Sunday, April 01, 2007

Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My day off. I join the Tate family at the Barn for breakfast. Ginnie has made scrambled eggs, home-fried potatoes, and toast. They ask my plans for the day. I'm driving to Chapel Hill. Lee and Jessie are full of suggestions and write down directions for me. Carrboro and Chapel Hill are about 45 miles away. Not too far, and the drive is along a pretty backroad, the Old Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.

I drive away and head east on Old Liberty Road. It is another clear, sunny, warm day. The trees are turning more green every day as they develop leaves. Splashes of fuschia paint the wooded landscape where the redbud trees are blooming. A few dogwood trees are beginning to show themselves in the more populated areas. I bet next week they'll be in full bloom all around the woods.

The drive is pretty. Rolling hills, lots of trees, and plenty of farmsteads line the road. Mobile homes are plentiful. This area must be more affluent. I don't see a lot of the abandoned homes that are obvious in Randolph County. Every yard looks well maintained.

I pull into Carrboro pretty close to Noon. I park near the Weaver Street Market and walk around. Weaver Street is a local co-op. It also has a café and a take-out counter. The place is packed. The front lawn is covered with people, mostly in their 20's, eating and socializing. The warm weather must have drawn them all out. I walk inside and find a nice grocery store with a natural foods emphasis. I check out their cheese counter. A few local cheeses. Meadow Creek and Chapel Hill Creamery seem well represented, but not much else. The rest of the cheese case is pretty run-of-the-mill. I walk out and try to see what else is around. Most of the shops are closed because it is Sunday, and I haven't yet hit the magic hour of 1pm when they might happen to open if they feel like it. An ice cream parlor looks tempting across the street, but I'm not hungry. I get the car and drive on into Chapel Hill, just a few stoplights farther down the road. I can't tell where Carrboro ends and Chapel Hill begins. They just sort of run together. The shops in Chapel Hill have more of a collegiate attraction, especially close to campus.

I park the car in front of the Carolina Brewery. I'm on Franklin Street, the main street that borders the campus of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I walk down the street and see an open door. A used bookstore is open! I can't pass up an opportunity to browse. I walk in and am greeted by the comforting smell of linen and paper. I feel right at home.

I like to read folktales and ask if there is a section of Southern Folklore. The shopkeeper points to shelves along the back wall and tells me to browse through the section simply called "The South." There is a Folklore section, but Southern Folklore usually isn't filed there. There might be some in the Southern Literature section. Interspersed in the section called The South are a few books of ghost stories of the Carolinas, Appalachian legends, and guides to seeing regional mysteries like the Brown Mountain lights in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love this stuff. Mom and Dad used to tell me the story of the Mako light near Wilmington, NC and the Gray Ghost who warns of impending hurricanes about to strike the coast of NC.

I bought a bunch of books and called it quits. I'm warm and hungry. I need some iced tea. Sammy recommended Mama Dips on Rosemary Street, a block away. Mama Dips is a legendary country-style restaurant. I find it and go inside. It is busy. I am seated at a booth near the street. The dining room is large, and outside there is a wrap-around porch with more tables. The menu features traditional southern fare: fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, barbecue, collard greens, hushpuppies, and fried fish. I get the fried chicken.

A few minutes later a plate of piping hot chicken arrives. I assess the leg and thigh on my plate. Nice and crispy. I take a bite. Crunch! Oh yeah. Juicy and delicious. The crust is perfect. Crunchy and not doughy. I can't tell where the crust ends and the skin begins. This is great fried chicken. The side dishes are not so good. The greens are bitter. I can't taste the meat that they're cooked with. I see bits of ham or bacon, but they're flavorless. I leave them. The coleslaw is also bland. It is dressed in a watered down mayonnaise dressing. No thanks. I finish the meal with a piece of pecan pie. Microwaved and mediocre, too. A very good crust ruined by a loose custard and not enough pecans.

I pay my tab and head back to the car. It would be more fun to explore the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham) with someone who knows where to go. I call it a day and head back to Goat Lady Diary.

Lots of trees are blooming all along the streets. The gutters are filled with white blossom petals, looking like powdery snow drifts. North Carolina is beautiful in the spring.

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