She showed me much more than I expected.
I wandered recently to downtown McKinney, Texas, my goal to see the inside of the former Collin County Courthouse. Now used to host live theater and small concerts, it is an historic building that for years I had seen only from the outside. From the ice cream crank-off to visits from family, friends, and for a photo shoot, I saw it as a centerpiece getting lost in the past while renovations went on all around it.
My vision, it seems, was lacking.
I parked less than a block off the square, across the street from a staircase that always catches my eye but has eluded my camera. Not content merely to take a few shots of it from below, I carefully ascended the iron helix and snapped a few from the top. The weather was so nice I could have sat there all day watching the town bustle past.
Down from my perch, I crossed the street to the old courthouse and entered the basement doors. Straight ahead I saw several women, most of them sitting on the floor, working to decorate a room in Relay for Life banners.
“May I help you?” asked a woman as she approached.
“I’ve never been inside the courthouse and heard it was worth seeing,” I said. “Is it open for folks to just wander around?”
“Well, not really. We’re preparing for an event right now,” she said.
“Oh. Okay. I was just out on my lunch hour and thought I’d come over to see what all the fuss is about.”
“Well, I can show you around a little.”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
She led me through large rooms in the basement, their original stone walls (circa 1874-6) still intact. Those rooms can be rented for $40/hour, she explained. “Full kitchen available for caterers to use,” she said, and showed me the kitchen.
A cynic might say that her purpose was becoming painfully clear, but it also was serving my purpose, so I let her continue. Let me just add that I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt. In short, I was not looking particularly impressive to someone looking to sell something.
She opened the last door on the left. “Here are some of the organ’s parts.”
Inside was an organized mass of pipes, cymbals, and tiny circuit boards. Only the lack of a sign labeling each piece kept me from thinking I was in a museum.
She showed me office cubicle spaces for rent, furnished and wired, climate controlled, for $300/month. Some part of me wished at that moment that I had a reason to rent one. How cool would it be to work in that old building, right on the square?
After a quick stop in her office to give me some brochures, the final stop on the tour was the performance hall — featuring the same seats originally installed for courtroom spectators. With its balcony seating, it was straight out of To Kill a Mockingbird. A judge still holds court there on occasion, my guide told me as I tried to suppress images of Atticus Finch.
Highly coveted by organists in the tri-state area, the organ sat next to the entrance, nowhere near the stage. I tried to imagine which of its dizzying array of buttons and keys controlled the parts I had seen in that distant corner room.
I thanked my guide for her wonderful impromptu tour and headed back to work. Employed by the City of McKinney, apparently she did her job well. Since that day I have suggested the basement rooms as a possible party location for more than one event my wife has mentioned.
And all I wanted was to get some pictures.