Better than my exes

The Triangle may be my current residential flame, but like most humans, I occasionally compare it to my exes. Doing so reveals a love for what it isn’t more than one for anything it may be (that probably offers insight into my personal life, as well, but you and I are both far too sober to go into that).

Unlike places in Alabama, the Triangle isn’t incredibly parochial, fueled by a credo of “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Granted, there are legislators clinging to that philosophy, but on the local level there are enough ideas and energy assimilated from elsewhere to cultivate fresh approaches to the future.

Unlike Orlando, The Triangle isn’t overrun with tourists and the overly sanitized something-for-everyone thinking rampant in local business. There’s still room in the Triangle for the quirky and gritty. There are also far fewer toll roads here, so your income level doesn’t dictate your driving route.

Unlike Washington, D.C., it isn’t teeming with bars compelled to flaunt velvet rope VIP sections and pretentious “experiences.” Here, even in foodie circles, drinks and food still matter mostfor now at least.

Now, if only the Triangle would be a little more adventurous in accessorizing. D.C.’s Metro and Orlando’s light rail systems are very sexy. Curt Fields

Cradle love

Kevin Barnes’ hair, an unkempt mullet in reverse, drips sweat. His annual performance at the Cat’s Cradle fronting of Montreal, a psychedelic funk art project seems exhausting. Over 90 minutes, Barnes donned several spangly, increasingly bizarre costumes, had a chicken fight with 8-foot papier-mâché puppets and rode piggyback on someone wearing a golden, sparkly unitard. That’s relatively reserved for Barnes.

I once saw him perform a mock hanging in concert and threaten to show his penis. This stuff is weird, really weird, and anywhere else in North Carolina, it might be impossible.

“I burned 10,000 calories dancing tonight,” my wife, Hillary, confessed. Later, we chatted with Barnes over beers at The Station with the Kishi Bashi, the band’s violinist and a successful indie musician.

There’s little room to dance here, but people are trying, personal space be damned. The DJ plays a mix of soul and electronic. We’re tired so we decide to make it an early night. Barnes is engrossed, or entangled, in a conversation with several fans. As we leave, he gives us a slight smile and a wave. For some reason, I remember that wave more than anything else that night.

I say this not to brag. There’s nothing worse than a self-satisfied journalist who wants you to know that they talked to a sort-of famous person. I say this because I grew up in a town long on strip malls and short on culture.

I know how special this is: a pulsing music culture in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, where sometimes, in some places, the outsider is an insider. You can press the flesh with this town’s eclectic music scene. Here, more than most places, the community needs its art and the art needs its community. Billy Ball

Love that Mad Hatter

Sweet love wrapped in porcelain, you’re warm and smooth to touch,
Be still and gaze upon me, the silence ‘fore the rush.
No other hands may hold you; no other mouth may taste,
Your perfume makes my heart pound, my senses laid to waste. Your form alone doth woo me, as does your color black,
But ’tis your wild stamina that always leads me back.
Again, again, again! you say, four times in just one hour
Your fluids are immortal, my manhood you empower. Your shape, it is peculiar, with curves I long to handle,
But ’tis your lack of bottom that doth make a wicked scandal.
The others in the city, they come back once or twice,
But every time I meet them, they do demand a price. But you are free and infinite, and I a poor broke scribe.
Hungover oft I am, and thus, it’s you I do imbibe.
Oh muse who has no limits! My writer’s block eclipsed!
A jolt to start my neurons, embracing both my lips. Oh bottomless mug of coffee at Mad Hatter’s you do dwell,
From Colombia to Durham, and now you fill my well.
Refill me and refill again! My bloodstream to the max.
Three dollars for one endless cup, or $3.23 with tax. John H. Tucker

Love for the American Tobacco Trail

Depending on where you are on the American Tobacco Trail in Durham, you may encounter scenes from the country and the city: I’ve stopped to let a red fox dart across the trail near Roxboro Street. I’ve watched goats eat kudzu near Forest Hills Park. And I’ve ducked to avoid a drunken fist fight at Fayetteville and Pilot.

