Driving through Pittsboro

Posted 3/17/21

Driving to my office on Hillsboro Street in Pittsboro was once as simple as waiting for a single stoplight to turn green. Now, my commute is one big detoured adventure in yellow, orange and red. …

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Driving through Pittsboro

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Driving to my office on Hillsboro Street in Pittsboro was once as simple as waiting for a single stoplight to turn green. Now, my commute is one big detoured adventure in yellow, orange and red.

I drive past orange signs erected by workers in yellow vests. I slalom through orange cones and between bands of yellow warning tape. I stop along with everyone else until a worker in a reflective yellow vest turns a handheld sign from red to yellow. It is stop and go, bumper to bumper traffic on narrow streets like Masonic or Salisbury, and we will not even talk about the crawling horror called East Chatham Street at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

Not too many decades ago the town burghers and good deacons of Pittsboro rolled up the sidewalk every Wednesday afternoon. When the courthouse bell tolled 12 o’clock, retailers shuttered their shops, businesses locked their doors, and Pittsboro shut down so that practicing Christians could go to church. You could not buy even a haircut on a Wednesday afternoon.

Those days are long gone. While I was stopped in traffic this past Wednesday afternoon I watched a worker on the sidewalk cut into the concrete with a circular saw. He wore neither a particle mask nor a protective face shield; instead, his partner blasted the dust and the grit away from his face with a gas powered leaf blower at full throttle. Last month I saw one crew laying electrical conduit on a Sunday morning. I hope they were paid overtime for working on the Sabbath.

Around the courthouse are large yellow tracked machines with names like Kobelco and John Deere and CAT. Ratchet straps hold tightly packed, vertically stacked 2x4s to protect the trunks of the old trees by the Presbyterian Church. Workers in hard hats and dirty coveralls trudge through the mud and the grit and the gravel. White utility trucks sit spattered with red clay like animals at a muddy watering hole. These trucks now come equipped with strobing yellow or white lights, and they tend to idle together in groups. I suppose this is so the drivers can communicate vocally. The great, metallic herd beeps when it backs up.

Dueling backhoes flank either side of Sanford Road. Workers with bucket trucks string electrical wire along new poles on Thompson Street. The line for detailing at Clapp’s car wash sometimes sticks out into the street, further slowing traffic, so take extra care on that block. I certainly do not encourage vandalism, but peachy little Pittsboro is ready for a barrel monster, that ferocious 3-D sculpture created by former NCSU student Joseph Carnevale.

Neal’s Store, sandwiched between two blocks of muddy construction, has suffered mightily. I went in to buy a candy bar and spoke with the owner, a neighbor of mine named Manish. He told me that because of the construction, delivery trucks could not get in or out. I spoke to him on a Friday afternoon; the two of us were alone in the store except for someone seated on a stool at the video poker machine. He told me Friday afternoons are when he should be his busiest. Outside, a white minivan bottomed out in the red mud before clawing its way to the pumps. Across the street, an SUV tried unsuccessfully to cut through the back of Virlie’s Grill. The chain link fence made them retreat the way they came in.

Admittedly, little can be done to alleviate the stress caused by this mess; we will simply have to grin and bear it with clenched teeth. But I do believe there are steps drivers can take to make things easier on us all.

For one thing, stop letting your dog drive. In my daily travels to and from my office I have seen a dachshund, two terriers, a beagle, and one fluffy white poodle-looking thing, all with their paws on the steering wheel and their snouts poking out the driver’s window. I do not care if your hands are on the wheel, too, or if the dog drives well when you are down on the farm; you are in town now, and this is how accidents happen.

I ask that everyone check their high beams. Also, I would like to remind folks to use turn signals instead of fog lights. To the drivers of dark compact cars: please, turn on your headlights even when it is not raining so we can see more than your spoiler.

Most of all, everyone needs to hang up and drive.

Dwayne Walls Jr. has previously written a story about his late father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and a first-person recollection of 9/11 for the newspaper. Walls is the author of the book “Backstage at the Lost Colony.” He and his wife Elizabeth live in Pittsboro.


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