Ye Olde Archives » OPINION: Peter Eichenberger

Mutilating Raleigh's character, brick by brick

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The subject is a woman, married, who we'll call "X." She is 41 and what could be called "upper middle class." She went to St. Mary's and her husband is an attorney. They live off of White Oak Road. He drives the Tahoe, she the Suburban. X has a feeling of never having been realized; she never used her degree. Her sister, Charlotte, has enjoyed greater success, more money, a bigger house. X is always looking toward Charlotte with envy, even though X has much more than she needs.

The world frightens her; change and difference unsettle her; she prefers to keep things perfectly static--and dull. Outside the house, insects, nature itself, are threatening. X make extensive use of pest control services to control nature, to keep her children safe. She discourages them from even going outside. At the same time, she is a detached mother, unable to cope with the emotional needs of her children who submerge themselves in video games and television.

Her medications include Zoloft (depression), Xanax (anxiety), and Ambien (sleep). She also is a secret alcoholic (vodka) though she does not consider herself to be a drug abuser. She has not had sex in 10 years.

Besides her meds, X's coping method is shopping. She continuously acquires things she doesn't need and really can't afford--particularly a lot of furniture. She is vulnerable to sales people who prey on her neuroses. If asked, her response to questions about where, say, an old couch went is: "We got a new one." Every square foot of storage space--the basement, attic and garage--is crammed with bicycles, play sets, piles of plastic toys, toolboxes and unused appliances that she eventually discards rather than give away.

She had three children, one of whom she accidentally suffocated as a baby trying to silence her crying. The death was termed Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; no one ever suspected that she had killed the child. She is borderline Munchhausen by Proxy (but has never sought psychological assistance because of the stigma) www.mbpexpert.com/definition.html).

She also has another secret, one that requires her to wear long sleeves year-round. X is a "cutter"--a person, usually a woman, who derives pleasure by cutting her arms with sharp blades, box knives and razor blades.

OK, she is not a person. She is Raleigh.

There is no reason other than self-loathing that can explain the continuous failures this city has engaged in, the history destroyed. It is our good fortune that our circumstances have graced us with money to burn because, honestly, I have never seen a place that can so royally screw up everything it tries. The last things that actually worked were Memorial Auditorium (1932) and Cameron Village (1949), which, despite inaugurating shopping-as-lifestyle in this city, was reasonably scaled and located.

The rest of it, not so much. Where do we start? The moronic, endless suburbs? The great big 'ol pile of hideous shopping centers? The eternal slow-motion train wreck/saga of Fayetteville Street Mall? The Civic/Convention Center (not the new one, silly)? RBC? The Exploris hustle? The new pedestrian bridge to nowhere (the commodity of which is hampered because it ends at Meredith College, a private school--during last week's Race for the Cure, people parked at the N.C. Museum of Art on the far side of the bridge, but upon their return after 5 p.m. found that Meredith had locked the gate, forcing them to push their strollers along the Beltline to get to their cars)?

I could go on: the morbid tendency (like X) to discard and demolish buildings, indeed whole quarters of the city because they are (sniff) old. (Honestly, I have never seen a city with such a obsessive and thorough need to wreck and bulldoze history, a need that makes a lie out of the quaint and utterly absurd notion of southanuhs and their love of "history and tradition." I grew up in Raleigh and I can tell you, that is a fiction that only a drunk or a simpleton could be led to believe.)

My latest favorite is the city's need to demolish thousands of used bricks from Fayetteville Street and some 19th-century, native granite Belgian blocks, rudely tossing them into trucks to be carried away, the only explanation rendered being one of liability and safety.

Now, honestly, what is the "liability" and "safety" issue associated with collecting used bricks. Hello? I am waiting. Dennis L. Calander, president of Metro Brick & Stone Co. of Dallas had this to say: "My God, what were they thinking? You cannot put a dollar amount on what they did to the environment by not recycling them and having them build another structure with these bricks. We sell used antique brick back to the end user for around 55 cents each. The granite block we do not carry since it is a rare type to come across, but I would guess in the $1.25-$1.50 range. There is no reason that used brick should ever go to the landfill."