On weekend mornings, I used to walk the full length of the trail, which roundtrip, equaled 13 miles. (The ATT has since been expanded.) Then people started getting mugged with more regularity than I could tolerate. And one Friday afternoon, an asshole on a trick bike hassled me at the quarter-mile mark, near downtown: “Hey bitch, do you have a problem?”

So I quit the trail for a couple of years. But I have missed it terribly, so earlier this month I decided to trust it again. We reunited.

Coming in from the north, I could see the downtown Durham skyline, and it made me feel alive and invigorated, just like I remember. Heading south, I could hear someone shoveling snow, birds fluttering in the bush, kids playing outside. When spring comes, the trail will smell sweet of wisteria and honeysuckle, and instead of snow shovels, I will hear lawn mowers.

I’ll bring some snacks and water and each weekend, do the full 22-mile round trip to the Chatham County line.

No, actually, I don’t have a problem. When I’m on the trail, not a problem in the world. Lisa Sorg

Love at King’s Motel

My wife, Caitlin, and I live on the south side of downtown Raleigh. Every day, we drive over the Wilmington Street bridge, past the homeless shelter and the burned-out Snapshot dirty bookstore. Nestled in the morning shadows of the Cargill plant, a former dog food factory, is the King’s Motel, its parking lot almost always empty save for the occasional Econoline favored by carpet installation crews.

There was a time when it was a go-to spot for band photos, most famously on the cover of The Accelerators 1987 self-titled record, the band sunning themselves in front of the yellow block walls, the gunmetal-gray silos of the dog food factory towering behind them. I’ve never been inside, but I imagine the scene must always be something straight from Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law, with Ellen Barkin throwing Tom Waits’ records onto South Wilmington Street.

Caitlin and I have been married for almost 15 years, and we have a couple of rules, one of which governs extra-marital affairs: If you have one, you gotta have it at King’s. And you have to park out front (pretty sure you can’t park in back). The faithful one is bound to drive by at some point and bust the cheater.

Our 15th anniversary is coming up and we’re renting a room for the party. We’ll let you know what the inside looks like. Skillet Gilmore

Yo-Yo Love

One night I was alone on Parrish Street, waiting. I stood under a streetlamp, yo-yoing. It was very misty and cool. Out in the country, storms had felled trees, but the city just looked washed. Eventually, a couple came walking up the other side of the street.

“A guy with a yo-yo,” the woman exclaimed, half to the man and half to me. “That’s so Durham!” She seemed really thrilled. I smiled agreeably.

As we exchanged jokes about a sitcom called That’s So Durham!, the couple continued strolling by, never breaking stride. The yo-yo cascaded down and reeled back up, went out seeking and brought something back. Suddenly it felt like a fishing line in my hand.

We wished each other good night as they passed out of sight, though a final roar of “I love Durham!” could be heard from down the block. There was a strange vividness to the encounter.

I had brought my yo-yo with me to impose some buoyancy on one of those days when a lot of weightless moments had somehow accumulated into an oppressive ton. But it wound up opening this other door, too, this random connection, and I was inexplicably glad to play that role for her: the friendly local eccentric (what could be less threatening than a guy with a yo-yo?), the serendipitous urban vantage.

It felt good to slip out of my perspective and perceive myself as a feature in a tableaujust a rare city bird, an image with a thought buried somewhere deep inside, a no-doubt dramatic to behold silhouette yo-yoing in a circle of light on a dark, empty street. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I live in Chapel Hill. Brian Howe

Quarry love

The long, hot days of a North Carolina summer can be miserable. On the days that choke you with their humidity, head to the edge of Durham, to the Eno Rock Quarry, an unsanctioned, semi-secret swimmin’ hole tucked about a mile into the woods. A dip in the quarry is one of my favorite activities, and it’s nice enough to swim there from late spring to early fall (though UNC and Duke undergrads crowd it when school’s still in session).

I’ve spent a lot of time evangelizing to my friends and family about quarry swimming, and it’s always been a hit. To get there, we gotta earn it. It’s a rocky but lush walk on a small path through the trees, mostly uphill on the way. But by the time we’re getting sweaty and sticky, we arrive at the shimmering watering hole.

As a semi-professional worry wart, I’ve never been brave enough to make the big jump off (and more important, away from) the craggy precipice, but the daredevils love it.

