Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Feeling of Neighborhood

This week I’ve realized how much I love neighborhoods that define themselves. After wandering around the U Street Corridor on Tuesday, I spent several hours yesterday in Takoma Park.

As much as I had heard about Takoma Park, I had never been to that crossroads of Carroll Avenue and East-West Highway that seems to be the center of town. I knew that the residents of this neighborhood were fiercely GREEN and that they prided themselves on having a good farmers’ market. But yesterday I got to taste and see Takoma Park.

We started off in Mark’s Diner, a restaurant reminiscent of the 1960's, where the special of the day was sauteed vegetables over brown rice. But those were no ordinary vegetables. Mark, a slim oriental man, was hurrying around directing the cooking and adding to the ambiance.

As we walked to the bead store, my friend pointed to the small gleaming rooster in the center of the town square. Apparently when she had lived there several years ago, the rooster was still running wild and was the town pet. When he finally died, they created the little memorial to him. It’s that sort of funkiness that defines this neighborhood.

We made bead necklaces, tried on hats and shoes and gloves, and played all the unusual instruments in The House of Musical Traditions. No one seemed to be in too much of a hurry. Everyone talked to us as though we belonged there. It was a neighborhood feeling.

After dropping my friend off in her Capitol Hill neighborhood, which I absolutely love, I went home in rush hour to my Bailey’s Crossroads neighborhood, if you can still call it that. At one point the crossroads of Columbia Pike and Route 7 was the winter home to the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Now that would have defined a neighborhood.

But today that same crossroads is the home to Pollo Campero (the El Salvadoran fried chicken chain), Best Buy, and Petco. It’s a melting pot of cultures, sort of a crossroads of the world. But it has totally lost the feeling of being a neighborhood.

I long for a place where I can walk to shop, where I know the merchants, where I can get a tasty bite to eat and then walk home again. As much as I love being near the woods of Holmes Run, Bailey’s Crossroads is not really a neighborhood that holds the charm of the other places I’ve visited this week.


Blogger Mother of Invention said...

That's exactly what it feels like to live in my small town! It has a relatively short main street, only a few blocks and because we live in the main drag, you get to have a profile of just being seen about and I walk everywhere.
We do have Zellers etc. (we're getting a Walmart)outside of town, but we still feel close knit with the people who live and/or have businesses right here.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I've never been to Takoma Park, but you've done a good job of selling it. At least for a visit. I do love my neighborhood, though, and it really is one.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I love the unique character of new places. However, I find it is becoming increasingly scarce as a layer of uniformity is applied over everything.

I noticed this June as we drove 700Km (about 420 miles) to my brother's wedding, how alike all these towns looked. They all had the same style of parking lot malls (I don't know what the term for it is, but it is a large collection of stores all grouped in a huge parking lot. The stores are not close enough to actually do any significant walking, so you end up driving from store to store anyway). They all had pretty much the same complement of big box stores.

While I enjoy walking into Chapters and feeling at home anywhere in Canada, I also like walking into stores that have unique character, but they are disappearing.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I'm sure I would like your town.

Kristin -- Takoma Park is definitely different from your neighborhood, but I think you'd like it.

Richard -- It's those disappearing stores that I like so well. I don't like the glitz or the merchandise of the stylish new stores.

1:48 PM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

Takoma Park does have a very cool, funky vibe. The people are so down to earth.
I've also been pondering the idea of living within steps of a small-town Main St. Somewhere where you can stroll to the library and walk to get coffee and muffins in the morning.
I think Easton is a little like that (on Md. Eastern Shore). It's the closest thing I've found near here that's small enough but large enough not to get boring.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gewels -- I would prefer TP over Easton because the big city is just a few miles south if you get bored.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I'm loving this series of posts about your neighborhood explorations. You'll find many interesting little 'hoods in San Francisco if you get in a mood to walk around. May I suggest Clement Street in the Richmond, Fillmore Ave. between Broadway and Bush/Post Streets, Valencia between 20th and Army, Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights, 18th Street on Potrero Hill, Hayes Street west of Civic Center, the Castro, 24th Street in Noe Valley etc. etc. etc. etc. ???

If you get to the Haight, drop by Blade Runner and say hello to Tony, my ex-hair guy who is as fabulous as Richard (in an Aussie kind of way).

6:43 PM  
Blogger riseoutofme said...

Would you consider moving?

8:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Thanks for all the advice for neighborhoods to explore in San Francisco. I'm sure I will be taking pictures and posting!

Rise -- So many of our friends live near us that it would be hard to just pick up and relocate. Sometimes I am tempted though. I would love to be able to walk to things and I definitely can't do that now.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

this was a delightful post - have you any local magazine that would publish your walking/biking tours?

you'd love my small town. if I care to walk the mile in one direction or bike the two miles in the other, I can be in town in minutes where there's a diner that's been there since my childhood, a small store that sells neighbor-made goods, a little grocers where you can get deli sandwiches and good coffee, and the post office and library. Small, friendly, and easy to miss if you're driving through.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- I suppose there are magazines around, like the Takoma Voice whose cover I found with Google. I never really thought of getting anything published beyond my Blog.

I would love your small town I am sure. Walking into town for my morning cup of coffee sounds good right about now.

8:07 AM  

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