The High Road: All You See Is…

The High Road

“Some days I take the bus home, just to touch home…” – Common, Respiration

In recent years, AMC could have filmed the Walking Dead in Downtown Durham.

Or The Twilight Zone.

Or The Wire.

Or Battlestar Galac…

Downtown Durham was a no man’s land. Boarded windows and boarded up doorways canvasing Main Street and the surrounding blocks. Through the efforts of many organizations, notably Capital Broadcasting Company, the city reinvented its core while retaining its grit and flare.

There is a stark difference in the air breezing through Durham these days. Abandoned buildings turned high-end apartment flats and office space with restaurants in arms’ reach of every street corner. The Bull City Connector servicing both Duke and city employees alike. We are a hotbed for creativity and innovation, growth, and revitalization.

More times than I could count on two hands, I have overheard residents, new and old, speak about where they have not been in Durham, and how they would never come down this way or that way. Sheltered graduate students submitting to only rumors passed down through generations never venturing further than their stone-protected haven, or reluctant Durham long-timers who remember the not-so-distant past still lingering over parts of town. While I can understand their trepidation…

I feel sorry for them.

One of Durham’s greatest gifts is its people. Heartwarming, courageous, and inspiring people. Through 23 years of walking, biking, and busing these streets, rarely have I acquainted a person who I did not connect with, even if that connection was simply “Durham resident.” There is a strong thread holding this city together that can only be strengthened by connecting with its deepest roots.

“I only been here for six years but the city is in me, I can feel it when I walk or when I whisper somethin’…” – Phonte, Welcome to Durham

People fear what they do not understand. Right now, we live in a city that may have to get reacquainted with itself. New developments spring up weekly, and more people than ever before are pouring in to experience what we already know.

Durham is the place to be.

IMAG0452Thursday, to test my theory, I made my way downtown to listen to the heartbeat of Downtown. Starting at Five Points, I made my way towards the new Organic Transit facility near Motorco Music Hall in hopes of getting some pictures. Passing Durham Central Park, I could hear music blasting from the skate park with the sound of an announcer relaying instructions and crowds cheering in response. As someone who takes pride in knowing the “cool” in Durham, I was surprised to find a skate competition taking place right under my nose. A 38-city nationwide tour hosted by Zumiez, a Seattle-based skate shop, was underway featuring shredders from across the state and even some nationally known professionals.

My theory was validated.


It was one of the livest spots in all of Durham and yet only few outside the skate community would have known. Basking in the glory of self-satisfaction, I walked back uptown, briefly stopping to see that the graffiti-friendly Bull City sculpture near Central Park had been repainted. Not only that, but a few short yards away, in what is known as “Major the Bull Plaza,” musicians and city employees were putting up the stage for event #1 in Durham’s Find Your Cool concert series. Ralph, the city employee on site, made sure I did not leave without a flyer with the upcoming performances listed. As we got to talking, I learned that Ralph was a Brooklyn native who moved here when he was 14. As Big Daddy Kane would say, he “found Brooklyn in the South.” We reminisced about all the change overtaking downtown, and how the new Marriott going up on Main Street was keeping the old entryway intact in typical Durham “re-imagine” fashion. We laughed about how if he won the lottery, he would do some refashion work of his own on the old Duke Power building, turning it into a night club without disturbing the good folks over at Duke Memorial on the adjacent block.

Walking away from the conversation, I shook Ralph’s hand in hopes that we would one day cross paths again. With a large grin on my face, all I could think was, “THIS is what it means to live in Durham.” I did not spend a dime and yet experienced so much of what the Bull City had to offer. How could this not be possible for everyone? With growth comes growing pains. With that said, any ailment in the City of Medicine can be cured by its residents, whether they are Duke med school students or not. Spend time in the place you call home and wash away all doubt.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Find Your Cool is a the perfect mantra to live by. Cool is not in short supply in this town. There is enough to go around. You may fear what you do not understand, but take a chance on the rewards of discovery.

Take the High Road…


Columnist Justin Laidlaw is a renaissance man. His interests range from the music business to politics, from Durham’s history and culture, to the world beyond. The co-host of Clarion Content’s podcast, he is fast becoming a veteran columnist. He is a fashion model, a tech sceptic, a business manager and more.

Comments are closed.