Really, though, "The Real Best" encourages us all to cheer for our favorite places and things, and celebrate our own ways of doing things. By compiling them, you can see how your ideas and your favorite spots, no matter how diverse our home is becoming, are often startlingly similar. Get a grip on the pulse of the Triangle by scanning this compendium of responses.
Best thing to do at the airport
Remember we mentioned how some questions are getting rather stale? Unfortunately, air travel hasn't changed much and neither have your answers. Watch people was the winner, being fairly honest about what we all do at the airport. "Catch a flight" was our second place answer. Ba dum ching. "Drink overpriced alcohol" is something else our readers like to do, undoubtedly while watching the aforementioned people. Other answers included "play chicken with incoming aircraft in a '64 Volkswagen Beetle," "visit the used bookstore" (an RDU classic), and "watch and hear planes take off and land at the North Observation Deck."
Best thing to do to get the attention of the person in the car next to you
Y'all must have a lot of crud in your nostrils because the most popular answer here was pick your nose. But that's tame compared to showing them your tits, mooning them, stripping and throwing your underwear on their windshield, licking your window slowly or setting yourself on fire. So you've got their attention. Now what?
Best hangover food in the Triangle
Everyone handles their hangovers in very individual ways. Grease seemed to be the predominant ingredient in folks' answers, whether you listed a restaurant or a particular food product. In the restaurant category, Breadmen's in Chapel Hill was the winner, with Hector's and diners like Honey's, Elmo's and Owen's Broad Street also making appearances. One voter suggested attendance at Internationalist Books' Food Not Bombs on Sundays. Others simply listed a joint, a peanut-butter-and-jelly omelet, wine, grits and Spam--separately, and not in that order. Sounds like a diet Denis Leary would love.
Best ethnic grocery store
Undoubtedly there is a Mexican tienda in the Triangle called, simply, La Tienda, but we're unsure if your answers refer to this one special store, or tiendas in general. Chapel Hill's Asian market, Silver Wok, did very well in the survey, as did Raleigh's Middle Eastern grocery, Neomonde, and Chapel Hill's Greek market, Mariakakis. Less perceptive folks listed Food Lion, Kroger and Wellspring.
Best place to eat with a group
No clear winner came out of this group, but here are a lot of good suggestions next time you and your buddies need an answer to "where you wanna eat?" that's not "I dunno": George's Garage, Foster's outside, Amedeo's, 35 Chinese, Sushi Yoshi, Tir na nOg, Pop's and The Rathskeller.
Best building that begs for demolition
Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium seemed to be on its hands and knees according to most folk--whether that's because of basketball team loyalties or because the old place is a sauna, we don't know. Mike Easley should look out, because folks would also love to level the Governor's Mansion. Some unhappy shoppers would like to raze Wal-Mart, South Square Mall and the new Southpoint Mall before it even gets a chance to open. Other eyesores: the Wicked Burrito building, Bub's on Rosemary Street, Durham's "blue weenie" (see best public art) and "all that Bill Fields owns in Durham." Look out slum lords.
Best place to go dancing
Durham's Visions was the majority vote-getter, with Raleigh's new dance-club entry, Time, and Carrboro's new community center, Carrboro Century Center, coming in second and third. Other Triangle rump shakers abuse the tarmac at RDU airport, Players, Legends, "my kitchen" and, in a nod to a younger, tighty-whitey wearin' Tom Cruise,"my living room."
Best place for a cheap date
Following the cliché of "dinner and a movie," most folks listed restaurants or theaters for cheap dates. Among the low-cost faves were Pepper's Pizza, McDonald's, Armadillo Grill, Blue Ridge Theater and Cosmic Cantina. Others however, heard "cheap date" and thought "easy lay," as evidenced in answers like "living room couch" and "on top." Subtle.
