Category Archives: cityscapes

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Coffee in the Mule City

Sunday evening Kristen and I took a walk (as we often do) through our neighborhood and into downtown Benson. We noticed signs around the neighborhood pointing towards a new coffee shop on Railroad Street, so we strolled down to check it out. The store was closed, but looking through the windows it was obviously a place somebody had put a significant amount of work into — lots of soft seating, a new floor, fresh paint, a cavernous lounge space and did I say lots of soft seating?

We were excited to see the new business, Crossroads Coffee, downtown as there really is not a good place to just go grab a cup of coffee and hang out in Benson. In fact, if you’re not in the mood for bar hopping or Italian food, there really isn’t anywhere to go in Benson after 6 p.m. The downtown community seemed to be on the verge of a serious renewal just a year ago. Several new business have opened in recent months and the Main Street area has received some long awaited upgrades, including new benches, improved landscaping, the opening of a new town history museum and full renovations of several neglected building facades. Still, for every step forward the downtown area has made, it seems like Benson has fallen two steps behind. Some key stores have closed and, this winter, a group of business owners successfully halted plans to create a unified historic district downtown.

With that in mind, it’s definitely a pretty cool thing when a nice, snazzy, spacious, comfortable coffee shop opens just three blocks from our home.

On our walk today we noticed the store had an open sign and a couple of cars out front. Kristen and I walked over. Abigail, our 5-month-old Doberman, was with us, so we took turns going in and seeing what Crossroads was really like. As it turns out, Crossroads Coffee is not just a coffee house. It’s actually called Crossroads Church. Pastor Scott Betts organized the church plant several months ago. About 60 regular worshipers have been meeting in the back of the building while the coffee shop was being built. The building, on the corner of Railroad Street and Parish Drive, has a relatively large sanctuary, a game room and a nursery area separate from the coffee shop, which takes up about half of the building. Betts just completed his M.Div. program in 2008, so we talked a little about school and about what he hopes to see happen at Crossroads.

The church is officially non-denominational but has a doctrine grounded in the Baptist tradition. Crossroads has a regular Sunday morning worship service in their building on Railroad Street, men’s and women’s Bible study groups on Monday nights and a midweek gathering at Betts’ home. On the coffee shop side of things, they are open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., although hours may be extended once the shop gets established. Proceeds from the coffee (which comes from Larry’s Beans by the way) goes back to support the mission of the church. Betts said the church has just hired a worship director, although he continues to work as an electrical contractor and does not yet take a salary from the church. This Friday, at 7 p.m., Crossroads Coffee will host its first musical act — a local bluegrass/gospel band. Betts said he plans to make concerts and open mike nights a regular event. Entertainment will be a blend of religious and secular, but always family-friendly.

Regardless of your church persuasion, the coffee shop atmosphere really is top notch. It’s worth supporting ventures like this to help Benson develop into a more vibrant place to live.

I plan on going back. Let’s meet up some time.


Elizabeth City

For Easter, Kristen and I travelled to Elizabeth City, a small harbor town at the mouth of the Pasquotank River, near the northern end of the Outer Banks. Our goal was simply to get away from home and be someplace peaceful and quite, knowing this would likely be our last chance to travel together before Samuel is born next month. We stayed at the Culpepper Inn, a prominent local fixture that I had seen many times before but never really visited. We arrived earlier than expected and immediately took a walk through the historic downtown area and strolled the docks. We listened to a pretty good bluegrass duo from Chesapeake fighting for the crowd’s attention at a local eatery and then made our way back to the inn.

Saturday morning we decided to head out to the islands. We drove through Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers made their historic flight, stopped for a delicious order of fresh cut fries and chocolate custard in Kill Devil Hills and then pulled over at Jockey’s Ridge in Nag’s Head. Jockey’s Ridge is the largest active sand dune on the East Coast. The bulk of the dune is likely the same pile of sand the Wright brothers launched their airplane from a few miles up the road in Kitty Hawk, it has just steadily migrated south over the past century. The dune is absolutely huge. The main plateau is probably only about 35 feet high, but the giant table-top of sand literally stretchs on for acres. Hundreds of families with hundreds of kites were already fixed atop the dune when we arrived, along with a few hang gliders. Still, it was easy to find a quite place and settle down in the dry, powdery sand that felt so different from the wet, sticky course, beach sand just a few hundred yards away. We capped the day off with a quick visit to the Currituck light house on the northern end of the island.

The dock at Moth Boat Park in Elizabeth City, where the Pasquotank River pours into the Albermarle Sound on North Carolina's inner coast.

Sunday afternoon we decided to visit the Great Dismal Swamp — a national wildlife refuge that spans the North Carolina-Virginia border. We saw turtles, frogs and a woodpecker during our stroll through the swamp, which isn’t really as dismal and swampy as the name implies. The huge swamp areas on the northern coast of the state are worlds apart from the stagnant, slime-coated, bacteria-laden waters found in the woods in the central part of North Carolina, or in my native South Carolina. The Dismal Swamp is full of clear, blue-hued water that lazily flows to and fro among the forest of cypress trees that engulfs it. Wildlife is abundant.

We had a good visit in Elizabeth City. It was Kristen’s first time seeing the town, and the first chance I have had to explore the streets and creeks that occupied most of my time as an adolescent. I had the joy of living in a variety of locals growing up. Each one had unique advantages and disadvantages. It’s hard to compare my experiences growing up in different places because the first 18 years of life are so full of constant changes in themselves. For the most part, the bulk of my time spent living in each different community also marked a different phase of life for me as a child, adolescent and teenager, so it’s not really fair, or easy, to compare them. Still, all things considered, I think Elizabeth City was by far the most interesting, and simply enjoyable, place that my family brought me to live in. I wouldn’t have a single qualm about moving back, if that is the direction my life ever moves to again.

