Monday, April 07, 2014

A Capital Conversation ... with Jedidiah Gant of New Raleigh

For this edition of 'A Capital Conversation ...' I'm honored to have had a chance to pick the brain of Jedidiah Gant, one of the founders of New Raleigh (@NewRaleigh). Jed is a major promoter of Raleigh and someone who has his finger on the pulse of the city. New Raleigh was born out of passion for Raleigh into an extremely influential blog/website/publication. Then, when the time needed to devote to it began to shift (understandably so) to the creators' "real" jobs and families, New Raleigh evolved into a social media presence. Despite the change, its influence in the City of Oaks has not waned at all. In fact, one could argue that, because of social media, New Raleigh is more of a player than ever before.


Raleigh Philosophical Society (RPS): What is your history as a Raleigh resident? Are you from here originally? What brought you and your family here?

Jedidiah Gant (JG): I was born in the small town of Lumberton, NC and went to college for Architecture at UNC Charlotte from 1998 until 2003. I then moved to London to work for a Dutch architecture firm, Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects, straight out of college and lived there for a few years. I left London and decided to move to an area near my family but in an urban setting. At the time, in 2005, the North Carolina Triangle’s architecture scene was the best in North Carolina and the Southeast. So, I applied for jobs in both Raleigh and Durham. I got two offers, one in each city, and decided to start working for Clearscapes in Downtown Raleigh in February 2005.



RPS: Where did the idea for New Raleigh come from?

JG: It's all David Millsaps. It was his vision. While I was at Clearscapes, I received a message from a friend who I knew from high school. The message said that a David was putting together a hyperlocal website and wanted someone to help with local design and architecture coverage. So, one July evening in 2007, I walked up the narrow staircase to Mitch’s Tavern on Hillsborough Street and met four other guys, three of whom I did not know (including David). Seven years later and the New Raleigh project is still going, just in a new form. Although the contributors list changed many times over the years, the original group of guys are still good friends of mine.



RPS: What were those early days of it like? It seemed to sync up nicely with some great momentum here in the city, and New Raleigh was a major part of it.

JG: David Millsaps, who had the idea for the site, had a vision that we all essentially contributed to over the years. He steered the ship and kept it afloat, but allowed us freedom with what we covered.

The idea was to cover new local ideas that were popping up in the Raleigh area. At the time, downtown was still a bit of a destination, rather than a 24-hour experience for most Raleigh residents. All of the early contributors to the site spent most of their time, day and night, in downtown. We were all young and so the site was as much of an experiment as it was a professional venture. Downtown was gaining a lot of energy at the time and by being in and around downtown all of the time, we could spot the trends and buzzing movements. Luckily, that growth held on and now Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.



RPS: What are some of your most proud moments with New Raleigh?

JG: Oh man, this is a tough one. I think the fact that New Raleigh, as a brand, has sustained itself this long is the proudest. David Millsaps had an idea that was on the cutting edge of internet journalism at the time and we always tried to keep it on the edge. We hope we’ve made a progressive impact in the city over the years and helped make a difference. When people talk about the brand (past or present), that feels great and I feel proud of the product we haphazardly created. Starting local conversation was also part of the original goal and it feels great that NR gets referred to as the beginning of a lot of conversations, even today. We’ve had some big stories published over the years that had legs, but mainly being a catalyst for the conversation was a big deal for us.

But truly, our annual April Fools’ Day articles were always one of my favorite parts of running the site and oddly a very proud moment each year.



RPS: Why did you decide to take it to more of a social media-only presence?

JG: New Raleigh has always been an art project that continued to change shape. The brand had changed a lot over the years, with contributors moving to cities like Austin and Portland and others deciding to move on from the publication to concentrate on personal work. We’ve all had “real jobs” while working on New Raleigh. David and I ended up being the last of the original five guys remaining on the site and met many times about what to do with the brand. We discussed what it looked like in the future and how it could reflect not only our own interests but also how Raleigh was changing. We were both very into the technology aspect of the site and at the time and were also watching how similar sites were reshaping their presence online. At first, we decided to shut it all down, but then we slowly brought back the social media component and experimented with it. One year later, the social media arm of the brand is twice as large (relative to followers) as it was when when shut down the site last year.



RPS: What has the reaction been with it? You still seem to cover tons of stuff -- if not more.

JG: As mentioned earlier, we try to cover new and Raleigh (local), so we’ve never had one focus other than those two concepts. Therefore, that allows us to branch out into culture. Obviously, with the changing tide of the city comes different aspects of what is "new" in Raleigh. We’ve mostly covered downtown over the past seven years, because that’s where the bulk of the "new" energy has been happening. As well, it’s a national trend that downtowns have become centers of activity again. But, we have branched out into other areas that have had exciting things happening at times.

That said, the reactions have mostly been great over the years. People know our reputation at this point and know that we’ve always had a particular angle on Raleigh news. So, I think that our reputation as an independent and progressive group sharing news has gained us a lot of great reactions. But, with all of the new followers who don’t know that reputation, we get some negative statements about what we should and should not cover. Politics is a big problem for a lot of followers who don’t realize that we’ve covered politics from day one of the site.

Also, social media is quicker and essentially easier. This makes the hobby of New Raliegh much more sustainable, at the moment. Plus, social media can be more engaging. Too many news outlets just post links to their articles to get hits and don't interact or trust their audience. I like to think we've always listened to and engaged with our followers. I think this has helped the brand expand since becoming mostly social media based.



RPS: What are some of your favorite things that you have seen happen to Raleigh?

JG: Downtown. I came to Raleigh to live in a walkable downtown. At the time, it was walkable and bikeable, but there just weren’t many places to go. I barely use my car in the city and love that Raleigh’s downtown is small enough that you can get around on foot or bike to restaurants, bars, offices and hopefully in the near future grocery stores and other amenities.

Hopscotch. I think both Hopscotch and SPARKcon have been a huge cultural engine for this city over the past few years. Both have brought in creative talent and exposed not only many non-residents to our city, but many residents as well.

Young entrepreneurs. From the obvious, tech, to design to bands to restaurants to bars to guerilla projects, the city is full of young people making amazing things happening. I’m so impressed by everyone that I know that are taking risks to make our city better.



RPS: What are some predictions for things we'll see in the next few years?

JG: Density and diversity. At least I hope that’s what the next few years look like. From people to businesses to new types of projects, I hope the city embraces density and fills empty lots, rather than tearing down buildings. There is so much potential in the negative space of our grid that we could be a very dense city in the next 20 years. Also, looking to fill-in unused spaces with new types of businesses that either don’t exist in the area or are scarce. I think these two factors will help Raleigh get a long way in the coming few decades.

Design. I believe that the area has a very rich design history that it should embrace. It’s the reason I came here. It’s the reason a lot of people I know came here. If Raleigh embraces this, it could serve as a large part of its future identity, as much as technology and government. I think this will help it stand out from any other city in North Carolina and even the Southeast.



RPS: How did the Cooke Street Carnival come about?

