Another Roadside Attraction, 2011
Yet another reason to always have a camera handy.
I was driving along Richmond's Chamberlayne Avenue the other day. A hundred years ago Chamberlayne was a respectable commercial thoroughfare, a main drag for prominent Richmonders commuting back and forth to downtown from their stately homes in Ginter Park.
Lewis Ginter specifically rejected the traditional east/west orientation of many cities—well-to-do neighborhoods situated west of town to avoid prevailing winds that blow industrial smoke and odors to the east end—and designed Ginter Park and the two main avenues between it and downtown on a north/south axis so that residents would not only have clean air, but no sun in their eyes as they drove downtown in the morning and back home again in the evening.
Clever guy, that Lewis Ginter. (He made and lost a mercantile fortune during the Civil War and then was a founder of the American Tobacco Company.) By the time I moved to Richmond in 1970, though, Ginter Park was still a nice neighborhood. But the north side of Richmond was no longer the city’s most prestigious residential area. Chamberlayne Ave was a sorry and decaying mixed light industrial and empty commercial buildings peppered with the kind of seedy motels you only read about when hookers get murdered in them.
Fast forward to 2011. Lower Chamberlayne Avenue is still a little seedy around the edges. But it appears that there might be something of a Rennaissance going on and that part of the area is becoming a design and decor district.
I wasn't in the neighborhood for design or decor. I'd gotten lost trying to find a place I was certain I knew how to find and had fetched up on Chamberlayne Avenue looking for a place to make a U-turn. It turns out there are precious few places on Chamberlayne Avenue where you can make U-turns. I decided to make a left turn into a dead-end street so that I could turn around and go back the other way.
I was so focused on doing this that when I drove through a warehouse parking lot to get back out onto the street I almost didn't notice all the stuff out on the sidewalk in front of the warehouse. In just one quick scan I saw giant fake potted palms, an upright player paino, a scaled down reproduction of the big railroad clock in the Musée d'Orsay, masks, mirrors and all sorts of other stuff.
With the benefit of hindsight, I realize now that this was a place that sells old store fittings. At the time, though, it seemed like I was peeking into the storage closet of, say, John Waters. My first inclination was to just drive on. But then I saw this lady with the blue hair standing next to the gold column. I knew I had to have her, if only in a photograph.
If my camera had been in the back seat I’d have probably not thought this scene worth stopping for. But because the camera was right beside me in the front of the car, I quickly grabbed it and without even bringing the car to a complete stop took this picture, put the camera back down and continued to roll out onto the street and head back in the right direction to town.