Issue November 21, 2006

The Flipped Lid: Did you bring your charisma today?

Because Thanksgiving falls this week, and because I am also from this here city, today’s column offers praise and thanks to Louisville. Putting aside traces of critical analysis, shelving cynicism and negativity, I am instead bringing to the fore pure gratitude, even about Louisville’s endearing dark edges and lovely messiness. This is a random love letter of thankfulness.

For those of us hanging onto our 30s by a thin couple of years, we still feel completely justified to saddle up onto the top of an art car as its driver parades down Bardstown Road, or wearing ripped jeans, heels, orange sunglasses and a furry hat for Sunday brunch. In fact, pulling off this kind of get-up seems to give my generation of Louisvillians fashion credibility; if nothing else, my thrift store, diva, fashionista persona feels favored here. We are a thankfully freakish and funky lot.

One day, as I unsuccessfully scanned items in Kroger’s U-scan express lane, one such freaky cashier commented from the U-scan booth, “You forgot to bring your charisma today, didn’t you?” Then, in a week when I did better, the same cashier remembered me and nodded her head when I bragged, “I brought my charisma today, didn’t I?” I am grateful for these exchanges. I never feel that surprised at Louisvillians’ strange friendliness.

But to get at the strangeness, a newcomer needs to dig; Louisvillians’ favorite music, art, parks, restaurants, bars, shops, coffee spots and galleries will not give themselves up. The city must be discovered via subtly seductive secrets; visitors must know a local, or get to know one. I appreciate this odd standoffishness and necessarily relational quality of knowing the city.

A visitor might easily see, for example, that shotguns, Victorians and mansions gather in several of our neighborhoods, within blocks, only lots apart. I like to think this hybridity in some way metaphors Louisville as a place that, by nature, is diverse yet inclusive, but that is an insider’s assertion. Besides, Louisville architecture makes for good rubbernecking.

One of my favorite architectural spots sat at Phoenix Hill’s highest point (the neighborhood, not the bar) on Hull Street — The Quonset Hut: statues, ice cream, hammocks, flowering vines, benches and candles. B.J., its goddess in residence, seemed like a seer with her quiet, gracious, power. I can’t think of a place any more transcendent than that parking lot cum grotto, especially in fall as the downtown view came into focus like the sky had been flipped upside down. Looking slightly east around 3 a.m., Hull Street’s hill provided a good view of drunks bungee jumping at The Brewery.

A bit later in the morning, around 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday, or even on an occasional weekday afternoon, Sixth Street sounds like everyone’s gone on vacation. For several blocks, north or south, nothing; not a car, truck or bus. Crossing an early, empty Sixth Street, the quiet lives not out and about are mine to imagine what I want about.

Another kind of quiet can be found driving Taylorsville Road south past the Gene Snyder freeway; the only recent sign of development is one privately owned gas station. I would like to praise the cows, weeds and hay bales along there. And old barns. Odd rusty farm machinery. I’m grateful that, in Louisville, these can be found 15 minutes outside the city limits. I also like the train trestle at Pope Lick Road hanging over Pope Lick Creek about a mile and a half down Taylorsville Road, and appreciate that the Pope Lock monster constitutes a Wikipedia entry explaining all about the goat man.

Thinking about city legends, I thank the money and attention the Derby brings, but feel even more thankful that most locals talk about leaving town for it. Derby — its horses, drinking, gambling and celebrity — does not make our city what it is. We drink on our own time, when we feel like it: on our porches Halloween night, for instance, dressed up as vampires, sailors, doctors and naughty Strawberry Shortcakes. After two glasses of Pinot Noir, the sailor and vampire (both mid-30s) will trick or treat, taking in a haul. And no one will have thought twice about half-drunk adults doing so. Not in my neighborhood at least, but you’d have to know the neighborhood and you’d have to bring your charisma.

Contact the writer at carriemichaelle@gmail.com