Las Amazonas: No Loitering

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Formerly an amusement park on a trolley car line, the Lakewood Shopping Center now  looks threadbare, with a Food Lion, Dollar General and a dozen or more vacant storefronts.

A few doors down from B&T Tobacco,  Las Amazonas was a Mexican restaurant and bar that seemed to keep erratic hours. I never went, but some (male) friends who had been there said Latinas were hired to dance — and only dance — with male customers, mostly Latino.

Las Amazonas appeared to have closed a while ago, although it’s hard to say when. I passed by the place this morning and noticed someone had broken its window. But when I looked through the hole and saw the wall mural, I realized the purpose of this place was to remind its patrons of home.



Filling the empty lots: Durham development

Gary Kueber of Open Durham called this lot “the strangest downtown property.” The former furniture warehouse lot at 120 W. Parrish St., between Alley 26 and the old Jack Tar motel, had been abandoned for years. And then it was redeveloped by Arthur Rogers — he did the Citizens Bank building, home of Bar Virgile — into artful small office/start up space.



Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

Rogers had to navigate a lot of bureaucracy to build an here: Nearby Mechanics & Farmers Bank actually owned a sliver of the property, which was designated by a metal inlay in Alley 26. As creative infill development, this lot illustrates that imaginative, positive placemaking is possible.

There’s a lot of anxiety about a changing Durham, some of which is documented in an exhibit, Durham Under Development at Pleiades Gallery, on view through March 6. This photo, shot from the parking deck of the Jack Tar Motel in December 2014, is part of the show. I remember looking over the edge of the deck (I’m a bit afraid of heights) and after my queasiness dissipated, recognized the striking geometry of the scene. And Doodleman, the yellow figure in the alley, is peeking over the edge.

I share the anxiety — about affordability, about displacement and gentrification — and have covered it extensively for the INDY and Bull City Rising. However, I also have hope and no small amount of fascination about our changing city. The changes need to be equitable and inclusive. The changes must not diminish Durham’s most endearing qualities: Its diversity, and what the Japanese would call wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

We want progress, but we don’t want sterility and exclusivity. Fortunately, Durham CAN, People’s Alliance, the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit are all keeping important issues in front of city officials, who, for the most part, are equally concerned.

These days, you can’t — or I should say, it’s difficult — to get to the top of the old Jack Tar because it is also under development. It’s being transformed from a ’60s motel that eventually became squatters’ quarters and an old-school coffee shop , which was displaced for construction, into a swinging boutique hotel, due to open in a year.

boy in coop garage

Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

This photo is also in the show. In November 2014, I met several boys playing in the shell of the future Center for Child & Family Health. It is part of the Kent Corner development that includes the Durham Co-op.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the boys were horsing around in a building under construction, as boys  and girls  will do. (I could definitely envision myself doing the same at that age, and apparently even at the ripe old age of 49.)

All My Children Day Care and the West End Community Center used to be on this property, but they were demolished. While it’s too soon to assess the impact of Kent Corner—it opened about a year ago—on the largely African-American neighborhood, it’s important to ensure that the development does not displace longtime residents.

A wall was outside of the frame, and another boy was hurling himself over it. That explains the silhouette of his feet. In addition to the geometry of the shot (yes, I’m into geometry), there’s a certain innocence about this young man that I felt endeared to.

What will Durham look like when he grows up? Will he benefit from the city’s progress? Or will he be excluded? We owe it to him that he has more educational, vocational, and personal opportunities as the result of the renaissance.

Only the only: the odd beauty of Ahoskie

green church

The town of Ahoskie, North Carolina, welcomed me with a speeding ticket, and send me back home with images of a place I have yet to make sense of.

Like most small towns, it is struggling to keep its place in the world. Jobs have evaporated. Shopping has been exiled from downtown to the suburbs or nearby cities. That said, I found the town beautiful because it lived up to its nickname.

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At 36.28 degrees latitude, Ahoskie, population 5,000, is nicknamed “The Only One,” because it is the only such named town in the world. True: I have never seen a church decked out in green and white like the one in Ahoskie. Or a painting in a storefront like the one on Main Street. Or a metal sculpture of a soldier like the one in No Man’s Land Park.

soulfoodweird painting colortrain bench

On the street, a found painting ©Japan


japanese painting 2.jpgInitially, I paid little attention to the gray bench seat, apparently from a van, slumped on the curb along Kent Street. Then I saw the discarded painting, propped up on a cushion, and realized this could be one of the greatest street finds I’d ever encountered.

To say it’s a painting sells it short. The lake and sky are painted in what appears to be watercolor, but the rest of the piece is constructed of natural materials: bark, wood and moss.


The paper on the back of the painting is stamped with ©Japan, which means these pieces of nature were likely collected in that country. Since there is no artist’s signature, perhaps the artwork was mass produced. Nonetheless, it bears the mark of the individual. Somebody tapped those metal brads into the wooden island, glued the moss and the bark.


I came home, and my husband, Dennis, and I immediately hung it on a living room wall. We shined a lamp on it so we could analyze it more closely.

“You know, it’s kind of sophisticated,” I told him.

“Sophisticated enough for us,” he replied.




Found in southwest-central Durham: Trust issues at 1:09 a.m.

It was trash day. This is traditionally the best time of the week to find discarded letters, to-do lists and other leavings that have escaped the waste bins on their short journey from the curb over and up into the garbage truck.

On a July morning last summer, I came upon these scraps of blue paper woven in the grass. I gathered all that I could find, and returned the next day to sift through the grass some more. While piecing them together, it became clear there were two sheets of paper, and that I was assembling two jigsaw puzzles at the same time.

We are at our rawest and most vulnerable in the late night/ early morning. Free of societal niceties and expectations, it’s when we feel emboldened to tell the issues page 1 blog copy trust issues page 2 blog copy

Found in Durham Central Park: a $35 kiss between friends

When I worked at the INDY, I wrote a column—or I should say it wrote itself—called Urban Archaeology. It consisted of found objects, overheard conversations and other ephemera that documented life’s small moments. The column became quite popular; when people met me, they often said, “Oh, you’re the person who picks up stuff off the ground.”

Yes, that’s me. And I’m still finding gems like this. I stumbled upon it on Halloween in Durham Central Park. Scroll down for more links to other prosaic discoveries.

Found in Durham Central Park north of the playground
Found in Durham Central Park north of the playground

A box of prayer requests from 2001, found outside the Center for Responsible Lending, West Main Street:

A note from the Durham County jail

A child’s critique of modern art at the Ackland Museum:

Dancing in the streets, found music

The boulevard of broken toys

When people disrobe in the street

A Christmas wish list that does not include a library card

Winged Invasion: When 6 million blackbirds descended on Scotland Neck

“The birds just kept coming.” Photo by David Persoff

Forty-six years ago, the residents of Scotland Neck, North Carolina, could not walk downtown on a sunny day without carrying an umbrella. They could not hang their laundry on the line. The cacophony of cawing was the soundtrack to 1969.

A couple of years ago as part of the Center for Documentary Studies’ Anytown project, I made a film about how Scotland Neck coped with a persistent blackbird invasion—not just 1,000 birds, but 6 million that decided to encamp in the trees of this small town near the Virginia border.

Last night, this short documentary—8 minutes and change—screened at the Strange Beauty Film Festival in Durham. It continues today at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. with more inventive films that look at the world through an odd lens.