The Catch-22 experience of Driver

Published 8:22 pm Monday, July 20, 2015

On Saturday morning, a story assignment had me drive from my Churchland home to Chesapeake Square for the opening of a new store.

Since it’s only just down the road, when that assignment was done and dusted, I continued down Portsmouth Boulevard and Nansemond Parkway to Glebe Episcopal Church.

Glebe, which needs a new roof, was holding a “Cars and Coffee” fundraiser. An organizer of the event was lined up to take a photo and email it to me, but I thought, “It’s only down the road — I might just show up and take a photo myself.”

Email newsletter signup

For the sake of this column, the key phrase in that sentence is “only down the road.”

I’m not so much talking about the church (though it’s a nice church), but about the village it’s just outside of: Driver.

As my colleague Tracy Agnew reported last week, businesses in Driver are seeking a revival.

After the village experienced a run of bad luck — the closure of the Kings Highway Bridge cutting back visitor numbers, the 2008 tornado damaging or destroying much of the business district and then the recession — things have been looking up.

The nearby Seaboard Coastline Bike Trail is nearing completion, and nearby road construction has more people detouring through the community.

The Driver Merchants Association has sought to capitalize on the improving fortunes by working with the city on some new some banners. They sport the catchy tagline: “Historically Hip.”

The acoustic guitar and old-school automobile graphic on one of the banners sums up the personality of Driver well, conjuring the musical interludes that take place inside Greg Parker’s store outside regular business hours — and the car, well, that’s just shorthand for the fact that Driver is a retro kind of place.

I’m convinced that at least half the issue with Driver is that people living and/or working in Western Branch — or more specifically the subdivisions around Chesapeake Square — (A) don’t know how cool Driver is, because they’ve never visited, and, as a natural progression, (B) don’t know how close it is.

It’s literally nothing to drive down the road to Driver from Chesapeake Square, and one is instantly transported from a bland and often maddening morass of national retailers, fast-food palaces and oil-stained parking lots, from a place stuck somewhere in the late 1990s to a neat little village with something quirky and interesting around every corner.

There’s a lot less to do in Driver than somewhere like Chesapeake Square, but one trades quantity for quality. And there’s appeal in that for a lot of people — if only they knew.

I guess what I’m saying is Driver has a lot to offer, but it suffers from a kind of Catch-22. I’m sure all the people who’ve enjoyed the Wednesday cornhole tournaments, the people who’ve already discovered Driver and come to love it, would disagree.