Best local boy or girl who made good
Lots of boys and girls who grew up to be famous folk got their start here, but who really wins depends on your definition of making good. Several musicians like Ben Folds, COC's Mike Dean, and alt-country stars Ryan Adams and Tift Merritt made the list, as well as M.C. Paul Barman. UNC's favorite son, Michael Jordan, Olympian Marion Jones, and Chapel Hill haberdasher Alexander Julian, were also-rans.
Best illegal activity
As most folks well know, sodomy is illegal in our fair state--an activity that includes pretty much every sexual position except missionary-style, and includes our winner, oral sex. Other scofflaws included smoking pot, speeding and shooting off fireworks. Shame on you.
Best movie snack bar
Your local independent theater got the vote here, typically unbeholden to corporate candy and soft drink monoliths. For those in Raleigh, that would be The Rialto or Raleighwood Cinema Grill (a place where you can get actual sandwiches); in Durham it's the Carolina Theatre; and Chapel Hill has the overall winner, The Chelsea, along with the Varsity and--not to be confused with the one in Durham--the Carolina Theatre.
Best day trip from the Triangle
In case you've forgotten, we're only about 150 miles from the ocean, or Wilmington, to be more specific. That's a reasonable amount of travel for the payoff, unlike another popular answer, Asheville, an 8-hour round-trip that cannot be made and be enjoyable within a day's framework. Others recommended Richmond, Greensboro, the zoo in Asheboro and Beaufort Marine Lab.
Best reason to be gay
Many folks misunderstood our question as an accusation and responded defensively. But in the spirit of things, our winners were the short-skirted Duke Cheerleaders. The next most popular answers were clothes and fashion sense, both things that are apparently exclusive to gays in the Triangle.
Best hotel to send in-laws to when visiting
Apparently, you readers like your in-laws--a smooth move if you want to keep your better half happy. The posh Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill won our poll, followed closely by Duke's also-posh Washington Duke Inn. Better answers included the abandoned and most likely condemned Heart of Durham hotel, any hotel in their hometown and the Bates Motel.
Best neighborhood for singles
One reader made a good point in asking if we meant best at maintaining singleness or encouraging pairings. Assuming, as our culture does, that no one should crave being single, our answers pointed to Carrboro, which is no more a neighborhood than Dean Smith's nose. But it is a small town, whereas another popular answer, Durham, is not so small. Those who get the accuracy award listed Raleigh's Five Points, West Durham, Southern Village and Burch Avenue in Durham.
Best thing about local TV news
Some people thought this category akin to "best reason to hate journalism" and wrote "it's over quickly," "it's only 30 minutes" or "it's on when I'm not home." Given those responses, it's hard to know if the people who voted for our winner, Drew Smith, were being laudatory or sarcastic. Our favorite answers were "hott anchorwomen" and in particular, "Pam Saulsby's tight sweater."
Best smoky nightclub
Maybe it's the flames painted on the walls, but Chapel Hill's Hell was our winner. The Cave and the Comet Lounge were also popular, but one voter gave no answer other than this directive: "quit smoking."
Best new local business
The owners of the Music Explorium in Carrboro hit on an original idea selling odd, wacky, world music instruments, and hence earned your "best of" votes. The Artist's Escape Café in Chapel Hill was also a hip new thing, as was Radio Free Records in Durham and the Inside Scoop ice cream shop in Chapel Hill.
Best local Web site
Go to howthingswork.com, for the site created by former N.C. State department of computer science instructor Marshall Brain that can explain it all--how things work, and why it's the best. Because of the World Wide status of the Web, most folks left the category blank, probably unsure of exactly where any of that stuff originates.
Best birthing center
Apparently, few of our readers have given birth, as again, many folks left it blank. But any mom will tell you that a good birthing center can make all the difference. Those who know voted for Piedmont Women's Health Center with Rex and Wake Med distant seconds. One reader wrote, "Planned Parenthood--resist the pro-natalist propaganda."
