The two News & Observer editors who took me out to dinner while trying to decide if I’d be a good fit for the newspaper were adamant about one thing: “If you take the job, you have to live in Durham.”
My first question: “What the hell is wrong with Durham if I have to live here?”
They explained that since I’d be writing editorials about the Bull City, it would be best if I lived there, at least for a little while. After that, I could live wherever I wanted.
That was twenty-six years ago. Guess what? I’m still here.
For one thing, they interviewed me at the exquisite Parizade, which immediately became my favorite local restaurant. Despite the influx of new, hipper eateries—some of which have garnered national acclaim—Parizade remains my go-to for celebrations.
For another, I found a terrific deal on several houses—remember when that was possible?—and finally picked one a quarter-mile from the then-thriving Northgate Mall and two hundred yards from the excellent Club Boulevard Elementary Magnet School.
On top of that, when Durham’s wonderfulness got to be too much and I wanted to get out of town for the weekend, I-85 was a biscuit’s throw from my backyard. (Yes, I did throw a biscuit—a burnt one; I’d never waste a good biscuit—to verify that statement.)
Good times, good times.
Even the things that people used to try to demean and belittle Durham were, to me, positive attributes.
For instance: Durham had some of the most savored unsavory night spots in the country, spots some people still speak wistfully about fifteen years after their demise. If you have to ask—don’t ask.
And in the mid-nineties, anyone who couldn’t get tickets to the WWE to see rasslin’ could just go to a Durham school board meeting to see community leaders clash with board members over one issue or another. Those meetings often devolved into a level of rancor and raucousness that any rasslin’ aficionado would love (minus the suplexes, half-Nelsons, and sleeper holds).
Pearl-clutching friends from around the country, after seeing the latest donnybrook on CNN, would call to ask just what the hell was going on down there. Democracy in action, I’d tell them. Few things are more worth fighting for than the education of one’s children. Who’d want to live in a city where residents didn’t?
As if the civic engagement, affordable housing, mall, school, highway, and nightlife weren’t enough to turn one immediately into a Durham-phile, there was also The Independent Weekly.
A quote often attributed to Gandhi says, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest member.”
I can find no evidence that the Mahatma said that, but you can attribute this quote to me: “The greatness of a city can be judged by what kind of alternative weekly it has.”
With INDY Week, Durham—and the Triangle—has one of the greatest.
As someone who grew up reading wistfully about—and later reading—The Village Voice, I always recall that Bible verse that says, “Where there is no great weekly, the people perish.”
The Village Voice, I lament to say, is no more, existing now only in the memories of those of us who grew up cherishing its coarse pages and coarser writing. It fell victim to the same scourge that has decimated daily and weekly papers across the country, causing many of them to cut their staffs to the marrow in order to survive. (On a related note, one of the veteran journalists who recently left The News & Observer is my cousin, Thomasi McDonald; he joined the INDY’s staff last week.)
Thirty-six years after Steve Schewel founded the INDY, it’s still going strong, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. You can help the paper continue this noble mission by visiting KeepItINDY.com today and joining the INDY Press Club.
A great city needs a great weekly.
For several years in a row, when it was called The Independent Weekly and had those delightful hookup ads that are now verboten, the paper’s readers voted me the best columnist in the Triangle—and the worst. I was thirsty for any award and cherished both, considering that the main award I’d won previously was the spelling bee in Mrs. Robinson’s sixth-grade class at Leak Street School in Rockingham.
Even that one came with an asterisk: All of the smart kids were out sick or on a field trip that day.
Barry Saunders was a News & Observer columnist and editorial writer from 1993–2017. You can find more of his writing at thesaundersreport.com.
Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club at KeepItINDY.com or by mailing your contribution to PO Box 1772, Durham, NC 27701.