JG: My wife and I had just moved into the Idlewild neighborhood in the Fall of 2008. One night, we were sitting around talking about the neighborhood and wondering if there was a fun way to get to know as many neighbors as possible. Having gone to Kirby Derby for a few years and also the Notting Hill Carnival in London, we came up with the idea of a party in the street. So, we contacted some neighbors and had a few meetings to see what the event would look like. Luckily, we all knew different people in the area and in the end, those people were many of the young entrepreneurs I spoke about earlier doing great things in Raleigh. So, we invited them to the event and over the past five years, it has become its own sustainable project that continues to highlight new and exciting aspects of our local community, a lot like New Raleigh, but in a more physical space.



RPS: What's the future hold for it?

JG: We are in the beginning of the planning phase of year 6, which will happen on October 18th, 2014. We hope to change things up this year to make the event more comfortable and incorporate new parts of our community, like Quality Grocery, and a few more blocks. We think this will make the event a bit more about our bigger community of Idlewild and less about the one street of Cooke. Many of the members of the planning committee live on Cooke, but many do not (including my family). So, we want the future of the event to reflect as much about Idlewild as that one street. So this year, we hope to focus a bit more on that. As for future years, I always say that “This Year is the Last” but everyone reminds me that I said that last year. So we’ll see.



RPS: What's your take on the whole Euclid Street Modern House debate?

JG: I have a lot of opinions on that debate, but that’s a longer conversation. I think the parody account @OakwoodModern on Twitter is doing a great job of summarizing the debate.



RPS: Your son, Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer at a very young age. How did the community come to his side?

JG: This is hard to explain in words without getting emotional. Every day, when I give my daughter a bottle in her room, I look up and see a large poster. On this poster is the lineup of over 20 bands (including Tift Merritt, The Avett Brothers, The Love Language and many more amazing local bands) that played a benefit concert for Oliver in March of 2012. The poster is signed by every band member. We have a lot of art in our house which may come and go, but that poster will hopefully survive a few generations.

That poster is the lasting evidence of an event that meant the world to our family. Not only did it give us a financial boost to help with Oliver’s medical bills, but it felt like the largest group hug a community can give a family. While on stage watching the Avett Brothers play an acoustic set at Kings, I zoned out for a minute and stopped listening to the music. I looked at all of the happy faces in the crowd and was amazed at how many people, bands included, that took time out of their lives to help our family.

We are eternally grateful to Grayson Currin, a very great friend who organized the event. I regularly send him messages to thank him and that will probably be one of the last messages I will send when I’m old. The event meant so much to us and it’s hard to really express how amazing it feels to see a community help a young and innocent child battling cancer.

As well, the local community has been a huge support in my campaign each year to raise funds for St. Baldrick’s, an organization that has folks shave their heads in solidarity with cancer patients, while raising money for pediatric cancer research. I shaved my head with Oliver after he lost his hair when he started treatment and I have shaved my hair every year since through St. Baldrick’s. This Saturday, April 12th, I will shave my head for the fourth straight year. If anyone would like to donate to the cause, feel free to at www.cutjedshair.com . Again, community is as much a part of this process as me shaving my head. Without the donations from the community, St. Baldrick’s would not be able to help fund the research and development to help children undergoing treatment for cancer.



RPS: How is Oliver doing these days?

JG: Oliver is wide open. He is full of energy and enjoying preschool. He will start kindergarten in the Fall. His last scan was clear and he has been clear for over two years now, which is quite an amazing feeling after over a year of constant treatment and surgeries. He does have some lingering issues related to both the treatment and the surgeries, but he’s handling those very well. Luckily, we live in a very progressive area that has state-of-the-art medical facilities. So, we have leaned on the professionals to guide us to helping Oliver prepare for school and any future obstacles he may face.




RPS: What do you and your family like to do in your free time?

JG: Now that it’s Spring, we will get outside as much as possible. On every sunny Saturday during Winter, we tried to take the kids out to an outdoor area to play or simply take a walk. Recently, we discovered the Prairie Ridge Eco-Station outdoor play area and trails near the NCMA. It’s a great use of outdoor space that we really love to take the kids. We also go out to Schenck Forest for hikes often. But, living so close to downtown allows us to walk to some great restaurants, dessert places and parks around here. The Cooke Street greenway is full of kids and adults many days, so we usually just pop outside and hang out with our neighbors. We are also lucky that the Person Street area is now booming, which gives us an even closer destination for free time fun.

When my wife and I have the rare free time together, we like to see live music, have dinner and drinks downtown or check out the latest movie at either The Rialto or Mission Valley, two of the theatres in the city that serve beer with your movie. We just went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel and had drinks and a few rounds of pool at Person Street Bar, both excellent uses of adult free time. I also have a stack of several months worth of the Sunday New York Times to catch up on during a free Spring afternoon.



About Jedidiah Gant
Jedidiah Gant is a designer with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from UNC Charlotte and is almost done with his Master’s degree in New Media at NC State. He has been the Downtown Editor at New Raleigh since 2007 and is the founder of the Idlewild neighborhood event, Cooke Street Carnival, which will happen for the sixth time on October 18th, 2014. He has also served on the Raleigh Appearance Commission since 2010. Jedidiah lives with his two lively children, Oliver and Eleanor, and a lovely wife, Stacy and dog Niko in a house in the Downtown Raleigh area.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Pathos of Pack fans

I love N.C. State fans. Is there any other fanbase that so publicly wears its bad luck as both a badge of honor AND a festering wound?


Ah, the glorious life of an NC State fan. There are few endeavors in this world that build character like this. Want to develop a thick skin? Check. Want to learn how to handle* defeat? Check. Want to experience how to make the best of a crappy situation? Check. Check. Goodness, yes, check.

The Wolfpack men’s basketball team just completed what was, by ANYBODY’S account, a successful, overachieving season. Coming into the season, not much was expected from a team that had lost approximately 600 percent** of its production.  So it’s not surprising that we all did the Nae-Nae*** when State was literally the last team announced for the NCAA Tournament field. First Four or not, we were in.

Fast forward just as few days later to the game against Saint Louis. Here are some of the words used to describe the Pack’s 16-point, 8-minute collapse (“the most “NC Statey-ist” way to lose, one national hoops writer put it) that eventually led to an overtime loss.

“Epic.”

“Monumental.”

“[Expletive]”

“[More expletives.]”

And these were comments from State fans.

As the Billikens chipped away at State’s lead late in the second half – using Jim Valvano’s old fouling tactic, mind you – you could sense the overwhelming feeling of dread coming over Wolfpack Nation. “Here we go again.” “This is why we can’t have nice things.” And so on.

In short, fans have come to expect the worst. They have come to expect #NCStateShit to rear its ugly head.

That phrase, man. Gotta give it credit. It’s caught on. Heck, it warranted its own article on Grantland. It has its own Urban Dictionary entry.

This feeling of pending doom is not specific just to one game. You can pin #NCStateShit on State’s loss at Syracuse, at home against UNC, the football game two seasons ago in Chapel Hill. Pick a major sport during any season, and I can probably point to #NCStateShit making an appearance. Or three.

Fans expect it. For example, my buddy Tom watched the UNC game with a Carolina fan. As T.J. Warren went to the free throw line late with a chance to put State up by two, Tom recalls saying out loud, “Watch this. He’ll make one, miss the second and you guys will come down and hit a shot to win.”