Visiting the places I have lived before is always a little strange though. I can’t help but to recall the experiences I hold connected with each familiar landscape. I notice how so many things have changed in my absence, while other details seem fixed forever. I never really know how to react when I encounter my past. My life has changed so much over the past few years, when ever I visit a place from my past, I can’t help but to feel that I’m no longer the same person I was when I left. I don’t know whether I want to let myself go to reconnect with my past, or whether I should just explore the city anew, looking for new experiences and new details that I would easily miss if I were only looking for things connected with my earlier life. I always face this dilemma when I visit the places where I grew up; I don’t have the same problem when I visit Blowing Rock, where Kristen and I went to college, got married, began our careers and turned our first apartment into a home. I think the difference has something to do with the fact that the life I built in Blowing Rock was my own, while my life in Elizabeth City, and the many other places I lived growing up, was inseparable from the life my parents built for me — not a bad thing by any means, just the way life is. Moving to Blowing Rock was my choice; the things I did there, the job I had, the house I lived in, were all my choices as well; perhaps most importantly, leaving Blowing Rock was my choice. The fact that I wasn’t in control of most of my earlier life — my parents decided where I would live, what I could and couldn’t do with my time and when I would move again — greatly affects the lens through which I view my past.

At least that’s what I think today. Who knows.

So, now that you’ve made it through all of that, enjoy a sampling of my shots from our holiday weekend in and around Elizabeth City. I know this gallery is way too big. Click any image or thumbnail to pull up a full-size viewer that will let you click through the entire collection at your leisure.

*I (David Anderson, Jr.) am the original author of all of the images connected with this post except for the final picture, which was kindly taken by our waitress at the Marina Restaurant in Elizabeth City. Enjoy!


Hip Shots

Last weekend Kristen and I found ourselves in downtown Raleigh on the first truly beautiful, warm Saturday of the year. We had a purpose to our visit, and it was not photography, but I couldn’t resist trying to get a few shots off. I have been longing to just take a day to myself and explore the city, gathering pictures of people as they go about their lives. I want to improve my portrait techniques, and I want to take more portraits of real people, doing real things, in an effort to better represent real life. Part of my problem is I don’t afford myself the time to go out to practice photography simply for photography’s sake. I bring a camera along when I’m out for another purpose and end up feeling awkward when I try to break away from that purpose to figure out how to set up a good shot. My other problem is I feel awkward taking pictures of strangers who just see the weird guy with the camera and must be wondering what he’s up to; but I love looking at the simple beauty in life, at the way people interact with one another, and sometimes that’s best appreciated as an outsider looking in. Some of these photos were cropped with a viewfinder, most were simple quick-shot street photography. My favorite ended up being a serendipitous hip shot taken outside of the Museum of North Carolina History. There are four people in the picture, a group of guys, maybe family, maybe friends, all sharing a quick meal. The camera only found one face though, and that face is what caught my attention right away. If the picture had been of the men laughing and finishing their hotdogs would you have even noticed the boy sandwiched between his guardians? I couldn’t have set it up any better.


Krispy Kreme Makes Everything Alright

I saw the new City Plaza on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh for the first time this morning as public works staff were scrubbing the sidewalks and pruning flowers in preparation of the street fair Saturday. I have to say that considering all of the hype, and then the controversy that followed from residents upset about any obstruction of the view between the Capitol and Memorial Auditorium, the plaza was pretty unimpressive. It’s a nice bit of open space in a district that is already very pedestrian friendly. The light towers people were so concerned about are barely taller than the awning of the Sheraton that borders the square on the south, but they are blanketed in stainless steel oak leaves, which is a nice homage to the city’s history.

The best thing about the plaza is that it gives the Capitol District its first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Four identical, smoked glass cottages sit at each corner of the square. Three of the buildings are slated to hold a Jimmy Johns Sandwich shop, a shish kabob restaurant and an arts & crafts center, but none of them are close to being ready to open. For now, doughnuts and coffee are the main attraction as the new Krispy Kreme stays busy churning out sweet snacks to passersby.


Flipping Through Memories

It’s hard to explain why photography is so much fun. Even when frames don’t turn out like I’d hoped, it’s still exciting to study the lines, colors and layout to learn from my mistakes and, hopefully, shoot better in the future. In just about any situation bringing along a camera really adds to the experience of the day, if just by offering a purpose to an otherwise mediocre outing.

I was flipping through some of the thousands of pictures I’ve taken over the past few years (most of them were better left covered) and, even though I’m sure I’ve seen them all many times, every now and then one pops out that I never really noticed before.

Distant Dreams

Distant Dreams

I don’t remember what inspired me to take this far-off picture of the U.S. Capitol, but I do remember the trip I took it on. I can say with certainty that as I walked along the gravel path that day I was almost spellbound at the experience of being in the midst of real power. When I look at the picture today it leaves a different impression. I’m struck by how far away the Capitol — one of the many grand products from an earlier age, when a nation was built on personal sacrifice and hopes for a better future — is. It seems almost too far to reach and definitely too small to be of any real importance in the world of this image.

The picture of the Capitol serves as both a reminder of my trip to D.C. that day and, at least in my opinion, a fun piece of art. Other photos fall short of both of these goals, but are still just as fun to make and look at.

Spinning Turkey

Spinning Turkey

This was just a spontaneous shot of Kristen pulling the bird out of our oven last Thanksgiving. Below is another fun shot of my brother Jacob, having fun and smiling of all things. I think the different shades of green and yellow in the background add a neat touch.

"Where's my helmet?"

"Where's my helmet?"

Neither pictures try anything that hasn’t been done, and over-done, millions of times before; but both were fun for me to take and fun to look at again.