Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Main Street The Movie: Coming Soon

Before: It's got Mr. Darcy, Luke Duke, and a pirate from the Caribbean.  How can they go wrong? -Daniel

After: He must have agreed to do this before he got the Academy Award -Lara, about Colin Firth

It's neat to see scenes from Durham in a movie, Main Street, with big name actors like Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, and the guy from the Dukes of Hazzard.  It was filmed on location.  That makes it worth seeing for locals.  It opens in the US in theaters this Friday, the 30th of September.  I don't know why, but we already have it here on DVD in Australia, our temporary home until the Department of Agriculture and the city of Durham allow me to import the kangaroos down the street (1). I don't know art, but here are some thoughts about Durham and the movie.

It makes me cringe when they consistently pick out the sore spots of town. In fairness, it is a movie about urban decay, which is not the current story of Durham.  Indeed, the creators of the movie chose Durham based on a visit more than ten years ago.  That was before the new ballpark, rebuilt Tobacco warehouse developments like the American Tobacco Campus, a new performing arts center, a new 1.3 million square foot mall, and two other redeveloped malls, blah, blah.  All that urban renewal wouldn't help the plot. But the city is still called Durham, North Carolina in the movie, so it's not exactly a postcard for the city. Think positive. Anything to prevent over-crowding is good.

Ironically, the scenes from an office and a restaurant, shown as upscale places outside of Durham, are also shot in Durham.    Your definition of Durham will be defined by the sites you sample.  Even in the same location, there are different stories.  I looked at the stats for generally well regarded Jordan High School, and I found different populations, almost schools within schools.  Some groups were doing very well and going off to prestigious colleges , and some couldn't pass basic reading tests.  So no story is going truly showcase the whole of a city.  But Durham doesn't get a lot of movies to showcase it different facets. Please support HR bill 1891, which will require two comedies for every serious depiction of a city (2).

Back to the story.

I paused in the middle of the movie for a bathroom break.  I hit play, and it was over in 5 minutes.  It turns out that it was almost all exposition.  Develop the characters, the scenery, and the opposing themes.  Then you actually do a story (3).  Or you can slowly do the first part and forget the second part, and just take a few minutes to wrap things up and roll the credits.  It was like part one of a mini-series, but there was no "to be continued..." at the end.  At first I was thinking, the setup seems a little slow.  Just wait and watch like an adult watching a movie that won't be defined by number of sequels it spawns.  And then, poof.

Overall, I thought it was worthwhile, but don't expect an intense story.

(1) I'll also have to wait until I learn how to catch a kangaroo.  I have gotten close to them.  I'm trying to get them used to me, so I walk over there every once in a while.  They really are at the end of the block.  See our blog.
(2) I am thinking of a new Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris is black and Cameron is white.  Ben Stein will still be played by Ben Stein.
(3) Or in an action movie, you paint the picture using exposition, and then blow up the picture in really creative ways.  In a romantic movie, you paint a picture and then hang Matthew McConaughey's shirt on it.  Women then forget that there was a painting or a shirt.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homeowners' Meeting In the New Subdivision

I don't care what color you are, you know, I just don't like seeing a bunch of teenagers just roaming around the neighborhood.  Where are their parents at?

That bus they put in - that can just drop off people from anywhere.  Any part of the city, and they're coming in to our community to cause trouble.

I used to rent myself, but these renters here, especially these section 8 renters - they don't care.  We need to change the covenants to outlaw that.  [Someone points out this is against federal law, which prohibits discrimination against the rental assistance program].  Well, we should make it more difficult at least.

We have to stop all of these loud cars.  This kid has a huge speaker in his back window.  Where are his parents?

Add general nods of agreement. It's Wednesday night at the public library auditorium, and we are in a Homeowner's Association meeting.  I've related the quotes above, from different homeowners in our neighborhood, to several friends who come from around the country, and they all cringe. They are thinking, this is the bad part of the south-haven't we moved past this?

