On the Things That Last

I was writing on the subway train this morning. I missed my stop.

It wasn’t that I was writing anything important, just some notes for an article for work. But so engrossed was I in the words, so lost in the thoughts was I, that only as the train pulled out of the State Center stop I realized my mistake.

I alighted at the next stop instead — Lexington Market — putting me out amongst the concrete canyons.

I waited in the rain for the light rail train. I had an umbrella with me. I didn’t bother raising it. The rain was too light and too fine. And I found something appealing about standing in the rain, living out however briefly the romantic ideal of the urban rat, standing amid the towering buildings in the rain.

Opposite the Lexington Market northbound light rail stop stands the Hutzlers Brother building. Once home to a department store, now it stands, at least to my observations, silent and empty. A sign hangs in the front window, contact information for the real estate firm renting out the retail space. A fence has gone up since last I was down that way. Construction of some sort has begun; part of the polished ebony art deco-styled facade on the first floor has been removed, revealing old brick and plaster, the black slabs neatly piled behind the fence.

It was not the construction — nor the art deco facade — that interested me, those fifteen minutes in the light rain. The Hutzlers building is four, maybe five stories tall. Above the ebony facade, etched with a 1931 construction date, the building’s original facade remains. Built in the 1880’s, the building has ornate reliefs carved into the granite — faces, lion heads, Columbia herself, sunbeams, vines. Intricate work, from another time. These reliefs were carved when my great-grandfather, the one whose name I bear, was just a child in Georgetown. He would have seen them a few years later, living in Baltimore after the death of his father, William.

I wondered idly if my great-grandfather, a man I never knew, who died years before I was born, ever gazed at the reliefs. I wondered what he thought of them if he had. I wondered what the artist that created the reliefs thought as he sketched out the design upon the stone, as he took hammer and chisel to the rock. I wondered if the man who carved the reliefs could have dreamt that anyone, a century and a quarter hence, who lives in a world he couldn’t have possibly imagined, would have marveled at the intricacy of his work. I wondered if he would have imagined that his work would have endured for so long.

The train arrived. I boarded, after holding open the door and letting a woman with a suitcase board before me. I took a seat in the back. Light rain fell against the car’s windows as it pulled away, heading northbound.

Soon, downtown fell out of sight. Soon, the train would rumble through woods, across a lake, and northward.

Still, I wondered.

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