After Marcus Page did just that, the UNC fan said, “How did you know that would happen?”

“Because,," said Tom, "that always happens to us."





NOT ALWAYS THE CASE
It may be hard for younger Pack fans to actually understand this, but this feeling of despair wasn’t always the norm. There was a time – and it seems OH so very long ago now – that State was the big dog in the state. As a child growing up in North Carolina in the 1980s, I remember it was a state divided between State and Carolina. I even remember the UNC fans in my class serenading me with that old classic ditty, “Duke is puke/Wake is fake/But the team I hate/Is NC State.”

State was a major player. State was relevant. The Pack helped make the ACC what it was. UNC won a national title in 1982 with a team of James Worthy, Sam Perkins and a young Michael Jordan. State followed that up the next year with perhaps the most memorable national title ever. Yes, it was a “Cinderella” story – but people in Raleigh (and beyond) still expected great things from the Pack.

Longtime State fan and alum John Prichard is just old enough to remember the ’83 title and what it meant to this area. After the win over Houston, his father drove John and a friend to Hillsborough Street and to the Brickyard.

“I was almost 9 and will never forget it. The neighborhood went nuts and many people had their houses ‘rolled,’” recalls Prichard. “My mother took me to Reynolds that next day to welcome the team back. There were 15,000 people in Reynolds that day.”

Fast forward about, oh, six years. State was coming off an ACC Tournament title (’87) and an ACC regular season crown (’89) – and then the bottom fell out. Seemingly every media outlet in the world was coming after Jim Valvano’s program, smelling blood in the water. There’s never a good time to go through an NCAA investigation, but the timing, in NCSU’s case, could not have been worse. As State’s star was falling, Duke’s was on a meteoric rise just 20 minutes up the road. State was portrayed as the rogue, runaway program. Duke was the squeaky clean “real” school. Oh, and Duke was winning.




THE BATTLE OF THE BLUES
About nine hours away, another entity was coming into its own at this time. ESPN saw the rising prominence of Duke-UNC basketball and hitched its wagon to it. It worked. The ascension of ESPN’s influence coincided with the rise in prominence of Duke-UNC. State has been on the outside looking in ever since.

“I can honestly say there were NO Duke fans in the Raleigh area growing up,” said Prichard. “It was always State-UNC. That's why this Duke-UNC hype and ESPN crap really depresses me.”

Again, it comes back to being relevant. The “not our rival” stuff annoys State fans because it signifies a lack of relevance, a lack of significance.

To be fair, State hasn’t been good (and thus relevant) in a LONG time. Sure, there have been spurts. But that’s about it. To put it in perspective, consider this. No other major conference team has had a longer drought between Final Fours, tournament basketball titles, BCS football appearance or even football divisional championships. Just NCSU. If it weren’t for the baseball team’s run to the College World Series last year, this streak of mediocrity (is it even good enough to be described as “mediocre?”) would be even more remarkable. (Special thanks to Josh Goodson / @joshwgoodson for recently pointing out via Twitter just how bad State has been.)

But here’s perhaps the even more remarkable thing and possibly the biggest takeaway from this rambling post. Despite that abysmal record of futility (or would it be a remarkable record of futility?), Pack fans keep showing up – and in astonishing numbers. Carter-Finley Stadium is annually among the top four or five venues in the ACC, based on attendance. The same goes for PNC Arena. Forbes recently ranked the most valuable college basketball programs, and State came in 12th at a value of $17 million, a 30-percent change since last year. It’s even more remarkable when you look at the other teams on the list: college basketball’s royalty like Duke, Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana.

“The Wolfpack's rapid ascension,” writes Forbes, “with the largest growth in value of any team on our list, ought to come as little surprise to anyone familiar with the school's recent financial success. NC State has nailed down a new multimedia rights deal (10 years, $49 million), agreed to a more valuable Adidas apparel agreement (four years, $7 million) and surpassed $1 million in licensing revenue for the first time in school history.”

But even when there is positive news like this, it’s hard for State fans to NOT see the dark humor. One prominent Pack blogger, Stephen / @AkulaWolf, had as his Twitter profile something that encapsulates what being a State fan is seemingly all about:

It's going to be a huge disaster; I'll get you tickets!





FAN PSYCHOSIS
Do State fans have different expectations than other schools or teams? We first have to think about what being a fan means.

"Some psychologists claim that fan psychology is rooted in primitive times when we lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect our tribe were true genetic representatives of ‘our people,’” writes Thomas van Schaik, a global PR director with Adidas. “In today’s society athletes play a similar role for a city, club or school in the stylized war on a playing field – as the theory goes. The athlete’s exploits helps reconnect the fans with those intense emotions that tribal warfare did for their ancestors.

"As Adam Sternbergh (@sternbergh) explains … being a sports fan allows you to feel deep emotional investment in something that has no actual real-world consequences. Sports are never guaranteed to end happily. In fact for some fans, most games end in a highly unsatisfying way. As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain in relation to events that really don’t affect your life at all. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn’t matter at all. It’s heartbreak with training wheels. The opportunity to experience and survive it is something to be valued, not lamented. It’s the one time you should really be grateful for deciding to be a fan.”

If you say so, Mr. van Schaik.

Call it an inferioriety complex, or call it just simple comparing and contrasting, but it’s almost impossible to think about State Fan Psyche without putting it up against the mindset of Carolina Fan. (I’m not gonna worry about Duke because, even though I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, I’ve really only known about five people who attended Duke.)

To accomplish this, I went to one of the most hardcore Heels fans I know: Jordan Rogers / @RogersWork.

I gave Rogers a similar scenario as the one my friend Tom faced: UNC is in a tight game late, maybe even down a couple points with about 15 seconds left. What do you think the typical UNC fan is thinking? Are they/you thinking that you will find a way to win?

“Well, let me stop you at one particular game. That could never explain the UNC fan psyche because the Tar Heel mindset is all about the story. It’s always bigger than one game,” said Rogers. “The school has been around in four different centuries, we’ve had basketball success for a while, and let’s face it, it’s an ‘old money’ school in the South — the UNC base is all about legacies and the past. So with that said, Carolina fans don’t necessarily expect to win that particular game, they just expect everything to work out in the end in the ongoing story about themselves, being told by themselves, about themselves.

“Does that sound self-indulgent? You bet it does,” Rogers continues. “Every UNC fan feels like UNC is starring in the movie they’re telling themselves, and who doesn’t make everything turn out alright in their own movie? To UNC fans, this is one long 1950s teen flick and UNC is going to get the girl in the end, cuz, of course. So even if we do lose a game, everything will always turn out alright next year.”

(Doesn’t that just piss you off?)





STARVING
When a fan base has been so bereft of success for so long, it’s easy to starve for victories. In that case, it’s easy to compare Pack fans to those of downtrodden teams like the Cleveland Browns or Chicago Cubs. But it wasn’t that long ago that the Boston Red Sox were in a prolonged series of non-success. Then the Sox won. And won. And won. Did that change the nature of the fan base?

