Where to Start

Note: This is something I’m tossing around for a potential book intro. Please let me know what you think:

If you’ve ever headed south on Hull Street as it slips away from Richmond, Virginia, you’ve seen the decaying buildings that press right up against the road—old banks turned into boutiques, boarded up hardware stores, and mural-covered walls that likely hide graffiti. You’ve seen the colorful faces that fill bus stops and crowd sidewalks.

This area once claimed independence from the capital city to the north, an independence still evident in the Manchester signage and old courthouse. But few wandering these streets think of themselves as anything but citizens of the capital. They may claim neighborhoods, but the city itself gives them identity.

Most people lock their doors while driving through this part of town, especially outsiders. The numerous red lights and groups of men lounging on stoops make them nervous. After all, crime rates soar south of the James River.

The red lights do give you plenty of time to take in the rough, hand-painted signs posted above businesses and churches or the sloppy script crudely adorning wooden signs. Here one can find “Parking n back,” “Fresh CRABS,” and the “Apostolic Kingdom of Jesus Worshipers.”

But the squalor isn’t all encompassing. Once you bump over Cowardin Avenue and pass the First-Church-of-Yesterday-Turned-Mosque, you’ll find an island perhaps like no other in the area—a church untouched by the culture around it, a church refusing to accept the world beyond the gates.

For this church, the infidels scream beyond the bars and disrupt the unvisited-yet-tradition-mandated church yard sale. They’re a threat to this island of what used to be.

But those aging parishioners birthed something in me. They ignored the marching steps of time so much that the ridiculousness sparked shame in me. They spurned the new for the old so thoroughly that my own nostalgic hangover became clear because of its dull ache.

And for that I thank them.