A good friend and professor from St. Olaf College, upon reading my blog two weeks ago, suggested I read The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau as a way of thinking about my Tuesday walks from a philosophical and sociological perspective. I took him up on the suggestion, ordered the book, and have begun reading. The prose of French post-structuralist philosophers is never quite my cup of tea, but de Certeau is a bit clearer than his compatriots, so it hasn't been as bad as all that. Before I describe my walk, let me offer a couple of nuggets from his chapter on "Walking in the City."
"The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered" (97).
"Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc. the trajectories it 'speaks'" (99).
"The art of 'turning' phrases finds an equivalent in an art of composing a path (tourner un parcours)" (100).
"To walk is to lack a place...the moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place" (103).
"To practice space [by walking] is thus to repeat the joyful and silent experience of childhood; it is, in a place, to be other and to move toward the other." (110)
Today I started the walk with a companion. Cynthia Nance, until recently dean of the law school at the University of Arkansas, and on the law faculty there, was kind enough to join me. We started in the church parking lot and headed north along Old Missouri up to Joyce. On previous weeks I had walked some of the neighborhood immediately around the vicinity of the church, but I wanted to walk along Joyce today in more of the commercial and retail part of our neighborhood.
Although our own church is in what you might call "church alley", Joyce lacks any churches. In fact, we may be the closest church to this section of Fayetteville. Our first stop was at a complex of buildings that includes the Social Security administration, a health coaching firm (http://www.trestletree.com/), and Youthbridges. Here's where the art of walking the neighborhood comes into play--you start to learn how to enter commercial and business buildings as a non-customer and introduce yourself and navigate the conversation.
Trestletree was the most simple. Once we got the attention of some of the employees, we had a wonderful conversation and learned about the health coaching work they do. They do health coaching for a variety of businesses and national health care firms, but based out of Fayetteville. We peeked in the windows at some of the coaches (startling them in the process). At the Social Security administration, we didn't actually talk to anyone. The lobby was full of people who were queued up to ask questions about their benefits, and chatting up a desk worker would have been like budging in line at the DMV--not a good idea. We did talk about whether or not there would be a way to walk into a place like that and bless the people who were in line. Hand out flowers? Bring in bottles of water? Certainly it is a group of people in need of a little move and support.
The walk gave us ample time to catch up on life and chat. That's the joy of walks, they're fun solo or in pairs. When you walk with someone else, you grow in your knowledge of them. When you walk alone, you grow in the knowledge of yourself. Either way, it's worth the time to stroll.
Youthbridges is an outstanding organization in the Fayetteville area that provides residential, preventive, and counseling care for at risk youth. The front desk worker was completely new to the job, but she did great at telling us a bit about her office and Youthbridges more generally.
We then crossed the street to Paradise Valley Golf Club (http://www.paradisegolfac.com/). This private 18-hole golf course forms the border for the northern edge of the neighborhood we live in, and I go by it almost daily either on runs or up to the commercial district. The interior is decidedly old school (wood panelling) and the clubhouse even more so. It was a bit difficult to chat with anyone, and the pro was grilling burgers and answering the phone. They have a cute little pool, but mostly its a traditional club and golf course.
Then back across the street to First State Bank, warmest greeting so far. We were offered cold bottles of water, all the employees in the bank greeted us and chatted us up, and even knew (now former) Dean Nance by face and reputation (a good thing). While chatting it started to rain, and we were beginning to wonder if we were going to need to call in some kind of transportation when, lo and behold, my wife pulls up with the kids in the van. She had been driving through the neighborhood on the way back from the ballet store, and happened to spot us.
So we piled into the van, rode through the storm to Firehouse Subs, and watched the lightning while we ate lunch. Firehouse is the best sub shop I've eaten at in Fayetteville. They have a hot sauce bar with the sauces rated on a scale of 1-10 for hotness, and they make a variety of hot sub sandwiches. Kids get free fireman's hats.
The storm blew over, Cynthia hitched a ride with the fam back to church, and I continued my walk, now solo. Back side of Firehouse Subs, and new to that space as of two weeks ago, is Fayetteville Nutrition. They make health smoothies, help people achieve their health goals, sell muscle building supplements, etc. It just so happened that the aunt of a young woman whose wedding I had just officiated was in drinking a smoothie, so I had a good chance to chat with the owner and a few other folks in the store. On their counter they had a McDonald's kids meal that had been aging there for six weeks with no ill effects. By way of contrast.
This is as good a place as any to mention that on these walks, I come across a lot of vacant retail space and abandoned construction projects. This part of Joyce was all developed in the last five years or so, and sees all the effects of the building mania outlying areas of towns engaged in, and then the more recent slow-down. It's a mixed phenomenon, however, because although there is vacant space, there are also new and thriving businesses opening up all the time.
Next stop was the Lindsey building. This is the largest building on Joyce, five stories tall. I had never been inside it. You can't live in Northwest Arkansas without seeing the name Lindsey all over, because Lindsey both manages tons of properties in the area, and also sells real estate. Their building on Joyce is unique, and was definitely the best discovery of the day. Inside, it's a work of art! If you live in Fayetteville, go check it out soon. Each floor has tons of beautiful art gracing the walls (including the first floor, with a mural of the Fayetteville town square), but the best part are the stairwells. Although the stairwells are constructed like any stairwell in any multi-story building in the US as the fire access alternative to the elevators, what Lindsey has done with these stairwells is outstanding. They're full of art, memorabilia, hand-painted signs, flags, photos, poems, and aphorisms.
The front desk clerk encouraged me to walk them both, so I climbed the one set of stairs to the fifth floor, then circled each floor and did the other stairwell on the way down. It's really hard to describe (in this case a picture would be worth a thousand words), but I think you can imagine.
Back out on the street, I had a phone call from an old friend and roommate. Lars, who studied with me for a semester at the Lutheran House of Studies in Washington D.C., was calling from Arizona. Nice to catch up about ministry and life, and a long enough chat to walk from Lindsey to the Barnes & Noble for a coffee, then back down the hill, where I stopped in at our Title Company to say hello to the folks who had helped us do the title for our house, and I tried to stop in and see our Thrivent Rep as well, recently moved to the corner of Joyce and College, but he was out on business.
Stopped over at the Macintosh store, saw a courier bag I totally want to purchase, played the role of actual customer rather than pastor walking the neighborhood, then back out on the street to visit the other largest building on Joyce, the Proctor and Gamble (P & G) corporate headquarters. They employ 200 people at this location, all servicing Walmart and Tyson as a "vendor." Unlike Lindsey, where I could walk around undisturbed, in P & G I was only allowed to take one step past the reception desk and then duck low to see the nicely decorated atrium space of the building proper.
That's a whole topic to itself, how various businesses do or don't think through hospitality.
Back on the street, back to Butterfield Trail retirement center to visit Carl Maedl, the oldest member of our congregation (102). Sat with him for a while and prayed the Lord's Prayer and some psalms (he doesn't often wake up at this point, but it is, I believe, still important to just spend time with him), then a walk through the lush landscaping of Butterfield back down to Mud Creek Trail, then a brisk walk back to church, stopping to visit with the two folks who live in the duplex directly north of the church, a pair I had not yet met. Short chat with them (what time are Sunday services, do you have children's programming?), and then back to the church to write.
God bless you. I hope this inspires readers to walk their own neighborhoods.