Underdog Places

TAoN No. 71: Appreciating (and perhaps documenting) what you discovered during lockdown. And more.

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THE PROMPT: Identify the “unloved” place(s) you learned to appreciate during lockdown. Try documenting them.

I wouldn’t say life is getting back to what it was before the pandemic, but it does feel like things are changing fast. And that’s made me want to pause over certain aspects of the very strange period we are now leaving behind.

Example: A couple of weeks ago, I had a really great conversation with Guardian writer Emma Beddington about “bleak” local spaces that her readers said they had “learned to love” during lockdown. And some of those places really do sound bleak — dilapidated buildings, urban canal systems, even a sewage works. She writes:

“With more time on our hands and limited options for how to spend it, many of us developed a new appreciation of the exceptional in our everyday, unsung landscapes. There is a heightened, more granular quality to our observation of them too: tiny quirks of street architecture, the shifting panorama of rubbish and the unexpected cohabitation of the human and natural worlds have all caught the eye. These are places where the imagination can run riot.”

It wasn’t until days after I spoke to Beddington that I realized that the pandemic had actually added some “bleak” entries to my own list of regular spots. For instance, it used to be that when I biked to the lonely corner of the Lower Ninth Ward here in New Orleans where the industrial canal meets Florida Avenue, it was time to turn home. It scarcely occurred to me to cross the vertical-lift bridge, which was very frequently raised anyway, and mostly untrafficked when it wasn’t. I sometimes wondered if anyone used it.

But at some point, out of sheer boredom and curiosity, I started crossing. And it’s become a ritual journey. The immediate, and rather ghostly, landscape involves a recycling plant and various industrial and transportation facilities. While there are cars and big rigs sometimes, I have so far encountered exactly two other bikers (a punk-y couple) and zero pedestrians. It’s just not an area designed for humans.

And … I kinda love it! This sank in last weekend, when I got stuck on the Upper Ninth Ward side, waiting for the bridge to descend. It took forever, and I enjoyed the wait — studying this awesome piece of machinery, savoring the pelicans and the relative quiet, as one barge, and e v e n t u a l l y another, crept by. That’s when I had my belated epiphany that this is exactly the sort of place Beddington was writing about. I took a snapshot, and a sound shot.

A recent “challenge” in The New York Times encourages readers to take “a gratitude photo.” Basically this is a prompt to “notice our surroundings or show appreciation for the people, places or things that make us happy,“ and pause to document them for personal posterity.

“When people talk about life after the pandemic, they often say they’ll never take the small things in life for granted again,” the Times piece continues. This is a way to back up that promise.

Ahead of the curve on linking pandemic life with place, albeit with a different spin, was dear friend of TAoN Paul Lukas, who took a front-porch cocktail-hour photo for 425 days straight. This front porch is obviously not unlovely or unloved, but the connection to new appreciation for specific territory in a cloistered time couldn’t be more convincing. It’s also a useful reminder: Maybe your newly appreciated space was part of your home. That’s legit.

Before your memories of this strange time fade and bleed into this next strange time, take some moments to acknowledge the places that came to matter more than you would have expected. And consider documenting them. (If you do and are the sharing type, use the tag #TAON71 on Instagram or Soundcloud, I’d love to see or hear!)

(Side prompt: This is a really good time to go through the photos you’ve taken since the Covid era began. Which ones really exemplify this time we’ve lived through, and why?)

Meanwhile, enjoy Emma Beddington’s delightful piece on the underdog places that became special during lockdown. It’s a wonderful instance of learning to appreciate the overlooked.

Okays this is not related to the Florida Avenue bridge, but is from another bike ride into unlovely territory circa December 2020, and just seems appropriate.

In Other News

Okay that’s it! New Icebreaker tomorrow.

As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: consumed@robwalker.net. Or use the comments!

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All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

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