“The psychology of pre-2004 Red Sox fans was a little different than that of State fans because baseball fans can’t blame everything on the refs,” said Karl Knapp, a Boston native who went to Syracuse but lives in the Triangle and whose son is in the pep band at NC State. “Seriously, I think that the intensity of Sox loserdom was much less when I became a fan in the late 70s because of the nature of the competition.  Only four teams made it to the postseason each year and free agency was still relatively new.  Teams did not routinely spend to win and there was no expectation of annual postseason play. As the number of teams in the postseason grew and the owners set out to buy winning teams, the belief among fans that the Sox could and should win the World Series grew. Their ability to regularly make it to the postseason, combined with their spectacular failure to succeed in October led to a greater belief that the Sox were cursed. …

“How does all of this relate to Wolfpack Nation? First of all, it’s only been 31 years since you won a national championship, so the depth of your pathos ought not to be as great.”

(Editor’s note: ONLY 31 YEARS!!!???)

“That said, the increasing expectation that ACC teams should make it to and succeed in the NCAA Tournament probably has some of the same effect on State fans that the baseball playoff expansion had on Sox fans.  It is not enough to beat UNC and Duke during the season and make a good run during the ACC Tournament. For a season to be considered a success, State must get to the Big Dance as well, and go farther than their rivals.”





A CHICKEN OR A (ROTTEN) EGG?
Ah, February 15, 2014. I remember that evening well. Enjoying a nice dinner with friends in Garner, keeping an eye on the State-Syracuse game, but not expecting much. Then it starts. The game is close. State’s making plays. DO WE ACTUALLY HAVE A SHOT TO KNOCK OFF UNDEFEATED SYRACUSE?

“We’ve seen this movie before,” one of us in the room said. (Hell, maybe all of us said it.) I even took to Twitter to say, “And here's the point where we State fans get too excited and forget what is about to happen.”

We know what happened. Epic. Monumental.

#NCStateShit.

The original premise of this post was to be on admittedly a far-fetched notion: Has State’s lack of success over the past 25 years resulted in a fan base that just expects the worst? Or does this defeatist mentality actually trickle down to affect the play on the court, or on the field?

Now, I don’t really think the latter is true, but still, it felt worth exploring. I’ve seen many a game at PNC Arena where the opponent makes a run, the crowd starts to collectively groan, and the Pack gets tight. Maybe this happens everywhere; it just seems like the groan is more pronounced at State games.

Still, I wanted some insight on this chicken-or-the-egg question regarding NC State fandom.

“I don't think it's possible for the fears and worries of fans to impact the performance of players or coaches, no matter how outwardly they are expressed by the fan base,” said James Curle / @JamesCurle of the Riddick & Reynolds podcast and resident State Fan Barometer. “Coaches spend so much time with these players—and therefore the players spend so little time mingling with the students and fans—that a pretty thick layer of insulation exists between them and the outside world.

“Nevertheless, fans feel these fears and worries very acutely. It's tough to watch what happened against St Louis, for example, and not feel like it is further proof of some sort of rotten luck that only State's programs experience. But at some point, we reached a place where the successes are viewed with a diminished importance and more credence is given to the failures, like a double-sided vanity mirror where the concave side magnifies our warts and pimples and the convex side makes our attractive features seem smaller. “

Said Rogers, a “cluster of painful losses/happenings have befallen NC State in recent years, and the consequences are showing in the form of this #NCStateShit psyche. State fans expect the worst. But, I don’t think Wolfpack Nation actually takes more bad/painful losses than most other schools, I think it just feels that way.”

Damn right.

“Seriously. The ball bounces the wrong way sometime and it just has, a lot, here for State in recent years. I legitimately believe that. And, it intensifies that feeling,” Rogers continued. “Carolina’s loss to Georgetown in the ‘07 Elite Eight was just as ridiculously painful as St. Louis game (if not way more when you consider the ramifications). But like I said up top, UNC fans always have this burning hope that we’ll be back next year, because, well, who wouldn’t tell themselves a story that didn’t end that way? State fans lose that game and don’t have that made-up fairy tale to fall back on. Maybe they should make something up too?”





WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
I’ve said it to friends over and over again: if and when State is a consistent winner again (and I do think it will happen), Raleigh will go bananas. It will mirror the highs that the folks who were around in the heyday of Pack basketball experienced. I would love to drive my kids to Hillsborough Street or the Brickyard to celebrate a national championship. By that time, maybe we’ll travel via jetpack. (See – I’m doing it again!)

When the Forbes rankings came out, Lou Pascucci of PackInsider.com wrote something that gives me hope:

“Does NC State look like an outlier to you? Well, if you’re stuck looking in the past and remembering how many poor seasons the Pack has endured over the past few decades, then, yep, that’s an outlier. But if you’re looking at the string of recent successes, and really examining the steps that have been taken to assure them, then you’d understand that is isn’t an aberration, but an evolution. NC State is generating excitement again. They are churning out elite players again and they’re breaking out of a mold that have held them down for a long, long time.”

So is there hope? You can always keep hope alive.

“If the Red Sox could will three titles in ten years after an 86-year drought, then surely State can rise to conquer the ACC once again,” said Knapp.

“I feel if we could ever get to taste some sustained high-level success in either major sport—a decade or so—then perhaps we could shatter those lenses we view our program through and accurately perceive the successes as not some sort of harbinger of future failure, and failures not as proof of these fears being justified,” said Curle.

“But seeing as how we've been waiting 30 years to reach that point, it's tough to put much faith in that day ever getting here. “

Spoken like a true State fan.


*"Handle" is a relative term.
**I’m admittedly horrible at math.
***I realize this post will be dated in about 3 … 2 … 1 …



(Photos courtesy of CNNSI.com, CoachK.com, NCSU Libraries, FenwayPark100.org, Syracuse.com and DallasNews.com)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quintessential Raleigh food day?

OK, here's the (hypothetical) situation: Say you have one last day in Raleigh that is wide open, and you just HAVE to have your favorite local eats before you leave. You get to have breakfast at your favorite breakfast joint, lunch at your fave lunch spot, and so on. Where would those places be? And more importantly, what would you get at those places?

So, for a little Friday fun, I'll get the ball rolling. Feel free to contribute your own favorite spots.

BREAKFAST
Breakfast is probably my favorite meal of the day -- and the one I take advantage of the least. So if I was gonna start my last Raleigh Day out right, I'd head over to the N.C. State Farmer's Market Restaurant for a couple of pancakes, bacon and, of course, the biscuits.

(Honestly, I had no idea the website address for the Farmer's Market Restaurant was www.RealBiscuits.com. That. Is. Awesome.)


LUNCH
After presumably taking a much-needed, food-induced coma, I would probably head downtown to Clyde Cooper's Barbecue* for lunch. I don't see a need for any combinations; just give me a plate of chopped barbecue, fries (or potato salad), Brunswick stew and hushpuppies, and we're good to go. Heck, I don't even normally eat pork skins, but I will at Cooper's.

*I don't care which location it is. Cooper's is still the choice for me.


DINNER
With all due respect to the "Real  Biscuits" and Cooper's, the dinner choice was the easiest of all for me to pick for my Raleigh Day. Those of you who have read this blog over the years could probably guess that Hayes-Barton Cafe is my favorite restaurant in town. Atmosphere-wise, it has the perfect combination of coziness and borderline hokey 1940s/Golden Age of Hollywood decor that ... I dunno. It just works for me.

