Startup South: Road Trip Diary, Day 1

The trip from Washington DC to Richmond is too easy. Barreling down the highway with no pit stops, it took little more than an hour and a half. We hit the main cobblestone strip on Cary Street a bit before noon, so we had some time to kill. We checked in on the Farmhouse Cafe and puttered around The Martin Agency admiring its bigness for a few minutes, then headed down to see the lofts that line the James River. We heard tell that a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in the old Lucky Strike building there goes for a mere $1,500 a month. If you live in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, that probably makes you want to cry. Right across the street, there is a beautiful running path underneath an old elevated train track along the water. Woodlands lie behind the metal trusses and the sky reaches up and out. Richmond is gorgeous and its setting fortuitous. The beach is an hour away, as are the mountains. It's a bit like a lot of places in California, but it doesn't feel anything like California. It's old, historically enriched.

StartupNationbug.pngI say enriched because it's not as if history is easy around here. Every time the past comes up, I wonder if everyone is thinking about slavery and how this was the capitol of the Confederacy, and how this is not *only* the former seat of the Confederacy. Most of the time I am thinking about slavery, how it shaped the cities socially and how those values got imprinted into the very streets themselves.

This is the case, even though a lot of the people we meet aren't from Richmond. They've inherited the legacy of the town and now have to decide what to transmit down the line, even in the context of quick interviews about their startups. A white guy from Denver living in Richmond has to answer for the actions of white Virginians in 1863, whether he likes it or not. To say that the earliest slave auctions in Richmond occurred in Old Manchester is to make a statement about who you are. And to not say something about the slave auctions is to make a statement about who you are, too. I'm not saying that one is always better than the other; it doesn't feel like a one-size-fits-all type decision.

Either way, you can't ignore the past the way you can in some other parts of the country. This forced consideration of the actions of those who came before you has got to be a good thing. It must be a throat-constricting reminder that you are a creature of your own time -- and as many earlier ones as anyone remembers.

We turn around and drive back past the lofts and turn left at 14th, heading over the river to a formerly independent town called Old Manchester. We cross a small bridge over the James, pass one of those glorious old grain piers, and a ratty building that proclaims, "WE BUY CANS." The three-minute voyage feels like the transition one makes crossing under the Gowanus Expressway on the way from Carroll Gardens to Red Hook. There are fewer pedestrians and fewer trees, and there is less charm. The sun reflects off of everything, even on an early afternoon in autumn. Also, there are artists and lofts lurking. We are told that all of the Reynolds Wrap in the world used to be produced in this part of town.

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