Of course, a real motive might be found in the pages of the Dec. 12 Triangle Business Journal where, in a story by Anna Rzewnicki, project manager Dean Fox says the project offers contractors the opportunity to bid on paving, curbing, streetscape work, sidewalk pavers, street furniture, kiosks, traffic signals, tree plantings, and signage. A water element was also mentioned. "The fountains, brick paving and plantings that comprise the existing mall will be removed." And trashed. Fox was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Slice. Ouch-eee. Let's waste, squander and make absolutely sure we spend too much and that our friends get paid. Mmmm. That sure felt good. And the worst part is that there is no transparency or responsiveness to the people that matter--the citizens. We don't know who comes up with this stuff or what the procedures are. The council/manager system is not a "democracy" (as pointed out by the let-them-eat-cake decision to ignore 60 percent of the citizens who said "no" to the Convention Center in '92); it is a dictatorship where the elites (and I know and you know who you are) arrogantly and idiotically get ritualistically snookered into the latest B.S. by whichever conartist (oops, consultant) falls off the train, carpetbag in hand.

Here's an example:

A friend who lives on Lake Wheeler Road (across from the Dix property) wanted some idea of what was going to happen to Dix, so we went to the meeting at duh convention center. When we finally found the room (tailing a camera guy), we found an overbooked, stifling room, no press pack, no info (except for one crappy piece of paper that said nothing) and some unidentified droning geek and his PowerPoint. I was already hot about the cattle-call nature of the thing, and when I asked the blonde chick-ee-boo working the door for a chair for my friend (who suffers from osteoarthritis and who can neither stand nor walk for long), the answer was "We can't do that." Furious, I left, but not before I defaced their expensive charts with a ballpoint pen, the ones that spelled "Boylen Heights." It's Boylan, you dipshits. How much are we paying these clowns?

Next day, I call Gail Smith, the always-helpful city clerk, who knows and sees all. I tell her I am looking for the Dix file. "Come on down," she says. So I get on the Sears and pedal myself to the city building. Up in the clerk's office, there is no file. "The state is handling the Dix property."

OK. Confusion happens. I ride back to the house and call Health and Human Services. I speak to Mark Van Sciver, the public information officer. After some time, he comes back on the phone.

"The city is doing that."

I call Gail back. "Hun," I say, "now we have a problem."

"Come on down and I'll pull what we have."

So I go back to the Upchurch building and she has yanked what the city has, basically nuttin'.

"If you find out who's in charge, let me know," Gail says--roughly equivalent to having the Director of Central Intelligence ask the janitor about WMDs. Typical Raleigh clusterfuck.

Who do you think they are fooling with this bullshit? Is this any way to run a program? Play keep-away? Look, y'all, I was not in the mood for playing Sam Spade in an attempt to find out who is doing what to my property. I was about done looking until I called a city employee on another matter. I randomly asked him about Dix. "I think I can find that." He went off and came back a good four minutes later. "Sorry it took so long. The name is Terry Hatcher at DHHS."

Gail, make a note of it.

My contacts inform me that despite massive support at the meeting for not doing anything to the property--to not develop it--at a subsequent meeting, LandDesign and whoever is pulling the strings did not go back to developing it as a park, which nearly everybody wanted. They still want to--you got it--put (like duh) condominiums and retail. Everybody knows we don't have enough shopping. Why not something new and interesting instead of the canned wallpaper paste we normally get, something like Edgefield in Troutdale, Ore., an old folks retirement farm turned into quirky resort with vineyards, lodging, a brewery, distillery, winery--something really fun www.mcmenamins.com/index.php?loc=3&category=Location%20Homepage ? Oh, what would the neighbors think? Let's keep it nice and safe. And most importantly--dull.

This place is the private playground for jerk-water elites, only it isn't much fun (except for the making money part, always sure to bring a smile). This is ritualistic self-mutilation--every botched project, every example of cabal-directed failed hubris, every historic property leveled by a Gregory Poole front-end loader, every desecration and mutilation of this formerly attractive city brings a spot of blood and a shiver of delight. Then, the feeling of wellness fades, and it's off to the kitchen drawer for the next fix.

Peter Eichenberger can be reached at petrblt@hotmail.com

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