Searching For The Inexpressibly Beautiful
It was inexpressibly beautiful. I drove transfixed.“
~ Author Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America
This is Bryson’s comment upon driving along the Grand Traverse Bay in the early 1980’s. Strong praise from a book full of strong criticism of the sprawl seen across the country.
Traverse City’s downtown earned praise as well:
“Traverse City looked to be a wonderful old town that seemed not to have changed since about 1948. It still has a Woolworth’s, a J.C. Penny, an old-fashioned movie theater called the State and a timeless cafe, the Sydney, with black booths and a long soda fountain. You just don’t see places like that anymore.”
Times Change, Sometimes
This passage of The Lost Continent was sent to me from someone relatively new to Traverse City and full of good ideas. He encouraged me to read the humorist’s take on things like box stores, parking lots, sidewalks (or missing sidewalks) and other place focussed observations. As we were recently discussing the attraction to and popularity of Traverse City, he added in his email this thought: “We should honor Traverse City by making sure the new, high density development occurs downtown. We need to draw that “Portland line” around the city to keep farm and city separate, but close, and to keep our “wonderful old town.”
I haven’t read Bryson’s books, but in the 1980’s, our sprawl was just finding it’s groove. Bryson could have easily missed it. However, as a community we have often embraced sprawl as inevitable and continue to do so by making priority the servicing of that sprawl (South Airport, BLA…). I’d like to trust that we will alter that pattern in the next decade, however, I’m not certain we have it in us.
Yesterday, I bought a vacuum where buffalo used to roam and it certainly wasn’t “inexpressibly beautiful.”
Thanks for the thoughts W.C.–Ding!Ding!