Best restaurant more people should know about
This is a very useful category, when folks were willing to share (one reader wrote, "We don't want them to!"). Those who were interested in getting more publicity for their eateries voted for Durham's Ethiopian restaurant, The Blue Nile, while Chapel Hillians voted for the place with that crazy patio, El Patio Loco.
Best wine bar
The Angus Barn, well-known for their cellar and their knowledgeable staff, won the poll with Chapel Hill's West End Wine Bar a close second. Actually, we're not a hundred percent sure of the West End because many voters simply listed "the Wine Bar." Oh, sure, that one. Another complimented Raleigh's Enoteca Vin with a vote, adding, "if you are Rockefeller!"
Best band name
Those tuxedo-wearin' queercore rockers The Butchies have a name our readers adore. Several other readers mentioned national acts, but they're perhaps ill-suited to being among the best of the Triangle. Surely though, The Cherry Valance, Goat Throwr, Snatches of Pink and the Squirrel Nut Zippers will be happy to know you also appreciate their names.
Best place to eat alone
Home was the big winner, but many restaurants that cut down on wait staff interaction also got votes. Foster's in Chapel Hill and Durham, K&W Cafeteria, Wellspring's Penguins Café and Carrburritos are your ticket for a night on the town, with yourself.
Best public-access TV show
Perhaps we should define what public-access means. The FCC is required by law to reserve a portion of bandwidth for you, the public, to use however you like--we're talking locally produced shows. Now that disqualifies UNC-TV, Monty Python, and, even though you're on the right track, Wayne's World. The honest-to-goodness winner is Z-TV, produced by Mouse, co-owner of The Cave. Others, apparently unhappy with current programming, voted for "station ID (after hours)" and "killing your television."
Best building that begs for renovation
Answers ranged from general ("any real old houses") to specific ("my neighbor's dog house") but people were rarely in agreement about which buildings they hope to see preserved. Some suggested every building in downtown Durham, University Mall, UNC's Woollen Gym and, despite its recent development, all of Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh.
Best Friday night hangout for 13-year-olds
Franklin Street Post Office is the place to be if you're 13. Of course, adults were generally our respondents, so we're unsure if they're annoyed by the teen presence at the post office or are advocating that all 13-year-olds converge on it. Bowling alleys, especially beer-free Mardi Gras in Chapel Hill, are also a hit with the early-teen set. But the joke that never gets old to some folks? "Michael Jackson's house."
Hell won in another category, although Waffle House still had a strong following. For the American Graffiti set, Gypsy's Shiny Diner is the way to go.
Best local visionary
There was no clear winner in this category, but some notable entries were Cary Mayor Glen Lang, Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, filmmaker Kenny Dalsheimer, civil rights attorney Alan McSurely, U.S. Senator John Edwards, activist Rania Masri and N.C. State pfiesteria scientist Joanne Burkholder.
Best smell in the Triangle
Yummy and not so yummy scents abound in the Triangle. On the good side, the Rose Garden at the Raleigh Little Theater wins the prize, with Krispy Kreme at dawn, tobacco from Liggett Myers on Duke Street, Char Grill, Mama Dip's and the concourse at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in hot pursuit. On the not so tasty side, we've got the waste water treatment plant on I-40 and the Wake County landfill. Take your pick.
Best hiking trail
While no particular trail is denoted, readers chose Duke Forest for hiking. For a specific walk, the Cox Mountain Loop at the Eno River State Park comes highly recommended as well. For those with even more specific needs, one reader has the best time hiking "from the N.C. State parking deck to class at 8 a.m."
Best hot dogs
Squeaky's has friends in high places. Another one of the very few categories with big winners, Squeaky builds a loyal clientele at his mobile hot dog stand location in NationsBank Plaza on Franklin Street. Not to be overlooked was Durham's Don's Dogs, now open until 5 p.m. The reader who wrote that it was too hard to find a kosher dog should get together with the reader who advocates boiling your own Hebrew Nationals at home.