But the food. My God, man. The food. The tough part would be deciding between the meatloaf or the chicken pot pie. (That's the other thing about Hayes-Barton Cafe -- it's comfort like mom used to make -- if your mom was a phenomenal cook from the 1940s with enough time on her hands to pull together this stuff.) Either way, you can't go wrong.

Of course, no visit to Hayes-Barton Cafe would be complete without saving room/making room for dessert. If it's available, I know which slice of cake I'd go with: Pattycake. (Anything with white chocolate checks off the list for me.) And, of course, they would have it. IT'S MY FANTASTY, DAMMIT!

Now that I think about it, I may have to contradict my whole theme here and say that maybe I skip either breakfast or lunch in order to fully take advantage of HBC. I think I could eat both chicken pot pie AND meatloaf and still have room for cake. DON'T JUDGE ME!



(Images courtesy of N.C. State Farmer's Market Restaurant website, BBQGeek.com and Yelp)

Friday, March 07, 2014

The evolution of Raleigh's burger scene

I'm a sucker for burgers. It's hard for me to turn them down. If I'm struggling to find something on a menu, chances are, I'll go with a burger. Those things just seem to have an almost-gravitational pull on me.

That's my (embarrassing) way of saying that I eat a lot of them, so I feel like I know this subject well. Every now and then, I like to discuss which places in town have the best burgers. I do this for purely selfish reasons: I want to sample them all.

But to get to that point, you have to generate discussion. So, for at least the third time since this blog started in '06 (GOOD LORD!), below are my thoughts on the best spots for burgers.

The really interesting thing is to see how this discussion has evolved in 8 years. Back in '06, I paid homage to the likes of Char-Grill, Fuddruckers, Wendy's (I know, I know) and NoFo at the Pig before claiming Five Guys as the best.

Four years later, in 2010, we revisited this topic again. At that time, I still went with Five Guys as the best burger in town, but with You The Reader chiming in with the likes of Char-Grill, Coquette, Fuddruckers, McDonalds, Steak-n-Shake, 518 West, Player's Retreat, Red Robin and others.

Well, it's been four years. So where are we now? The Fudd is gone (from Raleigh, at least). I still love Char-Grill, Mo-Joe's is terrific, and I was blown away by the Mecca's burger when I finally ate there after WAY too long. The Cowfish and Bad Daddy's have both raised the bar on creative burger offerings, which speaks to how Raleigh's tastes have become more sophisticated. Heck, you can't go wrong with any of those. But Five Guys has been supplanted. And it's because of the savory superiority of Chuck's. Man, oh man is that good.

So what say, you? Am I off-base? Am I missing out? Please let me know. I may need a good dinner option for Saturday night!


(Image from Chuck's website)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Capital Conversation ... about paid, owned and earned media in downtown Raleigh & Durham

This edition of 'A Capital Conversation ...' takes a look at the differences and similarities between the two biggest cooks in the regional kitchen: Raleigh and Durham. To help us with this, we chatted with Brian Bowman (@FastPassDad), a Durham native and long-time Triangle-area communications professional who now lives in Wake Forest and works in Knightdale. Brian recently completed some extensive research into paid, owned and earned media with respect to these two cities. The results were fascinating.


Raleigh Philosophical Society (RPS): You grew up in Durham. What was that experience like? What part of Durham? Where'd you go to high school?


Brian Bowman (BB): I grew up in north Durham near Guess Road and attended Northern High School. It was a great experience. One of the highlights was countless hours in and out of the Eno River. I’m glad to see the community taking care of the place. I still love to spend the day there. 


RPS: You worked at WRAL for a while. Though you are no longer a media member, I assume you have followed the changing Triangle media landscape over the years. is there anything that has surprised you about this media market? Raleigh likes to think of itself as a burgeoning metro area, but does the media support that?

BB: The Triangle region continues to grow. We’re the 24th market (by population) in the U.S., one spot ahead of Charlotte. By comparison, New York is first, L.A. second, etc. We’ve climbed steadily since the 1980s. We’re not a one-city market, though. Raleigh by itself wouldn’t be nearly the size. The TV market includes Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville and dozens of smaller and mid-size communities. 



RPS: What are some of the more memorable pieces you did while at WRAL?

BB: Photographer Keith Baker and I were the first local news team to be allowed into the World Trade Center site after 9/11. The clean-up contractor was D.H. Griffin from Greensboro. We did a story on him and did a second one on a Raleigh minister who was working with the firefighters, police officers and others at the site. They were still searching the rubble weeks after the attacks. Won’t ever forget it.

My favorite story involved role playing with the army during its special forces training. It’s called “Robin Sage,” and it happens every year in the wooded areas around Fayetteville. It’s the last exercise for special forces candidates. I was playing the role of an embedded reporter who was tasked with asking a lot of questions and being unusually persistent with the American officers. We were never allowed to go out of character, knowing that these soldiers would be deployed soon after completing the exercise. Really impressed with those guys.


RPS: You recently earned your Master's degree, and the focus of your thesis was on the impact and use of New Media to promote economic development in downtowns. You focused your attention on Durham and Raleigh. What did your research show?


BB: The project looked at best practices for using paid, owned, and earned media to bring businesses to downtown districts. I’m glad to say both Durham and Raleigh are doing an outstanding job of that. 

For this concept to make sense, you need to think of Raleigh and Durham as brands, just like retail brands. One of the key elements of a brand is the ability to distinguish something. If your product looks like the other guys, there’s no need for people to buy from you. Raleigh and Durham are using lots of tools to distinguish themselves from other communities.

The term paid, owned and earned describes different types of outreach. “Paid” refers to advertising you pay for, like a sponsored tweet or a newspaper ad; “owned” refers to resources you maintain, such as a website or social media account;  “earned” refers to attention you get from an independent third party. The best example [of earned] is when a follower retweets your message or shares your Facebook post. You didn’t pay for it, but he/she helped multiply your message. Research also shows that people may much more attention to independent brand endorsements than they do to traditional advertising. Earned media is solid gold these days. 


RPS: How are these two cities different?

BB: Wow, that’s a great question, and a lot of the differences are still emerging. 

Durham has embraced its entrepreneurial, non-corporate roots. Its history includes the Duke tobacco empire and Black Wall Street. The American Tobacco Campus and the American Underground, both owned and operated by Capitol Broadcasting Company, are attracting creative people with smart ideas. The CBC’s Goodmon family knows this area, and having their support speaks volumes for the community.

Maybe five years ago, downtown Durham was perceived much differently than it is today. Crime was a big concern. Today, the storefronts along Main Street are essentially full, and new condos are under construction. One person told me the biggest difference he see is that people are proud to be from downtown Durham now. That wasn’t the case until very recently.

Raleigh is working to position itself as a center for technology and innovation. Red Hat’s move downtown was huge, and others are following. They have a good mix of big businesses and smaller outfits that tend to improve each other. Raleigh’s downtown was pretty bland 10 years ago - I think just about anyone would agree with that - but today it has a more vibrant feel. Lots of new restaurants and bars are there. 


RPS: How are they alike?

