City mouse comes to North Carolina

by Gus Lubin

My girlfriend, who lives in New York City, didn’t understand why I spent so much time at a coffee bar downtown. A hip coffee bar in North Carolina, she insisted, could not exist — and anyway, the hipsters would be very B-side. Also labeled as quaint: people from my high school, college basketball, local fashion, local art and most of the events I compile for the weekly BeThere! section. Her recent visit was an opportunity for me and the state to prove her wrong — and also, therefore, a nerve-wracking moment of judgment. I became a tireless advocate and tour guide, intent on showing her the rustic mixture of hillbillies, Christians, immigrants and carpetbaggers that make up, in my opinion, a fine state. For the first days of her visit, I had only partial success. The Piedmont Triad International Airport is not as impressive as Laguardia. On the other hand, parking right next to the terminal for 25 cents is hard to beat. At home we enjoyed a world-class dinner cooked by my mother. But sleeping at home, in a small room in the suburbs, was far from ideal. Finally, the weather, at a cool 60 degrees, was much warmer than in New York, but not quite a tropical paradise. Feeling proud and provincial, I wanted greater glory for my state. So — for the first time in many years — I put a tent in the car, and we drove two and a half hours southwest to the “Paris of the South” in Asheville. As we drove into downtown, I got a somewhat good reaction: “It’s just like Boston,” she exclaimed. We lunched on fried green tomatoes and sweet tea at Tupelo Honey Café, and then wandered through dozens of boutiques and record stores. Around dusk, we got in the car and looked randomly for campgrounds. We found one just a few miles out of the city, high on a mountain and overlooking a river. Then we took out our sleeping bags and slept in the tent — for the first time in her life. Not surprisingly, we spent most of the next 10 hours shivering and waiting for the sun to rise. Bleary and tired, we drove back to Winston-Salem in the morning. The following day, refreshed from homecooking and a bed in the suburbs, I took her on my next demonstration of the Tar Heel State: Golfing. As with camping, golf is a rare activity for me and an unknown activity for her. Yet she was excited, especially for the chance to dress up like a Brooks Brothers catalog.

Golf, the raison d’etre of many Southern men and retirees, was very fun for two complete rookies. We showed up in the late afternoon at Winston Lake Golf Course, where for $20 we could both play until dark. Besides a few threesomes and a team from Winston-Salem State, the course was mostly empty, and we could take an easy 25 minutes on each hole. We played six holes and quit before the sun was down. Relaxing on a golf course is surely not so easy in the Big Apple. By the end of the week, my sales pitch wore thin and we settled into the simple ways of my normal life. We watched the Wake game with my parents and hung out with some friends from high school. And eventually we went to Krankies for coffee. As I told her, the coffee bar has a good atmosphere, and she was impressed. She was even more impressed with the fat pastries at Ollie’s Bakery and the bargain vintage clothing at Hello Betty, especially because, in the words of the proprietor, “That handbag would cost 10 times as much in New York City!” When her visit was over, it was clear that Elisa would never go native. Indeed, it is far more likely that I will move 500 miles north, than she move down South. But I won a valuable concession for our state: Respect.