Inspired by Will Self, my friend Erika recently suggested a walk to the old Fayetteville airport four miles south of downtown. Unlike Self, we weren’t actually going to get on a plane. Fayetteville’s Drake Field was replaced by Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport a few years ago and now handles only private and charter flights, none of which we were able to afford, although we discussed the possibility as we approached the airport’s single terminal. The liminal spaces we traversed are less sprawling than those of London and New York, but they hold their own mysteries.
We wanted to experience the shifts from busy city street to a state highway lined with businesses, residences, and increasingly nothing. We looked at things and sights along the way, including Erika’s new studio on a side street, and arrived at Drake Field three hours later. Inside the terminal, we found leather sofas, a cappuccino maker, and a small cinema with five huge, comfortable chairs. We drank the pilots’ coffee and sat in their movie theater and chatted with some of the employees. It was getting dark and we got a ride back into town.
Last weekend, we completed the walk and drifted back north into Fayetteville. Minutes after we started, we discovered the ruins of a repair shop of some sort where building and vegetation seemed locked in a slow, violent battle for territory:
Another small abandoned building a few hundred yards on was intact, the front door open, the floors swept and clean. Erika and I explored its three rooms. I was framing a window shot when a man and a girl came into view. They ran around the building, right by me and by Erika in the main room, but they had no idea we were there. Erika and I had become ghosts. The man and the girl walked down the street to the mailboxes and soon returned. Once more they passed only a few feet away from us, oblivious to the building they see every day. Do we no longer anticipate the unusual after we become familiar with a space?
The building must have housed an office–it didn’t feel residential at all, and the rooms were bare with no indication as to their purpose. There was no bathroom or kitchen.
Next, we came to an old subdivision separated from the main road by a tall chain-link fence. Only one street led in and out, and of course we had to check it out. We walked the loop and loved the bucolic feel of the place as well as the care with which most houses and yards had been decorated over many years. We found ourselves in the mirror of someone’s living room:
Later, we took a break on a Ballardian concrete island (with hay bales instead of overpasses and highrises):
We walked on and discovered more abandoned beauty.
On this drift, we encountered many more people on foot, skateboards, and bikes than on the way down to Drake Field. We had no explanation; both parts of the project took place on Saturday afternoons with mild fall weather. At dusk, we jaywalked across Fifteenth Street and stopped for beers and panini at the new Tanglewood Branch pub, where customers who walk or bike to the bar get a discount on their drinks. When we left to walk the final mile home, it was dark and the mood had shifted. The road seemed more ominous, and we noticed we still hadn’t really arrived back in town. More streets had to be crossed and more hills climbed before we could reclaim our territory.