BB: Both cities benefit from our local universities. Businesses can’t come to your town if there’s no talent to hire. An economic developer from another state told me that the Triangle’s universities are the envy of a lot of places. There’s a lot of collective brainpower here.

Both are attractive to creative minds and start-ups. Both offer lots of nice public spaces. Both still require a car if you want to go far. I think that will change soon. Each also has a growing number of places that sell local craft beer. Oh, and the coffee. Lots of coffee.

Downtown Durham and Raleigh benefit from a new trend that put place first. Not so long ago, new graduates tried to land the best job they could and hoped it was in a good place. If you could get something in a desirable place, that was great, but the job was more important. These days, a growing number of professionals and recent graduates are willing to move to a great city without a job. They pick the city first, then find employment. They want amenities such as walkability, great shopping, volunteer opportunities, and public spaces. Downtown Raleigh and Durham have made progress in all of those categories, and people want to live there. 

Both downtown Raleigh and Durham have local businesses that do a great job with owned and earned media (currently Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). One example (am I allowed to do that?) is Buku Raleigh downtown @BukuRaleigh. They tweet lunch specials and are quick to respond to diners who mention them by name. Both cities also enjoy an abundance of food trucks which use owned and earned media extensively. They create a chatter in the area that makes it attractive to outsiders. 


RPS: What are Durham's strengths?

BB: Durham is independent, gritty and smart. Growing up there, I noticed those traits for a long time, but they’re more pronounced now. There’s a lot of creativity and talent there. The Chamber and Downtown Durham, Inc. have pulled off some clever marketing campaigns in recent years. They used a very simple website, second-hand furniture and empty office space to create the Bull City Stampede; essentially, it offered free office space (for a term) as a prize to competitive start-ups. Their advertising consisted entirely of owned and earned media. They used the website (owned) as a hub for applicants to learn more, then spread the message using email and social media. A well-known tech entrepreneur shared the information with his contacts and things really took off. 

They also took a small window in front of a coffee shop and named it “the Smoffice” (small office). As the chamber director put it, the space showed that startups don’t need a tricked-out office; they need networking and broadband. I think startups and entrepreneurs saw that and felt that Durham understood their culture. The group also won an international award for its innovation.


RPS: What are Raleigh's strengths?

BB: While both cities have been quick to embrace smaller businesses and startups, Raleigh has also added larger companies to its district. Red Hat, Citrix, Ipreo and Evalueserve have set up shop in Raleigh in recent years. Several of them plan to add new tech jobs, many of which pay really well. Like Durham, Raleigh has access to lots of talent, people who can fill those jobs. 

Raleigh is larger and better known outside the area. Every school kid in America should have said the word “Raleigh” at least once because it’s the state capital. Of course, there are benefits that come with that such as state museums, etc. 

Downtown Raleigh has also added a convention center that is doing well. Downtown businesses love it because conference goers need to eat, sleep and spend money just like the locals. A conference may be the first time an investor sees Raleigh. Once they get to town and see the amenities, he/she may decide to invest there. 

Fayetteville Street provides a nice “Main Street” area, a critical element of any downtown. Those who have been here a while remember that the street was closed to traffic for years. When the city opened it back up in 2006, business picked up quickly. Today, it’s beautiful.


RPS: People often get irritated at the idea of "Raleigh-Durham." Are there ways that the two can and should be linked? Are there positives to them being their own entities?

BB: One of my favorite tweets was from a guy who said no local should ever trust someone who refers to the area as Raleigh-Durham. Essentially, it said Raleigh-Durham is an airport, not a city. That said, there is some disagreement about whether the two cities should identify more with each other. One view is that Raleigh and Durham are in separate MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and should recruit talent and jobs individually. Another view is that both cities are stronger when they are marketed collectively as a region. 

I tend to lean toward the regional approach. Neither city would be enjoying the residential growth, diversity of new businesses or quality of life it is today without the improvement in the entire region. I’m sure there are a few people who lay claim to only one city and never venture to the other, but I think they’re in the minority. It’s not unusual for a couple to spend a Saturday morning at a festival in downtown Raleigh before seeing a theatrical production in downtown Durham that evening. 

Both cities can retain their own identities while being part of a larger region. Each can have its brand or distinguishing characteristics while identifying with the Triangle. It doesn’t have to be either or. Plus, the region also benefits from offered by other communities within the Triangle, including Cary, Chapel Hill and others. 


RPS: You have worked in small towns in the Triangle area. What are some of the good things that you see from the surrounding communities? How do they fit in with the whole "Triangle" region idea?

BB: The surrounding communities have a lot to offer to the Triangle. The economic strength many of them experienced before the great recession began is coming back. Knightdale, for example, had more housing starts last year than it did in 2008. (Full disclosure: I handle communications for the town of Knightdale.) Many of these small cities and towns are trying to determine their unique strengths in the region now so they can capitalize on them.

Here’s a non-comprehensive assessment of some small-town strengths:

Apex: beautiful downtown, easy access to Jordan Lake
Cary: lots of incoming jobs, still insists it’s a small town in spite of growth
Chapel Hill/Carrboro: UNC, Franklin Street, live music
Holly Springs: fast growing, lots of natural beauty
Knightdale: youngest median age in the Triangle, very close to downtown Raleigh 
Morrisville: home to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, ideal location
Wake Forest: beautiful downtown, historic homes, easy access to Falls Lake


I’m sure there are many others, but there you go. 


RPS: Your work could have taken you elsewhere, but you have stayed in this area. What is it about the Triangle that appeals to you, even if you weren't a native?

BB: This area has grown and improved in ways I couldn’t have imagined as a kid. The universities are a huge influence on the local attitude. This part of North Carolina is smart and beautiful, and the nation’s best and brightest continue to move here. It’s home. 


RPS: You live in Wake Forest these days. When you and your family have free time, what do y'all like to do? What are some of your favorite restaurants in Wake Forest and in Raleigh? 

BB: We’re active at Lifepointe Church at the Durant Road campus. Love the place. We also like to paddle around Falls Lake or the Neuse River whenever we can. 

I’m a big fan of Wake Forest Coffee Company downtown; very friendly staff and a booming WiFi signal. In fact, a good part of my thesis was written while sitting at one of those tables near the wall. 

Our favorite restaurant by far is Sitti in downtown Raleigh; if you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to. It’s not cheap, though, so we tend to leave the kids at home when we visit. We’re still looking for a favorite restaurant in Wake Forest. Suggestions are welcome. 

Durham is home to the area’s beloved Durham Bulls and the new Durham Performing Arts Center. The arts center has attracted Broadway plays and musical acts that have confounded the skeptics. It’s fun to see.



About Brian Bowman
Brian Bowman is a professional communicator with experience in TV news, social media, public relations and government. He is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's new Master's in Technology and Communication program offered through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also a graduate of Campbell University.

Prior to the public relations switch, Bowman was a reporter for WRAL News, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh. 

Bowman is gratefully married to his lovely wife, Diana. The couple has three kids. He's a fan of kayaking, hiking NC trails and trips to Walt Disney World that are never quite long enough. 


