I was going through some old files this weekend, and found all of the papers I wrote my freshman year of college. One particular paper left me so cheerful. The assignment was to write about a place we've been that always leaves us feeling happy. I wrote about downtown Greenville, SC - just the spot I would write about if I was given that assignment today. So here goes, here's my happy place paper. It's almost unbelievable just how much has changed since it was written 6 years ago.
December 5, 2007
As I swerve around the curves of Interstate 385, I know what is coming up next. I pass the Haywood Mall on my left, and the flashy neon sign of a strip club on my right, and I know I'm almost there. The interstate ends, and as I drive under an overpass, it's hard to control my excitement. One more light and I'll finally be back to my happy place: downtown Greenville, SC. It is the one place I never grow tired of -- the place I have had so many happy memories and happy times; the place I spent months of my life working day after day, and still, I love it.
Starting at the top of the street are the high-class bars and the Hyatt hotel, where a beautifully lit Christmas tree sits in the middle of a fountain every year. Bright Budweiser and Heineken lights sit in the windows of bars as people stumble out into the street, happily inebriated. Across the street, the lovely patio of the Piazza Bergamo quietly sits, a holiday carousel resting after a long day. The plastic animal faces of the rides even seem to doze off, worn out from providing a comfortable spot to ride for the small, smiling faces of the city all day.
The red and white candy striped awnings of Woolworth's reminds me of the tasty foods I used to get in that very spot as a child. But the tasty foods are no more, as the building is vacant now, empty and lonely, with only fading red and white colors left to remind the city of what once was.
On the opposing corner sits a Sticky Fingers, and across the street is a small sushi restaurant. Next door is a Mexican cafe, and even further down is the O*Cha tea bar, where the hippies of the city sit and talk with one another. Continuing further down the street, the elaborate, fancy Wachovia bank sits, nudged between a Quizno's and a Port City Java. Countless times I have spent at this coffee shop, pouring my thoughts into words on my laptop, and sipping hot chocolate well into the darkness of night. During the day, men and women with briefcases and crisply pressed suits march out of the bright bank building next door. By night, the building sits locked up and dark, with only a light shining on the small ATM that sits out front.
The street is lined with tall trees and lampposts. My memory stirs when I see the tall trees and I think about when they were first planted, more than a decade ago. Now the mature trees are covered in netted Christmas lights, sparkling and bright, beckoning people to rejoice in the holiday season.
As I walk along the sidewalk, a group of men, bundled up for the chilly weather, all seeming to have somewhere to be, something to do. Teenaged boys and their smiling beauties saunter by, holding hands and cuddling close for warmth and love. Every now and then, a group of two or three children race past, tagging each other and erupting in giggles. Soon after, the parents of these tiny people stroll past, enjoying he time out of the house to reflect and watch the children they are raising.
Further down the street is the familiar sign of Bellacino's. The restaurant I once worked in, where I made friends I'll never forget, and learned patience like I never knew. The bright red and green "Open" sign bids passerbys to step in for a quick bite to eat. The inside is empty, like it usually is in the chilly autumn months, and only a few workers are inside, sweeping and trying to pass the time. On the opposite side of the street is the Westin Poinsett Hotel. Over the past decade, the hotel has seen significant changes. Not many years ago, the hotel was the local hangout spot for high school dropouts and drug dealers. Busted glass and spray painted brick ornamented the building, but now, it is a luxurious five-star hotel. In recent months, it has accommodated several actors and actresses, even having been the setting of a George Clooney movie coming out in a few months. The fountain out front and the beautifully decorated revolving doors, complete with garland and red bows, are truly a gem of downtown Greenville.
Continuing down Main Street, the Greenville News building sits on the next corner, just across from the Peace Center for Performing Arts. The beautiful auditorium is home to many events every year. From the Singing Christmas Tree to comedians like Lewis Black, it is a place that brings many people to Greenville's beautiful downtown area. Each time I pass by the Peace Center's theater, I am reminded of the two times I performed within its brick walls.
Beyond the Peace Center is where the natural beauty really starts. The rushing Reedy River passes beneath the concrete bridge of Main Street. Sidewalks with chalk paintings line the river, and black iron tables and chairs dot the areas around the water. The most climactic part of downtown is near, as the street is followed still further. Just around the bend of a realty company's building lies the newest and most beautiful picture in downtown Greenville. The focal point of the city is the beautiful bridge that crosses the Reedy River over the Falls Park. It is the perfect example of man's amazing creativity alongside nature's simplistic beauty. The suspension bridge is wide and long, and if you stand very still, as you look over the cabled rails, you can feel the bridge just barely swaying with the feet of people walking by. Down below, people sit on the banks of the river, and children jump from rock to rock in the waterfall, even in the chilly weather. In Spring, it becomes the backdrop for prom and wedding pictures, and is even home to an outdoor amphitheatre, where plays by Shakespeare are portrayed by local, aspiring actors. Dogs pull on leashes held tightly by their owners as they take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful park. A garden on a hill is slowly closing up with the cold temperatures, but it is only resting until next year, when its buds can come back in full force and beauty.
This is the ultimate stop on the tour of my downtown. It is calm. It is beautiful. It is my home, and it is my happy place.