Nod of the head, tip of the hat

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 11:36 AM

If you’ve driven by Duke University lately, you’ve crawled your car through gravel on the wrong side of the road as work is being done on Duke University Road. I find this very interesting. The way rubberneckers look at car crashes, I look to see what the road crews are doing and what kind of equipment they’re using. Part is journalistic curiosity, most of it is being a parent and having a house full of toy versions of all those vehicles and action figures.
This summer, I’ve learned to give myself an extra few minutes as I head downtown for an assignment, as the traffic will slow or stop along the way past campus. From The Herald-Sun, which is on Pickett Road near University Tower (or the Big Pickle to you) I take Cornwallis to Academy to Duke University into West Chapel Hill Street if I’m going to that side of downtown. It’s a beautiful few-mile drive, with a lovely canopy of trees on Academy Road. Cue the classical music, view the gorgeous architecture and smell the year-round landscaped flowers. But it takes labor to make that pretty scene, and it’s cool to see the inside of a road as you pass by, even if just a foot or so down.
One time I was walking on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and saw a piece of road taken up, workers nearby, as I peered into the mass of wires underground. It was like finding out a secret. All in a day’s work for Public Works, of course, but the how of utility work is a pretty neat thing.
As I passed by the road crew on Friday, I nodded to the guy holding the Stop/Slow sign. He nodded back. That’s a cool job, too, controlling the flow of traffic. I like the acknowledgement nod. There’s also the half wave hand lift from the steering wheel. Both a bit more reserved than me yelling out the window, “Hey, that’s cool stuff over there you’re working on! Can I play?”
Since we’re talking about Duke, let’s give Duke University President Richard Brodhead some credit for going on “The Colbert Report” and showing his sense of humor along with the expected reserved university president presence and professorial intellect. As host Stephen Colbert would say: “A tip of the hat” to Brodhead. The man fist-bumped Colbert after all, and offered his fist first. While wearing a suit. Adding all the witty comebacks, Brodhead nailed it. It endeared him to students perhaps, but also the rest of us who work or live in Durham. For anyone keeping track of Durham’s cool points, that was another one.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.