Monday, November 30, 2009

"Planet Earth" article by Jeri Rowe in Greensboro News and Record Sunday October 4, 2009

Rowe: At a busy corner, the world is waiting
Sunday, October 4, 2009 (Updated 6:09 am)
By Jeri Rowe
Staff Writer
Photo Caption: Planet Earth at S. Elm and E. Lee streets.

GREENSBORO — Head north on South Elm, and from a half-block away, at the dip of East Bragg, you can make it out — the green of the United States and the Popsicle orange of Central America.

When you get closer, near the rush of traffic on West Lee, you can see the wrought-iron word “Greensboro,” painted white and bolted tiara-like above a 5,000-pound air compressor.

The compressor looks like a huge bowling ball. But it’s really a globe. Europe is yellow, Asia is red, South America is white and Antarctica is gun-metal grey. It sits on a stone base, parked there by a crane, discovered on a lot a half-mile north near the railroad tracks.

It’s Greensboro’s newest piece of public art. A few days back, Sidney and Ricki Gray, the husband and wife who spearheaded the project, held a picture-taking ceremony to commemorate their big iron ball.

They invited the handful of volunteers involved to signify the end of a five-year project some call “Sidney’s World.’’ But the real title works, too. Planet Earth.

It’s not necessarily pretty. Some down the block even call it “tacky.’’ Yet, Planet Earth is classic Greensboro, in a Beef Burger kind of way, because it gives our city another quirky wrinkle in a spot that could explode.

Greensboro is expecting to spend millions to redevelop the corner of South Elm and West Lee. There’s talk of condos, retail, a grocery store and even offices for Guilford County Schools on those 10 acres of emptiness.

In the middle of it all will be Planet Earth.

That’s what the Grays wanted. They wanted to put on their empty lot beside the Sweet Shoppe something that would represent their link to — and love of — Greensboro.

Ricki is 59 , a UNCG grad. She raised three children in Greensboro and spent nearly three decades teaching in local classrooms. Her last stop: Room 7 at Irving Park Elementary, where she helped first-graders learn their place in the world.

Sidney is 63 . He breathes Greensboro. Matter of fact, he can look down South Elm and recall stories about people and places that stretch back for more than a half century.

He should know. He grew up there. His mother, Sylvia, ran Carolina Sales Co. , the spot in the 600 block of South Elm that has now become the artist collective known as Elsewhere . Sidney, the youngest of three, hung out there.

After their first child was born, Sidney and Ricki knew exactly where to go after they got out of the hospital — down to South Elm, to show Sylvia her newest granddaughter. Dani , their first child, is now 30.

Today, Sidney is a grandfather, a property owner, a member of the Class of ’63, the last graduating class of Greensboro Senior High, and one of the founders of the Old Greensborough Preservation Society, a nonprofit that later evolved into Downtown Greensboro Inc.

He’s also the “Mayor of the Alley,” the narrow avenue behind Glitter’s, a business inside a building he owns at Washington and South Elm. He calls it the Silver’s Building , after its old business: Silver’s Five & Dime.

And now, he’s the maker of Planet Earth.

It’s Greensboro’s newest landmark. Sidney and Ricki hope it will become a place of significance, a place of romance, a place where people can say, “Let’s meet at the globe’’ and everyone will know where to go.

It’s at the corner of South Elm and West Lee.

Sidney and Ricki found Planet Earth during their weekly “foot cruising,’’ their description of their walks through downtown Greensboro, from Center City Park to West Lee.

Ricki spotted it on John Tasker’s property on King Street near the railroad tracks. It was an old piece of machinery, an air compressor from a Navy ship Tasker and his dad had found.

But Ricki, the schoolteacher, saw something else: a globe, a Planet Earth.

That’s how it got started. Tasker donated the compressor. Artist Tony Forrest and sculptor Erik Beerbower donated their services.

Meanwhile, Sidney and Ricki spent $2,200 of their own money to build a stone base, rent a sandblaster and buy enough paint to turn the rusty compressor into a big blue ball with countries of almost every color.

And now, it’s done. Almost. Ricki and Sidney plan to mark Greensboro’s location on Planet Earth. It’s expected to draw the attention of anyone walking, driving or biking by one of Greensboro’s busiest corners, an intersection used by 28,000 cars a day.

It’s something shiny, something reflective. And for the Grays, Ricki and Sidney, that’s all they want. They want people to remember.

This is their town, too.

SidneyGrayOctober 4, 2009 - 9:30 am EDT
Thank you and the Greensboro News and Record for the article and for publically acknowledging the volunteers - Martha Forrest, Tony Forrest, Erik Beerbower and John H. Tasker, Jr. who helped make "Planet Earth Happen." We look to the future as this work of art continues to evolve.
Ricki and Sidney Gray