Best of the Triangle 2011: Best Moments of the Triangle | Local Color
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Best of the Triangle 2011: Best Moments of the Triangle 

On the verge of leaving home

My best moments in the Triangle are spontaneous. After living in Durham for 17 years, it's difficult to isolate one moment as the best, but those that stand out are those that made me see the Triangle in a new light. It seems that as I get closer and closer to leaving the Triangle in August, the moments become more unexpected and rich. And so the snapshots that come to mind are from my senior year in high school, the last time for a while that I'll live full-time in Durham.

Duke Gardens in late February. Going to a green, sundrenched lawn after a half-day of school, spreading out a picnic blanket, piling it high with food—packets of ham and turkey and cheese, boxes of Capri Sun and strawberries, bags of Hershey kisses and Swedish Fish, two Guglhupf baguettes and cheap Brie. And just lying there in the sun, snacking and talking and playing Apples to Apples with friends. It was a sort of lovely limbo after college applications were done and before we all knew where we would be next year. Past and future didn't seem quite as important as they usually did; moments in the present were important, vivid, happy.

And then there's the March night I got into college, and suddenly very little mattered except celebration. Homework was insignificant. My family drove to Magnolia Grill, where I had never been. Goat cheese on toast, laughter, texts of congratulations, noodle salad, sky darkening outside the window. That night at the restaurant connected things. It was the first restaurant my parents ate at when they moved to Durham, and it was the first restaurant I ate at when I found out I'd be leaving Durham. Now, when I drive by Magnolia, I have this joyful association with it, but I also see it as a place of transition, a quintessential Triangle restaurant as a symbol of leaving home.

Going to Rick's Diner during free periods at school seemed to weirdly capture many other moments in the Triangle. I felt simultaneously old and young as I sat with two friends at a table at Rick's, munching on eggs and biscuits and grits and drinking sweet tea. Rick's is a place of returning, somewhere my family goes for brunch after coming home from vacation. Now I sat there talking with my friends about college and leaving home. We were at the Rick's location in the recently renamed Hope Valley Plaza, and it was striking to see how much the plaza has changed over the years I've lived two minutes away from it. The new strip of restaurants where the Habitat store used to be, the majestic post office in place of the run-down blue-paneled original. Durham has grown up with me. —Ariel Katz

Katz is an intern at the Independent Weekly. She will attend Yale University in the fall.

Rooting for the home team

Pam and I arrived in Raleigh in 1987 pretty much by accident, but that's another story. People here were all excited about hosting the U.S. Olympic Festival, a national sports event of little consequence before it was held in the Triangle and, as far as I know, none thereafter. But it was huge here, a kind of coming-out party for the "region" as a place where big things were possible. Lacking employment, I volunteered for public relations duty and found myself one of thousands.

A little later I hooked on as staff to a state commission organizing for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution, as everyone alive then learned from our efforts, was written in 1787 and ratified by the states over the next two years. (North Carolina famously rejected it in 1788 at a convention in Hillsborough—we insisted on a Bill of Rights, which Congress added the following year—then ratified it in Fayetteville in 1789, when UNC was chartered as the first public university in the new nation.)

I remember promoting the tour of the original Magna Carta through North Carolina. The great charter of English liberties, written in 1215, was enshrined under glass at one end of a specially equipped bus, which was paid for, as I recall, by one of President Reagan's rich Republican friends from Connecticut. All in all, the bus was a nifty traveling exhibit about the origins of our individual rights. But, I thought, who's going to come to see that, especially in the summer heat?

The answer: Thousands came. For two days, or maybe it was three, the line to get in snaked around the block by the old N.C. Museum of History by the state Capitol. History buffs? Yes. But it was more than that. It seemed to me that I'd arrived in a place where people showed up when they were called on. The Magna Carta is coming? We need to be there to show our support. We're hosting the Olympic Festival? It's got to be the best Olympic Festival ever.

I'm reminded of this by Scotty McCreery's American Idol victory. Before the final show, the producers staged a homecoming in Garner and another in wherever it was that the other finalist lives. Tuning in to hear the result, I caught the folks on WRAL going on about how the 30,000 people who showed up in Garner dwarfed the competition's turnout.

Well, yeah. We do get behind the home team. That's what makes this place fun. —Bob Geary

Geary is a staff writer for the Independent Weekly.

From the Triangle, a larger worldview

Growing up in a small town in eastern North Carolina, I have clear memories of my developmental experiences with the Triangle. My brother, Kenny, had left me behind at 10 years old in Havelock to go to UNC-Chapel Hill. I don't recall my exact feelings about his leaving, but I do recall the excitement and envy I had for him after my first visit.

The year was 1980, and there were more lovely and nubile young women on every corner than I had ever seen in my life. Being a prepubescent boy, I was agog at the possibilities.

Upon his first visit home, and every one after, he seeded me with his experiences that I had no access to in our culturally limited hometown. The books, comics, movies and especially music that he experienced via WXYC, the legendary college radio station at UNC, were my first exposure to the counterculture, and each left me with a buzz. He recorded his albums to cassette and left them to change my life. The Jam, Let's Active, Split Enz and early R.E.M. became the soundtrack that helped me develop my individuality while I felt everyone around me was drowning in classic rock.