Best way to improve Cary
Most answers fell into three categories: Rampant vandalism, move it back to New Jersey or a tactical nuclear strike. Whatever Cary does, based on this poll, it should stop growing at all costs.
Best kids' entertainer
In terms of a real answer, Rainbow the Clown, our winner, is more helpful than television or Jesse Helms. Notably, storyteller Louise Kessel and the Paper Hand Puppet Intervention got votes, along with a thoughtful note, "themselves, free from planning-zealous parents." "A harness," on the other hand, is not something we'd vote for.
Best place to get alterations
The real smart-alecks had their way with this category, suggesting plastic surgeon Dr. Ron Gerbe, Choice Peach Tattoo, and Tomcats' oriental massage. Honest answers included Rose Chan, Mei Lini, Miss Hattie in Chapel Hill and "my mom." Our respondents were not too specific about their locations, but perhaps that's been deliberate. A great tailor can be hard to find and we all keep our true gems under tight wraps.
Best reason to hate journalism
Answers here were largely personal, citing specific journalists like Tracy West, Jennifer Silverman, Greg Fishel and Gaspo from The Herald-Sun. Our winner was The News & Observer, and we're unwilling to put a value judgment on why it gets the prize. Other answers were ideas more than tangible things, like "sensationalism," "they think we are the dumb asses," "too self-serving," and "corporate journalism protects the ruling classes."
Best local bartender
Apparently Steve Whitaker at Linda's in Chapel Hill gives his customers a little something more, because folks were willing to stuff the ballot box for him. Good bartending requires some ineffable quality, although one reader merely requires that he or she pour free drinks. Mouse at The Cave (the same guy mentioned under "best public access show") gets a nod for bar keeping ability as does Mark at Pyewacket, Terri at Pantana Bob's, Brian Toomey at Acme and anyone at the Flying Burrito.
Best public art
Carrboro's Weaver Street is chock full of great sculptures and art, from the front of Algonquin Books to the front of Weaver Street Market, earning them the winning slot. Again, while this category can be understood to mean art that's accessible to the public, we were generally shooting for art in public spaces, i.e. outside. This disqualifies the publicly funded N.C. Museum of Art, unless readers meant NCMA's leaning monoliths or Thomas Sayre's big metal rings in the museum's backyard. Other good answers: "That giant pickle building," referring to the phallic, green-mirrored University Tower that overlooks U.S. 15-501 in Durham and the "Free Expression Tunnel" at N.C. State.
Best local dot-com
It seems, like the Web site question, that no one knows a whole lot about where dot-coms are located, and whether any are local. Some folks in the know voted for webslingerz.com and repeated howthingswork.com. Our winner however, reflecting our culture's most popular use for the Internet, is adamandeve.com, site for the adult toy catalog business located in Hillsborough. So check your office-mates, babe, for the ones who've got a bottle of hand lotion next to their computer monitors.
Best mechanic--domestic and foreign
Much like a good tailor, a good, honest mechanic is priceless. Al's Garage takes the prize, but the apparently unaffiliated Wes Massey and Chapel Hill Tire also got votes. Environmentally minded voters pointed out their lack of an automobile and a voter with a scientific bent wrote "quantum mechanics."
Best place to go for a one-night stand
There was some confusion over whether this was the place where you could find a person willing to entertain a one-night stand, or where you would consummate this new, brief relationship. In the first instance, gay clubs like Visions and Legends were the winners. In the second instance, voters mentioned "her place," "Pubic Park (Raleigh City Hall)," "island in pond on Meredith Campus" and the classic, "backseat." A self-righteous voter put things into perspective with, "So much for families, huh?" Duh.
Best place to play pool
Either people can't get enough of Hell, or it's owners have a lot of friends who can write legibly, because they win in a third category. Is there anything you can't do in Hell? We also got votes for old standbys like The Green Room in Durham and Massé Lounge, tucked away behind Chapel Hill's Eastgate Shopping Center.