Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pullman Plaza & supper

Back in Huntington, on that Saturday after my High School reunion I wandered the streets taking late afternoon photos of places I could still recognize - many of them empty buildings where some 30 or 40 years ago existed a thriving community. I walked in an absent loop northward toward the Ohio River - toward the flood wall - and finally reached 3rd Avenue and the area known as Pullman Plaza.

Pullman seems the surviving heart of downtown Huntington, thumping away amid a surrounding mass of dying flesh….

It’s a couple of blocks long and a busy block thick. When I arrived, about 6 PM, young people still lined the small green space on the outer 3rd Avenue side. I watched as groups of kids boarded the free bus shuttle that took them between the Marshall University campus and Pullman Square. And I wondered about that free shuttle.

A nice idea… but who footed the bill? And why?

The idea that it might not be safe to walk the 6 or 7 blocks from the campus to Pullman Square kept coming to mind.

I remembered the Marshals at the Courthouse mentioning the 4 or so murders in downtown Huntington so far this summer and the drunk I had passed on 4th Avenue about 7 PM the night before. I recalled the solid row of clubs with darkened windows lining the south side of 4th Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets. And the flashing light show that I could see from the north side of that same block visible as I returned to my car a bit after 11 that same night. The lights sparked and lit the top floor where I could only imagine a club raved. I guessed the darkened entrances did not necessarily lead to ground level bars but perhaps to stairs or elevators that would zip one up to the real activity.

Not that there’s a thing wrong with having a good time. Clubs and parties are fine. But amid the otherwise empty buildings and general absence of any security presence (more about that in a bit…) and the fact that TPTB felt a free shuttle necessary to move kids from an area about a block from the ‘club zone’ (my name, not Huntington’s); amid all these facts… I wondered.

But I could not resolve my questions and walked up 9th toward the area where in my memory all the places I had once held dear still clustered: Post Office, Nick’s News, Library, 5th Avenue Hotel (never a ‘nice’ place, never glamorous, but always an intriguing building about which I made stories when I was a kid - creating a fictional set of residents who lived there - still do in my imagination).

The Library is now a College of some sort, the Post Office may still be a Post Office - it seemed a bit unclear what was going on in there…, Nick’s News is now the site of the new Library (not a bad exchange) and the 5th Avenue Hotel is now a training facility and residence for… well, I’m not sure, actually, although I suppose the generic term ‘underprivileged’ might apply.

I walked past the Hotel and continued along 9th Street past empty ground floor shops that had clearly been empty for a long time. Some had woodworking materials inside suggesting use as part of the training programs, but many were simply empty. I had parked my car near the only business still functioning on the entire block, another bar with blacked windows. And since I had not bothered to feed the meter in about 7 hours I more or less anticipated a parking ticket, but no, nothing.

Which made me think of the absence of any sign of police/ security. Decades ago the police department was a part of the city building across from the county courthouse, but in the last decade it had moved into what had back in the day been a dress factory along 10th Street flush against 7th Avenue. A huge building covering more than half a city block, it suggested a massive police force… but I had not seen one officer during my stay.

In the little village where I live I see police on 24 hour patrol looping around the place - a presence even when they are not visible. During fair days and special events (John McCane passed through in 2008) one of the younger officers zips around 8 or 9 feet off the ground on a Segway scooter. Even when I can’t see them, I know they are there if I need them.

But in Huntington… I don’t know…. The place had a odd ‘vibe.’

I just hope things turn around for the place. But as I left I traveled a street I had not visited on this trip, a block of boarded up buildings leading to the 8th Street viaduct. And sadly, that’s what I remember right now, rows of empty buildings, both commercial and residential, some with foreclosure signs, some with for sale signs, but many just empty. The apartment my Aunt Dorothy lived for 30 years was still occupied but the houses on each side showed boarded windows and foreclosure signs.

So I left Huntington.

I still love the place, but it’s the city I knew years ago that holds my heart, not what it has become. But it can renew. It doesn’t have to remain a desolate empty place. I’ll visit over the next few years. I’ll be interested to see how things improve.

* * * * *

On the way home I stopped at a Chinese place I had favored during my last visit (10 years ago, I suppose…) and had supper as a massive downpour passed through.

Awful. Overcooked and flyspecked.

But it filled the belly. I even had some of the chocolate pudding which, I suppose, is equivalent to eating plastic and raw sugar. But any fly feces in the pudding didn’t seem to affect the flavor - chocolatish and sweet.

The chicken, although overcooked (and probably nutritionally dead), had a slight chickeny flavor, so I ate a good bit of that. And the green beans, looking sad, soggy and faintly angry, had a salty greenish flavor that reminded me of food. So I did OK.

But the music…! What I had taken upon entering as a kind of generic elevator pop, revealed itself over my visit as christian pop, a nonstop drone of noise celebrating generic non-heathen…. Well, let’s just say it got old fast….

Eventually the rain stopped - at least enough for me to trundle to my car without being soaked. I paid and left. And as I left a small truck pulled up in front of the place and the entire clan from the restaurant came out and gathered around peering inside…. At what, I wondered? I have an odd sense of peace knowing I will never know. Some things are best left as mysteries….

Jim FitzPatrick, 2010 09-07

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