The trip home usually involves a stop at the Hillsborough Road Cook Out, eating in the parking lot, loading up on the fast food institution’s trademark trays and milkshakes.

We had earned it, after alla two-mile march and an afternoon of treading water wore us out, but in the best kind of way. Allison Hussey

Loving the Swing Set at Lenoir Street Park

Lenoir Street Park in Raleigh is wedged on a block on the edge of the Boylan Heights neighborhood, nestled among a mix of pristine restored homes and halfway collapsing structures that typify the city’s renaissance. The park’s only amenities are a paved basketball court and some animal springers that have seen better days. There’s also a swing set.

On the first warm evening this year, I’ll walk the half mile from my Dawson Street apartment to Lenoir Street Park. No one else will be there, as usual: Lenoir is no Pullen, no Chavis, and the neighborhood kids it must have been built for are long gone. I’ll claim one of the two swings for the next hour.

Once, I would swing as high as I could go, then fling myself into the air, feeling the seat slip away, landing fearlessly. Now the creak of every back-and-forth, the breeze on my face and watching the world go dark is cathartic. I won’t leave until my legs feel like jelly and my hands smell like the old steel chains. To swing is my spring ritual. In Lenoir Street Park, I found my way of shaking off winter and looking forward to the warmth to come. Jane Porter

Blue Notes

Ten miles. It’s enough to impart personality into two otherwise unassuming shades of blue, enough to pull students out of the library and into the stands, enough to inspire some of the most creatively profane signage I have ever laid eyes on. It’s in those 10 miles that I’ve found my reason to love the Triangle.

Cameron Indoor on the night of the big game between Duke and UNC smells of synthetic body paint and cheap beer. Deafening excitement pervades the crammed student section. Thunderous chants and ovations provide the ultimate catharsis for those cold nights spent in the deepest depths of K-Ville. The swoosh of a three-pointer sends reverberations through bleacher wood that’s worn with the stories of Dukies past. A frat bro fervently high fives the bookworm next to him and, for a few hours at least, an entire school unites under a common cause. People of different backgrounds share the same longingto make that 10-mile bus ride back to Chapel Hill feel like an eternity for the Tar Heels. Emma Loewe

Local Coffee

I’m not sure what the occasion was on the morning that the family of three was looking for coffee in downtown Raleigh. Perhaps it was a Christmas parade or maybe a gaming convention. It could have been any of those events that now pull people toward the city’s once-neglected center.

“Excuse me,” said the woman, her husband and teenage boy squinting beside her in the sunlight. Her sweet drawl told me that she probably came from the Johnston, Harnett or Lee County hinterlands, just like I did. “But do you know where I could get some coffee?” she asked.

She laughed when my wife and I told her that she was about 100 feet from The Morning Times, a place where six huge letters spell out “COFFEE” in brilliant, burning orange above the front doors. She’d been searching for a Starbucks for 30 minutes, she said, and had yet to stumble on the sole location downtown, partially hidden by a hotel lobby. There was a lot of coffee downtown, we told her, but very little of it belonged to Starbucks. Her husband looked relieved, like the sidekick on a journey that had lasted too long.

Thanks to some smart city planning, strong local advocacy and several entrepreneurs deeply invested in the places they call home, this situation is familiar whenever friends or family members visit. We just don’t have many chains, we have to tell them. With exceptions, the landscape of downtown Raleigh (and Durham, for that matter) is controlled by people you see on the street, folks you see later at bars or rock clubs.

You don’t go to Panera for bread, The Olive Garden for Italian or On the Border for Mexican. Want a great burger? Go to Ashley Christensen’s Chuck’s. Want to buy some fancy clothes? Go to Sarah and Victor Lytvinenko’s Raleigh Denim Workshop, or Lumina. Want some interesting jewelry or a handmade knife? Go to Lauren Ramirez’s Quercus Studio. Sure, that local dependency means we’re still missing some things that chains could supply downtown, from piping-hot bagels to really good burritos. But I’d rather wait for my neighbors to do it and, every now and again, have to point a stranger in search of coffee in the direction of the area’s alternative. Grayson Haver Currin