I Walk the Line: Leaving downtown to Duke Hospital, Crest Street neighborhood

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Favio, a former patient at the Duke Medical Center

Story and photos by Lisa Sorg

A man limped in short stutter steps as he pushed an empty wheelchair onto the sidewalk along busy Erwin Road between LaSalle Street and the Duke Medical Center.

“Do you need some help?” I asked, only then noticing he had only prosthetic legs. He seemed unsteady, unwell, as if perhaps he should still be under a doctor’s care. His white medical bracelet read “Favio,” and listed his birthdate as 1960.

“I’m looking for a Mexican grocery,” he replied in English. He was fluent, but he spoke haltingly, as if the words were floating above his head and he had to catch them. “Someone told me there’s one about a mile up the road.”

I didn’t remember a tienda being in either direction, but began checking for one on my phone.

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

He showed me his right arm, which although apparently healed, was crooked and could not be extended. The side of head, asymmetrical in shape, also looked like it had been injured in the past.

“May I ask how you lost your legs?”

“In Mexico, my wife took my children and I decided to kill myself.”

“Did you jump?”

“No, I sat on the train tracks, and then …” He made a sweeping motion with his arm.

“I’m very sorry that happened to you.”

I gave the man $2, enough for a bus trip to downtown and back. I pushed him in his wheelchair across the street to the stop in front of Duke hospital. On the way, a pedestrian was nearly hit by a car that was turning into a parking lot.

“Seis o once (the 6 or the 11)” I told him when we arrived. “Buena suerte.”

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One impetus for the light rail line is to connect Duke, particularly the medical center, to UNC, particularly its medical center.

There will be two stations along Erwin Road, one at Flowers Street, near the John Hope Franklin Center, and the other farther west, at LaSalle.

If you just travel down (the very congested) Erwin Road, you might think the only apartments are for ramen-eating graduate students or well-heeled doctors and medical faculty. But north of the VA and the hospital lies the historic Crest Street area, formerly known as Hickstown, named for landowner Hawkins Hicks. (Open Durham has an excellent history of this area.)

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In the 1970s and 1980s, this modest, predominantly African-American neighborhood, endured great upheaval at the hands of transportation gurus who built the Durham Freeway through the heart of the area. After a federal civil rights lawsuit, the state transportation department had to come up with a mitigation plan: Sixty-five houses and their residents were relocated; others were demolished and rebuilt. The New Bethel Community Church and the W.I. Patterson Center, which abut Crest Street Park, remained. Graves at the church’s cemetery were dug up, then reburied in other Durham cemeteries. So obviously, GoTriangle and the city have to take great care in ensuring the low-income neighborhood—it now has a larger Latino population than African-American—benefits, not suffers from the light rail line.

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Crest Park ballfield, with part of the medical center complex looming in the background
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Doctors headed home after work, Erwin Road

2 thoughts on “I Walk the Line: Leaving downtown to Duke Hospital, Crest Street neighborhood

  1. Chris

    I’m not sure why you sent him downtown. As we all know, there is no grocery, Mexican or otherwise, within the loop, or even nearby considering Flavio’s limited mobility. There are tiendas up on Hillsborough Rd., but I couldn’t tell you how to get there from Duke hospitals on public transportation.

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  2. lisasorgnc

    I told him about the Hillsborough Road tiendas, which you can take the 11 from Duke Hospital to reach, but he said “they know me on the 11,” and he couldn’t ride it. He insisted that there was a store a mile east, which is why I sent him downtown. I wasn’t trying to mislead him, only showing him which bus to take to go where he wanted (and the bus to take where he was not wanted.)

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