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WHILE LIVING by
Granted, when I rub my eyes and prepare my ears, I can easily walk out the door and hike quickly to Arby's, McDonald's, the Shell station, and other convenient outlets for news and food. I've lived in major cities with similar noise annoyances, and similar criminal or seriously unhealthy--both mentally and physically--people cruising about, but those cities always had a plus side to them for balance. (New Orleans immediately comes to mind.)
Fredericksburg seems to have missed the Pleasantville bus, instead choosing to hop the boxcar on a runaway train: a loose, homeless friend without benefits, a frustrated semi-urban adolescent with no map.
This particular area by U.S. 1 is where a good chunk of our local population goes for shopping, fun, and recreation. (It's hard for me to imagine such desperation.) But to understand it, we have to take a look at the faces and behavior of the people wandering around here looking either for a good time or for anything to kill the time they have left on Earth.
There's a game I made up and like to play called "Count the Happy People." You don't need all your fingers and toes to play this one. In fact, I've made the game into a bet, sometimes with my brother and friends, and it goes like this: Find me just one happy, smiling (not intoxicated or crazy) person in the next 10 minutes and I'll pay you a buck. I've never lost the bet. Not ever.
Those people are rarities anywhere in Fredericksburg now. You mostly see bumbling, frowning--or even fighting--people, either aggressively rolling the roadways or hobbling through parking lots hoping to get hit by cars themselves. This is true even downtown, the pretty part.