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The Tentacle


October 4, 2005

After "the Street"

Roy Meachum

My musings last week reached back to that glorious October day in 1983 when then-Mayor Ron Young led a pied-piper procession down the newly refurbished Market Street, to the sometime astonishment of lookers-on, gaping on the sidewalk.

The following year the procession turned into a celebration and officially became "In the Street," which expanded into the 10-ring "circus" on parade Saturday. I may not have been here for each and every hoedown; I vaguely remember being gone at least once during my Chincoteague phase.

But I have been present for every major twist-and-turn. Some things have remained the same, however.

While visitors and home folks alike delight in the mind-boggling happenings - food, music and otherwise - downtown merchants view the annual event with mixed emotions.

Shops that specialize in gee-gaws and gifts that can be stuffed into pockets or small bags evidently thrive; that's what happened last Saturday. Those places with heftier goods and prices to match can wind up with empty cash registers.

Sharon used to mutter "damned tourists" between crowds that pushed through her Lady on Skates establishment. She had a problem with their tendency to haul along food and drinks and their seeming deafness when she asked them not to bring the stuff into her store.

My former wife's biggest gripe, however, was the way the throngs pushed right along; anyone tempted to consider buying her merchandise, she felt, was given little chance because of the irresistible motion enforced by the crowd.

Walking around last Saturday, I was told that much about the annual block party probably hasn't changed. But the attitude has. Having accepted what they cannot change, shopkeepers now view the occasion as a way to advertise themselves; they like having all those people eye their merchandise. They hand out lots of business cards, hoping for come-backs.

Restaurants have also adapted. Where once I would have had to sit on a curb to eat the pulled-pork barbecue sandwich, Brewers Alley furnished tables on the sidewalk, spilling over into the street.

Meanwhile, Market Street's only fenced terrace was jammed with voyeurs: men and women who could legally drink beer while leaning over the rail to watch us lesser mortals pass along beneath them. I'm kidding. They appeared, at least, to be having a marvelous time.

Various other eateries also provided sit-downs, which delighted both my heart and my tired body. My son and I traipsed the entire length, from the refurbished Seventh Street fountain to the far side of the Carroll Creek bridge. Bones younger than mine had to ache after making that hike.

As noted on Friday's TheTentacle.Com, in this election year there were more than enough politicians, from every party, including a first-time appearance for the Greens who managed to make it onto November's ballot. Hooray!

If you were keeping score - and I was - Democrats beyond their slim in-city majority out-hustled and out-muscled Republicans. There may have been balloons for GOP mayoral nominee Jeff Holtzinger; I didn't see them.

But nobody could have missed the barrage of Ron Young for Mayor colorful floaters. I came away with the same impression about everything that had to do with the coming elections.

Every Democratic aldermanic candidate apparently manned a table and so did the Greens' Joan Ivancic, supported by a sizeable contingent from her party. I saw Republican contenders working the crowd, handing out stickers and such. But they seem less "rooted" than their opponents, more like satellites to Mr. Holtzinger's extended "banquet" table.

Even in off-election years we know politicians are going to be In the Street. The development that pleases me considerably has to do with the proliferation of displays for charities and ethnic groups. They are not lumped together; each category presides over a block of its own.

When Roy Jr. and I set out, the street in front of the house was hopping with Alpine music and routines; when we returned the band and dancers wore derbies, in the fashion of English Morris performers.

After we had joined Pushkin back at home and began unwinding for the Gallery Walk that followed, the lure of drums and trilling melodies brought me running back outside. Spending all that time in Cairo, I knew belly dance music when I heard it.

>From the several stages up and down the "avenue" came tunes of a more popular sort and dense clusters proclaimed people's pleasure with what the singers and musicians were putting down.

It was altogether a glorious day made more shining by sun and temperatures that must be described as absolutely spectacular. As I explained to my son, what the Brits call "queen's birthday weather" should be named in these parts for In the Street.

Over the years my erratic memory cannot summon up any rain-outs. Last year's morning showers, for example, cleared the air for a pleasantly endowed afternoon.

See you next year! God willing!



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