I drove into Danville, VA, around 9:00 PM. I hadn’t eaten yet, and I was craving a steak or some good fish. I was in town to meet with the City Manager about participating in the Aday Remus Pilot Project, which is a community prototyping project under the Old Town New World initiative.
I came into town from the south side, past the Community College, and I used my GPS to drive to the east side of the historic downtown. I turned left and drove through the downtown along the river. The downtown was full of wonderful, historic buildings. The streets rolled and climbed steep hills, all along side an awe inspiring river. The sun was just beyond setting, with only it’s tail igniting the reflections among the rocks in the river. The place seemed beautiful to me.
Though the downtown was compelling, it was also dark and empty of people. Granted, it was a Monday night after 9:00, but I needed to get something to eat. So, I crossed the river and went to the four lane sprawl area where the action is – Olive Garden, Chilis, Outback… all the usual suspects.
I stopped at a steak place, smiled at the cute young hostess, and saddled up at the bar. After a bourbon and a steak, I started asking questions of the tender, a young guy, maybe 23 or so.
“You ever go downtown?” I asked.
“No.” He smiled sarcastically. “Well, sometimes, yeah.”
“What’s down there?”
“Nothing.” He laughed and nodded familiar.
“Do they have any restaurants or shops or anything?”
“Yeah, there are a few. There’s a couple places I go to occasionally.” He fidgeted with the items on the bar to look like work.
“Do they ever have any events or anything like that?” I sipped on my melted ice.
At this question, he seemed to light up. “Yeah, they do,” he said. And he began to tell me about the band they had Friday night, mentioning their name with pride as if I should know them. He told me about different kinds of events. “It’s pretty cool, you know, for Danville,” he said. He told me about family events they had. He said there was a good crowd at these events. He seemed to be realizing the positive in this as he was describing it. Then, his revelation stopped, and he said, “There’s nothing to do in Danville.” He found something to pick up and walked away from the bar back to the kitchen.
I thought about how typical his perspective is in small town USA. I thought about the beautiful downtown that I had just driven through. And I thought about how I couldn’t wait help bring the energy of youth back into that little urban gem.