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My love letter to Raleigh

Sure, Valentine's Day was last week, so this may not be absolutely timely, but it's always a good time to think about what we love about our town. A few months ago, the City of Raleigh Museum featured an exhibit where people could write "love notes" to Raleigh via sticky notes. The results were funny, silly and altogether touching. Here are a couple of examples.




Recently, a friend of mine, Kristen Jeffers, wrote a love letter to Greensboro, her hometown. The honesty in it was moving. Here is a sampling:

... [T]here’s more to you than the outside package, the first impression, the quick glance. There’s a heart and a soul inside of you, that I want the world to know about. And in this time of the year that we take a special day to promote love, I wanted to let you know and the world know, how much I really actually love you.


I also want to make it clear that the love we have is a tough love. You are not just buildings, but you are made up of citizens, real people, some that treat me well and others who sometimes mistreat me. Sometimes I don’t treat them well either and sometimes I am their best friend in the world. Sometimes you don’t have that restaurant or that grocery store or that  touring entertainer that I want and that makes me sad. ....
But then I remember that you are a city that’s never shied away from its battles and the battles of the greater humanity. You provided the opportunity for four black men to take a sit, not a stand, but a sit, and change the course of history. You lost a lot of your major industry, yet, you have yet to go bankrupt. Your people have come together to build us ballparks and regular parks and  provide a decent shelter for those without one,  and stand up for public school teachers and its young students. 
Wow. I can't even begin to write a love letter to Raleigh that comes anywhere close to what Kristen wrote. Not because I don't feel it, but because I'm not nearly as good a writer. But below is my sad attempt. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section.



Dear, Raleigh,

How’s it going? Man, was that snow storm bananas or what? It took me, like, three hours to get home from North Raleigh to downtown. You’d think we would have learned; however, I also get that when an event like that happens, people just want to be home. If anything, it shows not that we’re all a bunch of buffoons who don’t know how to navigate winter weather. Rather, it shows our desire to be at home, to be with the ones we love. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

That’s one thing you seem to keep getting right, Raleigh. People keep coming, and they keep moving here because it gives them a sense of home. Yes, the jobs are good. Yes, the weather is (mostly) decent. But talk to just about anyone who has immigrated to the Oak City over the past two decades and you’ll hear a general love of the quality of life that you offer.

But here’s the dirty little secret, Raleigh: try not to get too big for your britches. Sure, you’re showing up on every “best of” list that exists – and usually you’re in the top two – but don’t be the girl who is Homecoming Queen in high school but begrudgingly thinks back to that as the high point of her life. Keep pushing forward; keep making strides to continue to make the city the best it can be. There are some challenges that even you may not be able to overcome – at least not anytime soon. After all, people are gonna keep coming for you. They’re gonna need places to live, shop, play – and go to school. You’re a strategic city, Raleigh. Continue to think and plan that way. The decisions you are making today will not be fully felt for another 20 years. Make sure they are good ones.

Anyway, I know you are busy, what with trying to fill potholes and pick up belated trash and what-not. But keep up the good work, Raleigh. The sky really is the limit.

Godspeed,

Matt


PS: Let’s see what we can do about getting State into the NCAA Tournament, ok?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The perfect time to 'Start a Snowball'

As the Triangle area prepares for more wintry weather, it's appropriate that we highlight the launch of a new non-profit aimed at helping kids achieve their philanthropic dreams: Start A Snowball.

Start A Snowball is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Mac Winslow and Blythe Clifford of Raleigh. Winslow and Clifford are working parents who are naturally drawn to service.

According to a press release, the non-profit was founded "to affect change in our world starting with children through creating a culture of service and a generation of givers." This is accomplished through creating a library of resources for parents and teachers to help kids with ideas for giving, $100 grants for children to use as "seed money," developing an online community where projects can be shared, and much, much more.

Among the projects already undertaken include a "Backpack Buddies" program and the support of a "Hot Chocolate for the Warriors" fundraiser for military personnel in an area close to Fort Bragg:

The Brewer Family, with 4 kids ranging in age from 4-8 years old has a family tradition of service.  Each Christmas, they set up a neighborhood hot chocolate stand to raise funds for someone in need.  Each year the kids get to choose a different charity to receive the proceeds of their hot chocolate stand. With their close proximity to Fort Bragg, and Seymour Johnson AFB, this year they decided to dedicate all of their proceeds to help Train a Dog, Save A Warrior, a Texas based group dedicated to training and providing medical alert service dogs to veterans returning home from battle at no charge. 
December 21, 2013 was their 4th year doing this and during the previous 3 years they have raised over $2,000 in donations selling hot chocolate to their neighbors. This year during their 4th annual sale they raised over $1,000 for Train a Dog, Save A Warrior with more donations still coming in the mail.  So far, they are very close to their goal of $1,250, which will cover half the cost of training one dog. Their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, Firemen, Scouts, Y guides, and strangers showed up to support the cause. The kids all had a great time seeing their friends and the adults enjoyed connecting with both new and familiar faces. They are already planning for next year saying, “We have captured our lessons learned and ideas for what to do different next year, so we can continue to increase our goals.”

For more information about Start a Snowball, and to contribute, go to www.startasnowball.com. Also click here for a video that tells more about the program.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Listen to the authors of '27 Views of Raleigh'


I am embarrassed to say I haven't cracked open 27 Views of Raleigh: The City of Oaks in Pose and Poetry, which is authored by some of the best writers around. But don't let my laziness stop you. If you want to listen to the people themselves discuss the various viewpoints and snapshots of our fair city, the Wake County library system offers a terrific series of events. And these meet-and-greets are spread throughout the area.

27 Views of Raleigh: The City of Oaks in Prose & Poetry
These are some impressive folks. G.D. Gearino. Grayson Haver Currin and Tina Haver Currin. Rob Christensen. Angela Davis-Gardner. Scott Huler. Just to name a few.

Anyway, here are the scheduled appearances. And here's a link if you want to buy it from BN.com. (Of course, it makes more sense to saunter over to Quail Ridge and buy it.)



East Regional LibrarySaturday, February 8, at 2 p.m.
Angela Davis-Gardner, Dana Wynne Lindquist, Margaret Maron, Lenard D. Moore
North Regional LibrarySunday, February 16, at 2 p.m.
Rob Christensen, Hillary Hebert, Bridgette A. Lacy
Cameron Village Regional LibraryThursday, February 13, at 7 p.m.
Jimmy Creech, G.D. Gearino,
Tom Hawkins, Sheila Smith-McKoy
West Regional LibraryMonday, February 17, at 7 p.m.
Grayson Haver Currin,
Tina Haver Currin, Amanda Lamb
Olivia Raney Local History Library
Thursday, February 13, at 7 p.m.
Juliana M. Nfah-Abbenyi,
Tracie Fellers, Eleanora E. Tate
Eva Perry Regional LibraryTuesday, February 25, at 7 p.m.
Scott Huler, Dorianne Laux,
Peggy Payne


Friday, January 10, 2014

A Southerner's walk in the cold

By Emily Torres
@ItIsEmilyTorres

Scarves. Socks. Toboggans. Yes, toboggans — plural. I’ll need these things if I’m going to make it tonight. The weathermen are saying it will fall below freezing, and it’s a long walk downtown.

