Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I Feel Good!

James Brown Boulevard (AKA 9th St.) has been called the last open streetscape in Augusta. I have no idea what that means, unless they're referring to the fact that you can nearly look from one end of it to the other. This is because there's nothing going on along most of the street. However, J.B. Blvd. does have some very nice old buildings, particularly along the stretch between Telfair St. and Walker St. Granted, that's only a block, but there's plenty of interest along that block and it really does feel "open".

When I moved to Augusta I hoped at some point James Brown would make an appearance. I'd never seen the Godfather of Soul perform, and Augusta is his backyard. His yearly birthday bashes at the Augusta Civic Center had ceased some years before I arrived, but I held out hope. I can't condone some of the man's actions, but you can't argue with the tunes. So, naturally, I was excited when it was publicized that the Garden City Music Festival in downtown Augusta would be renamed the James Brown Music Festival, featuring the unveiling of a bronze statue of James and a free performance by the man himself. Hot damn.

My excitement didn't last long as James was involved in another domestic dispute with his wife that had the police out at his residence one night. The city council, frequently embroiled in various morally dubious escapades themselves, decided NOT to change the festival's name, NOT to have James perform and, well, I don't have any clue what happened to the statue, which had been completed by that point. James responded by saying he didn't really need to have a festival named after him anyway and his mug shot didn't do him any favors either. Oh well, I think I ended up out of town the weekend of the festival.

Many of the buildings on J.B. Blvd. have very ornate balconies, railings, and doors. Apparently one guy owns most of the buildings on this block and is supposedly refurbishing them. However, the southern climate is not kind to wood and there's usually mold, rotted timbers, warped pilings, and all sorts of hopeless problems. The city council recently even considered tearing everything on the block down to make way for the new municipal center pending a response by the owner of these buildings. The owner responded with something along the lines of, "I'm trying. Need more money." But, to their credit, the council also recognized the value of these historic structures. Whether that actually prevents them from being torn down, who knows?

J.B. Blvd. runs from the river all the way across town to Laney-Walker. The area between downtown and Walton Way is nearly totally vacant at the moment. On the other end of town, people are generally advised to stay out of the handful of streets between Walton Way and Laney-Walker. I explored it a bit and these seemed to be neighborhoods of people just doing the best they could with what they had, like anyone. I didn't take any pictures of this stretch since it's lame to take pictures of places where people actually live. The places I photograph have some resonance with me, but I'm not fetishizing poverty or romanticizing economic misfortune. There's nothing "cool" or "edgy" about living below the poverty line. Actually, this isn't J.B. Blvd. at all, but a weather-beaten sign for Jolly's Restaurant at the corner of Ellis St. and 12th St. I just kinda like it. Next time we'll go to the movies.

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