Narrative 3: “I wish there was a way to pick this up and move it”

My name is Bill. I cut hair and run the café next door. I can’t say Sunbury is an awful place to live. David and I have a B&B on the second floor, and our bedrooms are on the third. David is from here. He can remember before he left it had already headed downhill. As soon as he finished college he was gone from here.

David and I were a couple. I met David in D.C., and after a year and a half we figured out we were just good friends. We remained roommates. I had another relationship for 6 years and he met someone after we moved here.

I never wanted to live in D.C., but David was working with American Airlines there. I was getting ready to go to flight attendant training, but then 9-11 happened and everybody got laid off. David moved to Dallas in October. In early December he called. “I don’t know anybody. It’s lonely. Come check it out.” I moved. We were uptown with all the restaurants. Dallas is a pretty cool city.

But eventually, David got homesick and his dad passed away. We talked about coming back to this area. My big mouth said, “Well, if you want to be close to your family…” Sunbury.

When his dad passed, we drove over here from the church and saw this house. It had been on the market probably two years. It was full when we looked at it. The first floor was an attorney’s office, the second and third floors were apartments, and back where the café kitchen is was another small apartment.

One of the reasons we came to Sunbury was we read all the newspaper articles about revitalization, but since we’ve been here we’ve seen several businesses come and go. Organizations are always like, “There’s money for this, there’s money for that.” Go and ask. They’ll say, “Oh, there’s no money for that.” That’s how it’s been so far, everything I’ve ever asked about. There was money for façades of businesses, roofs… but just go and ask them: “Oh, we don’t have that anymore.” It doesn’t matter what you ask about – they don’t have it.

We aren’t wealthy, obviously, or else we’d have sense enough not to go into something like this. They tax and fee you to death. The city will say, “Before you do, it costs you this and this, the fee for that is this, and you have to have applications for…” It’s very hard to survive because every time you turn around there’s another tax notice or… We’ve got this big inspection coming up. Code enforcement is going to come and do a total inspection. It’s like, we’re trying really hard here! It’s not easy and you’re going to send somebody in here to try to find a problem? If you drive down any street in Sunbury you can find a problem.

With the B&B we get a lot of people coming through. They say “This is such a pretty town…” This end of town? Yeah. Wait until you walk through and really look at it – you’ll see different.

Four years ago, a group of my friends planted all the trees lining the street up to the railroad. We took our time, watered them all, and people ran over them with bikes! We found plants pulled up, people let their dogs crap all over them, dump their cigarette butts… I finally said I’m not doing any more because nobody cares. Merchants whose business fronts we were beautifying could have watered, but no one would. I don’t have time to go out and water every day. I asked the city to mulch around the trees; at least that’ll cover up the cigarette butts.

We get along okay. There are a lot of, um, redneck fag-haters here. A couple of times I think they must have put in the paper, “two fags open a café” because I was outside and people would ride by and holler “fag” or “queer.” I said to David there are 10,000 people in Sunbury; we should be busier in 8 years than we are. There are a lot of people who are prejudiced. One of my best friends, my chiropractor, goes to the YMCA and hangs with a lot of the guys. They say stupid stuff like, “I ain’t going in there and getting AIDS.”  He tells them, “You don’t know them. They’re good guys and they’re only trying to make a living.”

We have some great friends here. I love that the river is right there. I wish it was more visible. I’m happy about the Riverfront project. It was a struggle and a fight, but at least it’s something. I’ve never been anywhere in my life where people don’t want improvements. They don’t want nothing to change! So many people don’t care, wouldn’t go to a meeting or anything, but propose some improvement? They’re there screaming, “No, we don’t want no change!” “Where are people going to park?” That’s all people think about around here.

I wish there was a way to pick this up and move this to Lewisburg. It’s just not that easy. If we had started things there… It’s just much more alive: they’re always doing something. They just got a beautiful 3-storey bookstore and they seem to be able to keep businesses in there.

We came here with hopes and dreams of being a part of the revitalization. We’ve accomplished pretty much what we set out to. We’ve been lucky in that our customers are the doctors, lawyers, accountants, secretaries – professional people. When weather isn’t so hot or cold we get quite a few seniors groups, ladies, retired couples who can afford to go out for lunch.

One can always have hope but I never see Sunbury turning around. A lot of things have closed. There’s just not much here.