Psst! Want to read a brilliant, scintillating anecdote? In that case, this isn’t the best blog post for you to check out

October 31, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 31, 2016

On the most recent episode of MEMwrites.wordpress.com:

Hurricane Matthew was sweeping along the coast of the Carolinas; the Triangle got some rain — at times heavy rain — along with some flooding and a bit of wind. But otherwise, little weather-related drama took place in my part of the Old North State.

I arrived at the coffee shop without incident and settled in for some hot tea, a snack and a bit of computing.

When the shop closed, I reapplied all my clothing, packed up my computer and headed south toward Ninth Street. Night had more or less fallen, but the wind seemed to have died down a bit, and the rain was unremarkable.

It’s at this point, by the way, that something interesting — but not too interesting — happened. I’ll describe it in a separate post.

And now: The interesting-but-not-too-interesting thing that happened!

By way of context, Joe Van Gogh in Durham, N.C., is located on what I think of as being the ground level of a two-story building on Broad Street. As one moves west toward Broad Street, the earth rises and crests. The upshot of this is that the building’s other level is lower — that is, a basement space. The exterior wall of the lower level is exposed to open air on the east side but effectively buried beneath the sidewalk on the west side.

The area beneath Joe Van Gogh used to be occupied by Mid-South Fencing Club, which has since located to a lovely spot in Durham’s Brightleaf District. (Back in the day, you’d often see young men and women hauling heavy equipment bags down the stairs while their well-heeled parents drifted into Joe Van Gogh to get a drink.) After sitting vacant for a few years, this property had a low-key reopening, I believe at some point in 2015, as an event space of some sort.

While I sat on the elevated platform by the picture window in Joe Van Gogh on that rainy afternoon of Oct. 8, I noticed that nicely dressed people were heading down the stairs into the event space. This later became relevant when I threw on my outerwear and packed my backpack and set out to walk to Ninth Street.

When you head south on Broad Street from Joe Van Gogh’s entrance, you first pass an African restaurant called the Palace International, which is in the suite adjacent to the coffee shop. Then you come to Sanders Florists, which occupies a separate building on the corner of Broad and Englewood Avenue.

The building that contains Joe Van Gogh and the Palace International and their neighbor, a billiards spot called the Green Room, lacks dedicated parking. But Sanders Florists has a small somewhat awkward lot situated right in front of the business, just off Broad Street itself. And in that lot, I saw a parked car sitting empty with its headlights shining.

I thought about just walking on by. Since I had no idea whose car it was, it just wasn’t any of my business that its battery might run down because the owner had neglected to turn off the headlights.

But a hurricane was passing through town. The weather was mild at the moment, but there was no guarantee that it would hold. And if I owned that car, I’d want someone to spare me the expense, trouble and embarrassment of needing a jump, especially in bad weather.

So I turned around and went into the Palace International. I approached the people at the only occupied table and asked them if they’d left their lights on. It emerged that the car in question was not theirs; one of the diners suggested that it might belong to someone in the event space.

I could have just gone on with my journey, but I decided to persevere. I walked down the stairs into the event space.

I immediately felt awkward. For one thing, everyone in the room was very nicely dressed and I (naturally) looked like I’d walked in off the street during a rainstorm. For another, the vast majority of the people in the room were African-American and I am Caucasian. And, of course, I was on the cusp of entering a formal social event where I wasn’t invited and knew nobody.

To make things worse, the room was quiet and focused on a spot a few feet away from the entrance, where a young white man with snazzy clothes and a heavily styled hairdo was apparently starting to deliver a toast to a newly married couple. My walking into the room would have unforgivably impeded upon an important moment.

I stepped back from the doorway that framed the bottom of the short staircase so as to be out of view of most of the wedding guests while I contemplated how to complete my mission discreetly. I shrugged off my backpack and set aside my umbrella so I would seem marginally less out-of-place.

Then I realized that there was a window in the entryway that for some reason I hadn’t noticed before. If I stood by the bottom of the staircase facing the door into the room, the staircase was immediately to my left; the spot where the man was giving the toast was also to my left, although of course on the other side of the wall.

To my right was a wall enclosing the entrance — and in that wall, as I had failed to register, was a window looking toward one of the back corners of the event space. Peering through it, I saw that an older woman was standing alone by a piano, out of the line of sight of most of the guests.

I resolved how to proceed. Instead of waiting for the end of the toast, I tiptoed over to the woman by the piano and quietly explained why I was intruding upon the wedding reception. I said that there was a car of such-and-such a make and model of a certain color with license plate XYZ-6789 with its lights on. She repeated the information back to me to confirm that she had the details right. I smiled and nodded and made my way back to the entryway and picked up my stuff and made my way up the stairs and out into the dark rainy night.

As I walked down Broad Street toward Ninth Street, part of me felt good about having done a good deed. But…

But I also speculated about whether I’d just run a fool’s errand. The car with its lights on was obviously a newer model. I wondered whether the car had just been parked and might have shut its own lights turned off automatically after a certain period of time.

Looking back on this, I… well, I don’t know. But at any rate, that was the semi-interesting-but-not-too-interesting thing that happened during my Hurricane Matthew experience.

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