Shortly after, I had my chance to experience it firsthand, when our parents let me spend a week with Kenny to help him move across town. There was the Cat's Cradle, Franklin Street, modern art and even college parties with beer and girls who burped! Wow. I felt like the first visitors to Willy Wonka in his chocolate factory. Everything was magical and unexpected. There was always something going on and too much to do. It was a far cry from my life in suburbia. With each return visit, my love for Chapel Hill grew, and to this day, as I enter town, I still get a tingle of excitement.

Durham, once dark, mysterious and dangerous to me, has now become my home and love since 1995, when Bob Fowler brought me here to be his wine buyer at the world-famous Fowler's Gourmet in Brightleaf Square. And even though my relationship with Durham was love at first sight, it has continued to grow on me furiously and steadily every year. Those six years at Fowler's helped transform me from an enthusiastic young man to what I am today. At Wine Authorities I'm exposed to the tastes and smells of someplace far away every day. Customers walking the aisles speaking more languages than I can keep up with, their worldly ways still spark my curiosity. To me, now a world traveler with roots just down the road, the Triangle has become a gateway to the world physically and especially metaphorically. —Craig Heffley

Heffley owns Wine Authorities, where there's always good music playing on the stereo.

The Fourth of July and a symphony

Sometimes the best Triangle moments happen every year. That's the case for me when it comes to the North Carolina Symphony Fourth of July concert at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. It's free, it's fun and it feels like home.

The afternoon starts with a quick bike ride along the wooded trail at Ritter Park. I carry in a blanket and some chairs to mark my family's spot on the patchwork that covers the lawn of the amphitheatre. A few hours later, we park and stroll over with a picnic. The talented symphony fires up as the sun sets behind the pines. The evening includes some sappy hand-holding with my wife. My kids may wave flags and tap their feet to a John Philip Sousa, Tchaikovsky or John Williams melody.

There's usually a good beer and a discussion with friends. Then the colorful fireworks prompt a happy moan from the crowd. Of course, there are variations to the moment. Like the year a thunderstorm canceled the fireworks and freaked out my daughter. Another time the traffic jam was so thick my kids had to jump out of the car to pee behind a bush.

Whatever happens, it's all good to me. No event connects me to the Triangle like that one. I can't wait until this year's concert. —Cullen Browder

Browder is a news anchor and reporter for WRAL-TV.

When Roosevelt and then Clinton came to town

The word Triangle would feel like an abstraction of corporate mind-sets if you had known only the three separate names of the towns before.

Durham was sweet tobacco suffocation, the drug you inhaled after driving the crooked 12-mile trip on the old road on bald Depression tires. Raleigh had more class.

Time gobbles up individual experience. Small is when people are the place, and live the myths: Mt. Moriah, Damascus, Hayti. Big is the Triangle arithmetically concocted in seminar and board rooms by professors and businessmen of the '50s. Money, ideals and plain old deals. A canny bid for the future.

The airport in the mid-'50s was nothing but a small, dirty white board shack, its bottom stained with red earth. You landed and walked onto a field of onion grass.

Since 1818, when James K. Polk came, Chapel Hill has attracted U.S. presidents. But the October night in 1993 when everybody lined up under the starry skies of Kenan Stadium to hear Bill Clinton was the apex. Spotlights, sound technology, high breath volume and huge TV screens eviscerated the stars. Only by looking past the edges could you feel small, see your breath and catch and hold the warmth of human bodies around you in the cold. You knew you were connected to the highest power of the US of A. So easy! A laugh.

It was the beginning of the brilliant, scallywag presidency, the mixture of saxophone and hambone, Oxford and oil, when he made surpluses, created NAFTA and dealt with the Rwandan genocide and the first attempt to damage the Twin Towers. Who could resist his genuine talent for caring? We feasted on his star outshining those obliterated in the night sky.

It thrust me back to 1938, when my family arrived in Chapel Hill from New England, demoted from riches to rags, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt came in December to give an early commencement ceremony. The Germans had marched into Sudetenland and war was imminent.

Roosevelt, unlike Clinton, did not come from Podunk or Hope, but Hyde Park. Humbled in his 40s by infantile paralysis (polio), maybe cured of noblesse oblige, he stopped along the dirt roads near Warm Springs to listen to farmers who could have been Clinton's forebears, in whose ratcheted, starving faces he found the power to grow beyond crutches.

He was scheduled to speak in Kenan Stadium but it rained, and we turned from the wooded paths and into Woollen Gym where, under kleig lights, in the steam of wet wool coats, he staggered to standing position and reared his head. His body was far away and small, and brought tears to the crowd's eyes because he was captain of state at the moment the country entered its destiny.

America was not bombed; it was the one country left safe and rich enough to subsidize the world.

But in those riches, I had not realized it was Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, whose idea it was to create the National Youth Administration and create the job that paid my way through college. Not a president, but a presence, railed at me as a fellow traveler, nigger-lover and radical.

Then is now, and now then, ignorance is astonishing, even as we lived through each day without rccognizing or distinguishing roots from leaves. And now is then, even if we invert that ignorance in our present vision of the future. —Daphne Athas

Athas is the author of a memoir, Chapel Hill in Plain Sight: Notes From the Other Side of the Tracks. She is a lecturer in UNC's creative writing program; her novel Entering Ephesus was included on Time magazine's 1971 best fiction list.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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