As I pull up my longjohns, I trip over the sandals I was wearing at the beach just 4 weeks ago. This is the South. And this is the South when it’s cold.

I leave my home, passing a mother with her child on the sidewalk. They seem short on bread and milk — nothing on their person whatsoever. Should I help? No. I push on. It’s too late for them now.    

I pass my car in the parking lot of my apartment complex — its comfortable seats and power steering call out to me. But driving? Yeah, right. Not when cold is in the forecast. Too risky.

As I drift toward downtown Raleigh, I realize I’m now at least 400 yards from biscuits or any country’d ham. Growing up, my mother referred to this as the "Death Zone." At this point, there’s no turning back. I push forward.

As my lips begin to chap, the thought that I might never make it back first enters my mind. My family will no doubt think I was committing suicide, venturing out into freezing temperatures like this. Should I leave a note? Breadcrumbs? Something that says “Emily Torres existed” if I don’t make it back? I’m not sure; the cold is affecting my thinking at this point. The bread-lacking mother and child would no doubt steal my breadcrumbs anyway as they fight to survive. I can’t take that chance.

My friends from up north warned me that when the temperature hits 50-below, spit freezes before it hits the ground, animals start to do crazy things, your face cracks when you talk. This scares me. My phone says it’s only 30 degrees, but it might as well be -50. It’s all the same to me.

I enter the grocery store. There was a struggle here. Half-opened packages of bagels are strewn across the floor. Checkout attendants look tired, scared. They’ve seen things - things they want to forget. I choose not to disturb them; there will be firewood somewhere else.

I hope.

A second grocer tells me they’re out of firewood too. I suspect he’s lying. He tells me to go home and just turn on my heat, that I don’t need firewood, that my first floor apartment probably doesn’t even have a fireplace.

“Heat?” I respond.

“It’s like air-conditioning, but the opposite, and you use it in the winter,” he tells me.

Again, I suspect he’s lying. But what can I do? It’s too cold not to believe him.

I trek back towards my place, and wait for spring. This is the South. And this is the South when it’s cold.


Emily Torres is an entertainment writer and blogger with connections in New York and the Triangle in North Carolina. She has written about fashion, sports, news and reports on entertainment for Dish.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Get to know your streets: Blue Ridge Road

Wow, Blue Ridge Road sure seems to be a tough nut to crack when it comes to getting to know our streets. Don't get me wrong; the road itself is fairly straightforward. It heads north-south, beginning (or ending, depending on your POV) at Western Boulevard and making its way up past the state fairgrounds, Carter-Finley Stadium/PNC Arena, the N.C. Museum of Art and Rex Hospital, before heading sharply to the right/east while Duraleigh Road continues north. Blue Ridge Road finally ends seemingly at Glenwood Avenue.

It's the "why" Blue Ridge that baffles me. Why the allusion to the mountain range -- if that is, indeed, what it's referring too? While Raleigh has its fair share of hills, it ain't exactly mountainous.

(True story: I once worked with a girl who grew up in Carteret County and came to Raleigh to go to school at Meredith College. She legitimately thought Raleigh was in the mountains.)

So why Blue Ridge? Nowhere in my vast research was I able to come up with an answer. At first I thought it referred to some old trading route that would eventually makes its way to the N.C. mountains -- but as we've pointed out, present-day Blue Ridge Road goes north and northeast before petering out. If the road WERE to keep on, keepin' on, it would probably end up in Dare or Pasquotank Counties -- if not the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Hardly mountain-like. In fact, the N.C. Museum of Art's website has a snippet about the history of its location on Blue Ridge -- but it doesn't discuss the road's history:

"The Blue Ridge Road site, just south of Rex Hospital on the western edge of Raleigh, has a colorful history. Beginning with Native American inhabitants, it later was a Civil War training site, and later the site of Polk Youth Prison for juvenile offenders. The youth prison was relocated, and only a smokestack remains as a reminder of the site’s heritage."

But I've come up empty everywhere else.  Help me, please. Anyone have insight on why it's called Blue Ridge Road?


Photos courtesy of capitalareapreservation.com (Dorton Arena) and marczawel.com (art museum)

Monday, November 11, 2013

What if we seceded?

North Colorado (in red)


No, I'm not talking about the entire South. This isn't a "the South will rise again" thing. But what if North Carolina voters tried to follow through like Colorado and attempt to secede? What would that look like, exactly?

(Note: I'm being facetious. Even a large number of the voters in Colorado who voted FOR secession admit that it was more to get a point across than "for realz.")


But the situation out west brings up an interesting discussion. One of the underlying themes of the recent vote for "North Colorado" to split from the rest of the state was the fact that there is a vast difference between the ideas, desires and philosophies of the urban Denver area, and the more rural area. From the Daily Beast:

In a place like Colorado, the clustering has been reinforced by the immigration of lots of college-educated hipsters to the state. It has grown from a population around 3 million in 1990 to around 5 million, and the newer arrivals have moved to or near the cities and have plainly made Colorado a more Democratic and liberal state. (Here is everything you’ll ever need to know about Colorado demography.) The values of Denver and Boulder and Arapahoe County—a not quite big-L Liberal area but an upscale, arugula-friendly, and certainly not right-wing zone—dominate in the state capital.

There have been huge fracking controversies. Voters legalized marijuana last year (and this year are voting on the imposition of an excise tax on it to fund school construction). There was that combustive row over guns, in which two (and maybe three, pending results) anti-gun legislators were recalled. Culturally, there’s little doubt about it. Colorado is two states.


This chasm is not new, nor is it specific to Colorado. We have a similar issue here in North Carolina. In fact, as the Daily Beast author goes on to say, "The same could easily happen, and I think will, in virtually any state where one or two big cities hold most of the population."

North Carolina has more than just 1 or 2 major cities -- though Charlotte and Raleigh certainly like to bicker, it seems. But the Tar Heel State is a state chock-full of large and small cities, urban and rural ideas -- often of very different mentalities, from one end of the state to the other. In a state so full of different dialects, it's not surprising that there would be philosophical differences among the people -- especially with so many new people coming to the state every day.

So imagine, if just for a moment, if the various like-minded areas of the state could break apart and form their own entities. What would that look like, you ask? Oh, don't worry about it; I went ahead and figured it out for you.

I bring you, the six new states that once made up "North Carolina."


My sad illustration is probably hard to make out, so let me describe it for you, from left to right. Yes, we have the mountainous state of "Western North Carolina" with its capital of Asheville ... the good old "State of Mecklenburg" (I can't take credit for that one) with Charlotte as its rightful capital .... then there is "Textilina" (Greensboro & Winston-Salem can duke it out for capital rights) ... and then to the east and south of the Triangle is "Tobaccolina" with Greenville as the capital.

As for the Triangle ... why not call it what it is -- or at least what we like to think it is. I present to you "Academia." Raleigh can and should still be the capital.

A couple other remarks about this very well thought-out plan for secession: the outer coastal edges could very well be called the state of "ITB East," while that pocket of land along the coast just south of the Tobaccolina/ITB East border should rightfully be called, "South Ohio" -- with Myrtle Beach as its capital, of course.


My apologies to North_carolina_topographic.jpg for butchering their map. I assure you it's all in fun.