Main Street, Laurel

When you read a novel or watch a movie on TV, a town’s main street is often depicted as a bustling center of activity, the busy heart of town where all the locals shop. Perhaps that is still true for many places, but in the suburban town that I grew up in, we didn’t even have a main street. Instead, we had a highway.

Today I live in College Park. Although College Park does technically have a main street — and the city proclaims it from colorful banners that hang from the streetlamps through the central part of town — that street is U.S. Route 1, a heavily travelled thoroughfare that bisects College Park on its way north towards Baltimore.

Route 1 is traffic congestion central. Crossing this busy strip of asphalt is no easy task for a pedestrian, and the main street that results has more in common with a strip mall that it does with the mild-mannered, pedestrian friendly main street that most people associate with the name.

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In contrast, Laurel’s Main Street is the kind of road that you associate with the name. It has restaurants and stores, a church, a post office, and even apartment buildings and homes. The only thing missing on Main Street is a gas station — but for that you need only to drive a few more blocks south or west.

Although it has a variety of stores, Main Street is a curious mixture of past and not-quite-present. That’s because it really isn’t the center of town life anymore — that title goes to our friend, Route 1. Sidelined but not out of the game, Main Street has instead become a haven for art galleries, antique stores, and one-of-a-kind boutiques.

At the western end, Main Street boasts a professional center, built from brick and styled to blend in with the existing local architecture. There, dentists, doctors, and lawyers ply their trades alongside the barbeque restaurant and sandwich store. The professional center’s parking lot is behind the buildings and backs up to the Patuxent River. To the east there’s a railway station which is still in use as a busy commuter hub.

I decided to do my photojournalism class project, which I finished in May, on Laurel’s Main Street. As luck would have it, every weekend when I had time to take photos, it rained. No matter, though, because I like rainy weather photos. There is a timeless nature to rainy days, and the diffuse lighting offers a chance to take pictures without having to worry about which direction the sun is coming from, or whether or not the harsh shadows will lose detail in the photograph. Also, the reflections can be wonderfully artistic additions to an otherwise bland photograph. It’s just a matter of how you use them.

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