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Kirby Derby 2013: Wonderland


Photo by Bryan Regan

I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then. — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

On Saturday, June 22, the quiet solitude of 1920s-era Pullen Park Terrace was unequivocally broken.  Shattered were the usual neighborhood superlatives – quiet, tranquil, hidden.   Rather than the usual crop of neighbors walking dogs, gardening, or strolling, there was a mob.  Not just any mob, but a mob of rowdy party-goers, dressed in costumes ranging from the Queen of Hearts to the Cheshire Cat.


Photo by Bryan Regan

The annual Kirby Derby Day, a day of races, parades, and fun, was in full swing by 4:30pm, despite a rainy morning and skies that seemed determined to douse the fun.  The pinewood race was held, a half-hour past its scheduled time, in a neighbor’s garage.  The ever-popular drag race went off on schedule and with its usual “I don’t want to look, but I have to” screaming fans.


Photo by Bryan Regan

Next came the parade, where the crowd finally got to see the full glory of the creative costumes, as well as the derby racers that would be careening around Dead Man’s Curve minutes later.


Photo by Bryan Regan

But all the details have already been covered, both by an article that appeared in the News and Observer’s Triangle section that Sunday, and by an excellent post on Carolina Gypsy’s blog.   I’d like to attempt something a little different – to tell the story around Kirby Derby, not the story of it.

Readers of my post on Pullen Park Terrace’s history no doubt sense by now that I am fascinated with this place.  At its simplest and most physical, Pullen Park Terrace is a relatively small collection of homes, hidden away partially because of being flanked by Dorothea Dix, Centennial Campus, and the Catholic Diocese properties.  But big things often come in small packages.

The neighborhood unites

Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way. — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The neighborhood has put on twelve Kirby Derby Days, each one wholly designed and implemented by neighbors and each a bit more complex than the last.  Every year, countless people show up, clogging the streets and having a great time.  There is no question that every Derby has been a success.

But my favorite part of the Kirby Derby Days I’ve experienced is the sense of community.  In the days before that explosive Saturday, neighbors walk the block, peering into backyards and garages to see what folks are building.  Ideas flow, helping hands are offered, tools exchanged.

The Friday night preceding Derby Day pulses with excitement and anticipation.   Derby racers begin to run their creations down the hill, testing their tolerance for the 90-degree corner.  Neighbors frantically, yet happily, put the finishing touches on their floats, costumes, and racers.   Some brave souls actually wait until the wee hours to begin.

Derby Day

Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Derby Day dawns.   Sleep-deprived neighbors shake off the effects of the short night and things begin to click.  The water slide arrives.   Hay bales are placed.  Cars are moved off the race course.  The PA system is tested, again.  Trash cans and recycle bins are rolled close to the street.

Suddenly, people start arriving.  For an hour, the crowd builds, buzzing with excitement.   The planning is finished, whether it was enough, or not.  There is no more time.  The Derby is here.


Photo by Bryan Regan

If ever there was a day where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Kirby Derby is that day.   A small neighborhood, a tight-knit group of neighbors, band together to create a day that hundreds, perhaps thousands, count as a highlight of the summer.

Then, as suddenly as the crowds swept in, they are gone.  An after-party attracts those that are still in the mood to celebrate.   As the day ends, so does the Derby.  By shortly after midnight, Kirby Derby Day is becoming another memory.


So she sat on with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality. — Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

But for Pullen Park Terrace, it is not quite over.  Sunday morning brings the cleanup.  Neighbors appear to clean up the relatively small amount of trash left behind.  Even the discarded cigarette butts and beer cans don’t take the shine off the atmosphere of wonder.

Neighbors shake hands, pat each other on the back, and bask in the glory of this crazy, silly, amazing thing that just happened.  A few discarded racers sit along the street, seeming melancholy the morning after.   Within hours, the cars are parked back in their spots and the trash is picked up.


Photo by Bryan Regan

But it is not really over.  The sense of wonder at what a little community can accomplish when they have a common vision does not subside.  In this world where news of death, destruction, and poverty is streaming into our homes 24 hours a day, Kirby Derby is one precious day to forget all that.

For us, the residents, it is a gift.  A gift to ourselves that hundreds of other folks get to enjoy as well.  We did it.   Again.  Another Kirby Derby.  Another day of magic and wonder.

Author’s note: Many thanks to Bryan Regan, GNR photographer and ‘Morning View’ columnist, for sharing his photos of Kirby Derby with our readers.

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