Durham News: Opinion

Elizabeth Poindexter: Durham, from the eyes of a commuter

By Elizabeth Poindexter

Over the past couple of months, my weekday routine has changed from a 15-minute drive to work in downtown Durham to a bus ride to work outside of the county.

While I’m quickly adapting, I’ve realized I now spend far less time than I used to downtown. I often wonder how living in Durham but working elsewhere affects my view of the city.

Working downtown, I met dozens of people who lived outside the city or county but worked downtown. We experienced the city together, whether on a spontaneous trip for ice cream at The Parlour during the summer or for ice skating at the American Tobacco Campus during the winter.

Now, I still live in Durham but spend the majority of my week traveling across the Triangle. I eat and sleep in Durham, but spend most of my waking hours elsewhere. Initially, we moved to Durham because of its proximity to both Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Two years later, my life spans the Triangle, but I feel less connected to one place than I did before.

Splitting my time among the Triangle’s cities makes me wonder how I can best spend my time in Durham to stay up to date with the city’s culture and community. Who has a better pulse on the city: people who live elsewhere but work in Durham, or vice versa?

Of course, it’s not unusual for people today to live one place and work in another. But there’s something different about Durham. When I lived an worked in Durham, I felt more connected to my adopted home. Leaving to go elsewhere during the workweek makes me wonder what I’m missing a few miles down the road.

Since changing to my new routine, I go downtown every two or three weeks. To me, that seems frequent, but it’s far less time downtown than I used to. Two or three weeks is just enough time away that the new colorful mural on the Downtown Durham YMCA catches me off guard. Time has passed, and there’s a new road closed and a new detour to follow.

When I worked downtown, I’d run into friends I knew lived in cities other than Durham but worked in town. I wondered how they balanced the two. Now, I rely on others to fill me in so I can stay up to date when it comes to local elections, building renovations, and other changes they might have noticed. I’m learning to ask for and heed advice my friends in similar situations offer up about staying connected to Durham when 40 hours a week is spent outside of it.

I’ve started to glean ways to stay better connected to what’s happening downtown. I’ve deliberately scheduled outings with friends at favorite spots downtown, and I check the news a bit more frequently than I used to. At times, I feel far removed from Durham. But chatting with our neighbors, stopping by the Museum of Durham History and keeping tabs on a handful of nonprofits have helped me stay in touch. I’ve realized that by continuing to listen to friends and neighbors, and by learning about issues that directly affect us, I’m able to stay connected and watch the city evolve. More importantly, I can continue to be a part of that evolution.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood on the top floor of a building in downtown Durham at dusk. In one direction, I saw the spires of Duke Chapel peaking just below a low blanket of clouds. In another direction, I saw the lights shining from Chapel Hill. Two distinct cities, separated by a handful of miles.

A couple of months before that, I flew back into Raleigh-Durham International Airport after an out-of-state trip. As with any flight I take, I look out my window and try to spot regional landmarks through the clouds. I never find much I recognize, but maybe that’s the point. From the sky, I realize there are no physical or cultural barriers separating us; we’re each part of a bigger landscape. Who we are travels with us, and regardless of where I spend my time during the week, I know I’ll always value the perspective I’ve gained along the way.

Elizabeth Poindexter is a marketing consultant with DurhamCares. You can reach her at epoindexter@durhamcares.org.