Every year, we ask our readers to weigh in on the best of everything. In our Reader Survey 2005, you’ll see which restaurants, businesses, destinations and distractions our readers say are tops.

This year, we also wanted to explore not just the best of the Triangle, but the best things about the Triangle.

Roughly half a century has passed since the Triangle concept, and the term, emerged. Since then, the three very different towns and schools have grownsprawled, reallyinto a complex region with more than half a dozen colleges and universities and a dozen or so towns and cities. The term no longer means three of anything. So what ties all these points together? What is it that these diverse places share and, of that, what’s the best?

This year, we’re honoring the boulevards that knit our towns together and the brains that keep it going. In each place, there’s a distinctive street that is a reflection through time of the character of the community. (Read about East Chatham Street, Cary, Guess Road, Durham, New Bern Avenue, Raleigh and The Grand Meridian, Chapel Hill-Carrboro.)

And what would the Research Triangle be without its geeksa term we use with great affection. We don’t mean awkward, pimply kids with pocket protectors. Those are nerds. We’re talking about people on the cutting edge in their fields, or folks with knowledge so deep that, well, they’re geekin’ on it. We’ve got ’em packed in several rows deep in these parts, and some of them are the best idea people you’ll find anywhere.

Lastly, we tip our hat to our resident freaks. This is the South, after all, and like Mayberry, every town’s got a few folks who keep things interestingimprovisers riffin’ along with us, but hitting the offbeats. To capture their contribution to the place we call home, we asked our favorite freak, columnist Peter Eichenberger, to jot down a few recollections of those unique individuals who sometimes inhabit what Sheriff Taylor used to call Capitol City.