycle in the back of the Prius and drove back to Chapel Hill.