Sunday, March 6, 2016

Small town talk

When Team WestEnders relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2014, we were well aware that we were moving into what could only be called a college town. I mean, literally--the university was founded in 1793, and the rest of the area developed around it. If you park your car anywhere on the main drag, Franklin Street, you can wander up and down the sidewalks to peruse stores selling the inevitable spirit gear, eclectic boutique-y shops, and a variety of dining and drinking establishments, both "chain" and "unique". And if you just take a slight turn, you'll find that you've wandered onto the campus itself. (It's okay--they're friendly down here, so go ahead and look around...) But be careful if you continue in the same direction a wee bit too far, as the scenery won't have changed from stately, distinguished brick-and-stone edifices...but suddenly they'll be sporting an array of Greek letters--that's right, you've made it to Frat Row...turn around and head back!

Now that we've been here for a while, we've learned that there are certain implications to living 3.1 miles from the entrance proclaiming Welcome to UNC. For example, traffic patterns very much ebb and flow with the academic year schedule. Hence, there are noticeably fewer cars on the surrounding roadways during the periods of mid-December-to-late- January and mid-May-to late August, when the students for the most part return to their homes. That one was pretty obvious and easy to figure out. However, something we learned the hard way was: do NOT under any circumstances attempt to patronize a popular the heart of town...on a weekend...during the semester. Ay yi yi. The waitlist will be daunting; the decibel level will be deafening; the atmosphere will be hopping...but not necessarily what you'd"family-oriented". 

An even more amusing factor--to me, at least--is that, you know those solar-powered signs Highway Departments sometimes place by the side of the road to display illuminated, informative messages? All around Chapel Hill, you'll notice those at all times as part of the landscape from September to April. You see, if they're turned sideways (and blank), that means the Tarheels--football, basketball, or baseball--are either idle that day, or are away at a rival school. But if the screen faces traffic, pay attention, because it means A) an increase in drivers on your route, as they try to get to the game and B) extra police presence at every exit directing fans to the sanctioned lots, and herding them away from neighborhood streets and sneaky illegal parking attempts. Oh, and there's a verrrry small municipal airport on university-owned land that caters to private planes up to a certain size. I've been told that there are more flights coming in and out when there's a Big Game, since that's how some wealthy alumni travel back to cheer on the old alma mater. (Like I said, this is unconfirmed, but it still Cracks. Me. Up.)

And then...of COURSE...there's the absolutely crazy-ass-passionate support for any one of the three local institutions--the hometown UNC (aka "Carolina". Yeah, yeah...never mind that there's also South Carolina that reportedly uses the same moniker. No one seems bothered...), NC State (simply known as "State") and...that other 4-letter place that shall not be named (Seriously. Not going there.) What we quickly discerned when we arrived (well...because people told us...) is that Chapel Hill is one of those locales where not too many (adult) folks were actually born here; rather, they came for education or work or whatever and just...liked it so much that they stayed. Therefore, although their parents hail from a plethora of places, a lot of the boys' friends are native...and typically root for whatever school graduated Mom and/or Dad. (Some families, though, contain ...ahem..."mixed marriages"...and then the kids just have to pick to be them...)

Anyway, my point is that this little burg goes a teeny, tiny bit...NUTSO...when, for instance, UNC faces you-know-who on the b-ball court. Especially given the fact that the ACC foe came calling last month and had the utter nerve to beat the home team at the Dean Dome--so you can imagine (or perhaps you really can't--just give it a shot for me, 'kay?) the gravity of the enemy territory. I'm not kidding, Derek informed me very early in the week that his entire Saturday was going to revolve around watching the contest at someone's house--to be determined--and that the rest of us should not make plans that interfered with this. When they actually decided on a location, it turned out that it was the home of one of Riley's pals as well, so the 7th-grade contingent would be represented. Shortly before tipoff, they went over and began the adolescent version of "tailgating"....which as far as I could tell involved a great deal of snacking...and adolescent-boy rambunctiousness.

So, not that you probably care all that much, but the good guys prevailed this time--although they did make it entirely more exciting than it strictly needed to be towards the end. And there was much rejoicing. Oh, you think I'm exaggerating? (Who, ME? Perish the thought!) Let me tell ya, the next morning, in church, the Associate Pastor shared this: "Last night, I was thinking about what I wanted to say to you today, and I did some praying. I prayed for about two hours, actually--dramatic pause and just a trace of a mischievous smile--from 6:30 to around 8:30." Now he was forced to stop entirely, as the place caught on to the joke and erupted in appreciative laughter. After a few seconds he concluded triumphantly, "And it worked; there were some tough moments, but it all turned out okay." 

Hmm...I can think of few better ways to encapsulate the experience of living in Chapel Hill: college basketball...referenced during a Sunday morning sermon. Amen (y'all)!

(Oh, and this was the local paper's Sports section today--the entire portion above the fold devoted to one amateur hoops grudge-match. Loooove it!)

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