Five things I noticed in Salisbury: City of Wigs, Selfies, and Frogs
1. I was at Southeast Middle School in Salisbury yesterday to speak to Mrs. Walker’s sixth-grade glass about how to craft a story. Their…
1. I was at Southeast Middle School in Salisbury yesterday to speak to Mrs. Walker’s sixth-grade glass about how to craft a story. Their assignment was to put together a report about the effects of gas prices, and my questions to them generated even better ideas. What gets better gas mileage, a V8 engine or a four-cylinder? What costs more to drive, an electric car or one that runs on gasoline? They were all great. And when the class was over, five kids grabbed their iPads, yelled “selfie!”, and pulled me down to get in their shots. So I’m in some middle-schoolers’ selfies now. I thought it was only appropriate for me to take one outside, and, I don’t know, I feel like I’m doing it wrong.
I don’t really have my head in the selfie game. Am I supposed to make a duck face? Do I need a prop? Am I really supposed to be by myself? This is what happens when you get older. You go on Instagram and the first feeling you get is: I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Why does picture have 5,000 likes? How does this kid have 1 million followers? Which is followed by: What is The Snapchat? Is it like The Facebook? Why is everyone saying “tfw” all the time? And then my bones begin to creak and I feel like it’s time for me to retire. This, despite my constant attempts to speak Internet fluently. I’ll drop an “it me” from time to time in an attempt to feel cool, but instead, I end up feeling like this guy:
But anyway, thanks for including me in your pictures, kids. Really nice of you to make an old man feel young again.
2. I was walking around downtown and found Easy Street, and it is appropriately located between a bank and a law office:
Also downtown, there’s a sculpture of a bullfrog named Jeremiah, because GET IT? Actually, I didn’t, because beyond it being a Three Dog Night reference, the plaque said it was there to honor a guy named Paul Edward Fisher. Who’s that? Why, just the CEO of F&M Bank who, in 2013, led the charge to bring the sculpture back permanently, because it apparently had been a temporary but beloved part of the Salisbury sculpture show. So there it is, at the corner of Main and Liberty streets, just hangin’ out. There is also a much more prominent statue smack dab in the middle of West Innes Street, which is has the complex lineage of being a gorgeous 1905 sculpture of an angel holding a dying soldier who, you know, is Confederate. So anyway, without wading back into the debate, THERE’S THAT.
3. There’s talk this morning that Charlotte might, at long last, build a new Amtrak station uptown. That would be just wonderful, because the current station is, and I’m being objective here, terrible. It was built in the early 1960s, at the same time as the TWA Flight Center at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, and while the plane terminal is a sweeping, graceful example of space-age architecture, Charlotte’s train station looks like it was built by the Rooskies. As the city has grown up around it, tearing down newly-old landmarks to build shiny new ones, for some reason this — this! — has survived.
By comparison, in my walk around Salisbury, I came upon its train station:
I mean, look at that thing. It’s got Spanish tiles, looks like the backdrop for a scene in Chinatown, and, the most important part, is STILL THERE despite the fact that is was built in 1908. You can rent it out. I want to rent it out. I don’t really have an occasion to. It’s halfway between Charlotte and Greensboro, so maybe I’ll just call up a few friends, tell them to get on the train, meet me there, and we can have some chips and salsa and watch Netflix and chill or something.
I fell in love with this place as soon as I turned the corner, which is another great thing about it. It’s downtown, which means you could conceivably take the train here and not need a car, which is the whole point of train travel these days. Why would you want to take the train to Raleigh and have to then hop in a car? Seems anti-climactic. Here, you can hop out and walk a few blocks to Hap’s Grill, which is down on North Main Street, can only hold six people inside at a time, and has killer hot dogs. Or you can go to a coffee shop and suck down the fastest Internet speeds in the state.
4. Salisbury’s has gone to great lengths to preserve a lot of other old buildings downtown, but it has, like any small city in North Carolina, plenty of empty storefronts:
I will say that, if you’re going close for good, it’s really nice of you to make it Christmas all year long, Mainstreet Legal Cafe.
5. Down the street, I wandered into the O K Wig Shop, which had big “Going Out Of Business” signs in the window. I started to ask the owner questions, and the only answer he seemed willing to give was another question: “What kind you want?” I humored him, walked around the store with my best perusal face on, but I’m sorry. I’m just not a wig guy. I was able to get him to tell me that he had been open, in that spot on West Innes and South Main streets, for 47 years. By my calculations, O K Wig Shop would have opened in 1968, and there’s a whole backstory here behind the proliferation of these stores during that era:
The wig business was doing so well, especially amongst African-American consumers that the Korean Wig Merchants pushed to corner the market. “In 1965, the Korean Wig merchants joined together and convinced the Korean government to outlaw the export of raw hair,” said Aron Ranen, a filmmaker who has documented the marginalization of African-American entrepreneurs in the hair care industry in the film Black Hair. “[This ban] made it so that one can only buy the pre-made wigs and extensions.” In other words, Korean hair could only be manufactured in Korea. “Six months later, the United States government created a ban on any wig that contains hair from China,” effectively putting South Korea in prime position to exploit the market.
Salisbury’s population is about 37 percent African American, and African Americans make up 70 percent of the customer base at wig shops, so this seems to be a primo spot for one. Problem is, labor costs have gone up in Korea, and production is moving to China, which is making it hard for traditionally Korean-owned beauty stores. I asked the owner at O K about this, and he didn’t want to talk about it, so I don’t know why he’s going out of business. He did point me in the direction of another wig shop a block away, and I passed a third heading out of town. I tweeted this fact out but forgot to add what city I was in, and a friend of mine who has been there many, many times asked, incredulously, “Where are you? I want to be in this place!” It’s Salisbury, and it’s amazing what you learn when you check out something that’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.