Erick Sahler: Life at a Salisbury crossroads

Erick Sahler’s latest Downtown Salisbury poster shows the Mill, Carroll, Riverside and Camden intersection prior to the remodeling of the old Feldman’s building.

Both Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell said they painted their life stories. If you wanted to know them, look at their artwork, they said.

Erick Sahler.

Wyeth wandered the Brandywine countryside and coastal Maine, capturing the rural landscapes and its people, and somehow made the mundane seem magical.

Rockwell used objects and experiences from his life to tell stories of universal appeal on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

If I were to illustrate my life, part of the story would be set at the busiest intersection in my hometown, the point where four streets — Mill, Carroll, Riverside and Camden — come together at odd angles, like the lines inside a peace symbol.

There, at the end of Riverside Drive, is the stoplight nearest my home. Uncommon traffic patterns make the cycle for that signal longer than most. I have spent several minutes almost every day at this intersection — waiting, watching and wondering.

Some memories I’ve accumulated over the years should be familiar to other Salisburians, and include:

  • The spicy-damp tang of Old Bay-steamed seafood drifting out from Chesapeake Treasures.
  • The faint rhythm of reggae from the dock bar at Brew River, calling like a siren on the distant shore.
  • A tug and barge making the delicate pivot to slide through the West Main Street drawbridge.
  • The jarring “clank-clank” of a loose expansion joint every time a vehicle crosses the Mill Street bridge.
  • A motley collection of political signs staked higgledy-piggledy each election season on the grassy wedge between Riverside and Camden.
  • Flocks of seagulls on the vacant lot where a carwash once stood, and before that a Perdue parking lot with a fleet of white cars with red tops, like giant chickens.

Waiting for that stoplight to change, I’ve also had some personal experiences I’ll never forget, including:

  • One warm afternoon I was jamming, windows down, to LL Cool J’s “Big Ole Butt.” My dad slowly crept up in the lane beside me, looked over, did the white-man head bob, laughed and pulled away. Neither of us has ever spoken of it.
  • Several years after my grandfather died, I was inexplicably overcome by a wave of emotion. I sobbed for half a minute or so. Then the light turned green, the tears dried and I continued on my way. Sadness like that is love unannounced, someone told me later.
  • And the many, many times I pep-talked myself into mustering the courage to continue my journey away from home, be it a two-hour road trip returning to college or a two-minute commute to a high-stress newsroom job, just a block away.

Now this intersection is changing.

A big new roundabout is replacing the old traffic patterns and stoplights.

A roundabout! Never starting, never ending — a vortex of vehicles, perpetually circling counter-clockwise.

I’ve spent a lifetime at that crossroads. So naturally, this change has put me in a reflective mood.

Metaphorically, crossroads are where we pause to make a decision — the symbolic site marking the beginning of a Big Life Change.

Crossroads don’t change, we do.

Except my crossroads is disappearing forever.

And once it is gone, so too will be that minute or two a day to sit quietly, observe and ponder — lost forever to a perpetual swirl of humanity.

“Crossroads,” a new print by Salisbury artist Erick Sahler, is available now at ericksahler.com.

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