However, the speakers above are all African American.  Does that change your perception?  This causes surprise when someone hears those quotes.  Our community is mostly African American, and the attendance at the meeting was a couple of dozen or so black people and me and another white guy or two, representative of the makeup of the community.  Durham is somewhat rare in that blacks and whites are roughly balanced within city limits, although individual neighborhoods vary widely.

Nobody is for locking up teenagers, keeping poor people from getting transportation, or disallowing people to have an affordable place to rent.  But people are entitled to the "quiet enjoyment" of their property, as the law puts it.  So if a group appears to stand in the way, it can become us versus them, regardless of race.  And statistically, teenagers and renters care less about their properties (it's not entirely theirs) and maybe less about quiet enjoyment. Racism is still alive, but class distinctions are becoming more important as more African Americans are lifted into the upper class.  "White flight" is deemed a symptom of racism, but "black flight" happens too. Witness the large concentration of African Americans staying away from Washington, DC city limits by moving over the border to Maryland.

We didn't come to any conclusions.  It didn't entirely matter because we are mostly powerless.  We discovered, to my big surprise, that the Board of Directors of the Homeowner's Association, is actually one guy, Jerry Stoltz.  He's the developer that started things 13 years and has refused to turn over the board of one to an actual board of homeowners even though it appears the legal requirements have been met (it's common for the developer to direct the board in the beginning stages of a community).  Disenfranchising a black community is not a good thing to do, so he was the punching bag for tonight.  The meeting was scheduled so he could be present, but he begged off at 9 am and instead sent Drew, who would only call himself a professional acquaintance of Jerry's.  His only ability was to take notes.  He had no answers nor authority.  But anger at the builder was another issue that surfaced harshly in the mostly white HOA where we lived in South Durham.  Crime is also a major concern in both areas.  I think both neighborhoods are safe, but getting everyone together to relay their worst experiences makes everyone feel less safe.

In the end, I don't know if we could really change things if we were in charge.  People are behind on their HOA dues by $40,000, so we can't really spend much money.  Bankruptcy and foreclosure mean we may never see a lot of that.  When we are the board, we will have we  to blame.

Another issue I contemplated:
Should I ask about a starting a neighborhood e-mail list?  You know, to bring the community together?  Or because of the tone created by the false anonymity of e-mailing your neighbors instead of talking to them, would it actually tear the neighborhood apart?  I've definitely seen both results.  It certainly gives people a platform for complaining: "We will initiate action if everyone does not power-wash his home," etc.  But hopefully, it could be a platform for organizing neighborhood cookouts, too. Someone else seizes the initiative and I sign up.  We'll see.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stuff My Neighborhood Listserv Says

What's a neighborhood without an e-mail list to connect it?  Rusty joined the list of one neighborhood near downtown Durham, and it is amazing what is shared and what is argued.  Here's a sampling [emphasis mine]

  • This neighborhood likes to share:

Sender: [redacted]@duke.edu
Subject: kroger coupons i won't use

going out to the curb at 1:30pm today
[redacted] englewood
please take only the ones you'll useand please don't take the clothespinsave $1 on any 1 listerine 1 liter or larger
save 40cents on 1 kroger graham crackers
save $2 on any nivea body product
save $2.75 on any one charmin 30 double roll
save $1.50 on any 1 brita filter
all expire apr 17
all good only at kroger
you pay sales tax
technically "void if transferred" but an employee told me off the record that's not enforced

  • How can you piece together a life from which these items were necessary but no longer are?
Sender: [redacted]@mindspring.com
Subject: Free stuff to a good home
Dinosaur bathtub sprayer and hose. Fits onto a traditional style bathtub faucet and the spray comes out the dinosaur's mouth. Very cute, and functional, too! [how does this fit with the next item?]
Tools to assist someone with limited mobility or reach - a long shoe horn, a picker-upper, a very long handled bath sponge, stuff like that left over from knee surgery and mostly never used. Take it all.

Backpack suitcase - a little too large for my need.
An opened and partially used package of disposable underpads. Perfect for the old dog that's a little leaky.

Almost new Bioset sprout maker with instructions.
Learn Italian cassette tapes.
An hour and a half later, we are informed "still have underpads, the rest is gone."  You have to be quick in this neighborhood.