For reasons she can't explain, every time she travels, she keeps a running tab in her head of all the counties she passes through. So when someone at a Christmas party mentioned that North Carolina has 100 of them, her ears perked up.
One hundred. That's a nice round number--kind of like 50 states. It comes in handy for politicians trying to demonstrate their fealty to all of North Carolina.
Take the Jan. 22 press release from U.S. Sen. John Edwards titled, "Edwards Visits all 100 Counties." Edwards has been criticized by state Republicans for running off to too many foreign hot spots, Hollywood fundraisers and key presidential primary states. Not to worry, the release seems to say, Edwards has proven he's a homeboy by traveling "from Murphy (where he went to college) to Manteo (where he honored Andy Griffith)."
OK, so Edwards has visited every county. But can he name them all? In alphabetical order?
Gray can, though it took a little practice.
"When somebody said there were 100, I thought I knew enough that I could nail them all," she says. She had a crack at it, but to her chagrin could only list about 30.
So Gray pulled out an atlas and spent a day memorizing. Her method? Learn a few at a time, then keep writing lists until they were all cemented in her brain. "I got obsessed," she says. "I couldn't stop until I got them all right."
Gray learned a lot in the process. For example, the most common first letter for North Carolina counties is "c," which starts 15 of the names. "M" is the second most common, with eight. Of all of them, its hard to pick a favorite, Gray says. Hers would probably be Transylvania, followed closely by Carteret, Currituck and Duplin.
By New Year's, Gray was ready with her new party trick. A circle of friends looked on dumbstruck, as she rattled off the North Carolina 100.
Sen. Edwards, if you're listening, here's an abridged version: "Alamance, Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe ... Wayne, Wilkes, Wilson, Yadkin, Yancey."