Last week, during the really rotten second half of the Carolina game against Wisconsin, I was on Pinterest searching for something to take my mind off my basketball nerves. I wore my Carolina t-shirt and my awesomely fantastic NC necklace (found it at Dang! in Wilmington – cutest store ever) to celebrate our win in the ACC, but it never occurred to me that I should wash that shirt and wear it again to combat the bad juju during March Madness.
Wins and losses aside, Pinterest was a great source of distraction. I pin the usual stuff: kitchen designs, appetizer recipes, Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” memes, pictures of cats doing dumb things. But one of my favorite boards is called “Carolina in My Mind” and it’s where I deposit everything about my state that fascinates me. (And there’s a lot that fascinates me, trust.)
It turns out that I’m not the only one fascinated by all things North Carolina. The New York Times came for a visit to Raleigh recently, which they detailed in their “36 Hours” travel series. They pointed out the importance of recognizing the distinctions between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, which for so long have been the triumvirate of Piedmont North Carolina. This may be true for outsiders, who still fly in and out of RDU and whose only knowledge of this area comes from Dick Vitale’s Tobacco Road Showdown banter, but for the rest of us, the Triangle is a collective of those three cities, and so very much more.
The News & Observer, in a column they published not long after the Times piece, noted the many restaurants that reporter Ingrid Williams skipped over. Columnist Josh Shaffer grumbled that upscale sweet potato puffs took center stage over all-you-can-eat collard green and barbecue buffets. Of course, that’s all debatable – I prefer my barbecue sandwiches made to order, with hot hush puppies that didn’t come off a line. What I wonder, though, is how long it will take for the young entrepreneurs taking Raleigh by storm to notice the small towns – with more affordable neighborhoods, close proximity to downtown, less traffic, and yes, worse grocery stores – that surround them. Will the hipsters make small-town living cool? Or will they continue to gentrify rundown neighborhoods near Raleigh’s center?
The reason I ask, of course, is because I live in one of these small towns, just 30 minutes or so from most of the shopping and eating Williams did while she was here. I adore this place; I’ve lived other places and I came back for a reason. I brought my husband here, I work here, my family is here. I wouldn’t trade living in eastern North Carolina for all the money in the world. I am fiercely protective of it and my friends chide me about my clear distaste for Yankees. (Yes, I use that word. Regularly. To describe anyone whose license plate comes from north of Richmond, west of Memphis, or south of Jacksonville.) It’s hard to pinpoint my feelings on urban sprawl; on one hand, come on down and bring your money with you – we’ve got houses to sell and small businesses to support! But on the other hand, I like not having a Starbucks or Target in town. I love going to the Christmas parade and seeing my students on the floats. Will an influx of folks from out of town change that? Probably not. Will anyone move to Raleigh based on a 36-hour recommendation from the NYT? God, I hope not.
I adore North Carolina. I strut my accent when I travel and I can hear someone smile on the other end of a telephone call when they hear me say “thank you so much!” in my slight drawl. But I guess I’m a wary of our corner of the world getting a little larger every day. The secret charm of our state isn’t a secret anymore but y’all, look at poor South Carolina. They have to contend with reality shows airing Thomas Ravenel’s dirty laundry in Charleston and trailer park antics in Myrtle Beach. Georgia’s got it even worse: they have Honey Boo Boo.
We’re not that famous…yet.