2/3/03 Day 44 of the


Day 44 of the Urban Outfitters Store That Now Stands Under the Glow of Charles Whitman’s Bell Tower Road Trip of Sister Schools

Austin, TX

Being in other college towns always begs comparison to the one you’re used to, and it must be said that Austin and Chapel Hill stack up well. Both were pretty early adherents to technology (esp. the internet), both are left-leaning state schools in the middle of states that aren’t known for being particularly left-leaning, and both feature hot Southern women who are usually smarter than your first impression. Unfortunately for us, Texas has pulled ahead of Carolina in the rankings lately, due no doubt to our sorry-ass record of professor salaries. Their basketball team is also better than ours right now, which is truly horrifying.

As a town, Austin shares Chapel Hill’s penchant for fucking up perfectly nice downtown boho shops by inserting Gaps, Barnes & Nobles and every other corporate behemoth focus-group-tested for the student environment. Austin is bigger, though, and is (confusingly) the capital of Texas, and has done a better job of holding on to its homegrown talent and southern flavor.

Chapel Hill, as far as I can tell, has two honest businesses on Franklin Street that have changed very little since the 1950s: the Rathskellar, and Sutton’s Drug Store. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but Jeff’s Confectionery where you could get a vanilla coke from the soda jerk – has been replaced by Smoothieville™. The Intimate Bookshop, where Charles Kuralt cut his teeth shopping for non-fiction, is now a Sephora™, where dum-dums shop for lipliner and male fragrances. Fowler’s, the marketplace known for Big Bertha (a walk-in refrigerated room featuring every beer known to man) has been replaced by BW-3™, a “hot wings” sports bar. At least I think it has – it’s impossible to tell where anything used to be. It’s like post-war London sometimes.

I wonder how much of Chapel Hill I romanticize. Sometimes we’ll be walking through a particularly bohemian neighborhood somewhere, with craft stores, vegan coffee shops, indie record stores and tons of locally-owned restaurants where you can eat outside, and I say something like, “it’s totally Chapel Hill here” Which is a bit silly, because Chapel Hill was barely like that when I first got there in the mid-80s.

I think I’m looking for the following out of a town:

– you can walk everywhere, including to the mall

– 2 separate independent record stores with a rivalry

– three coffee shops, all equipped with wifi internet, each different according to mood

– at least two arthouse movie theaters

– tons of gays and lesbians who are allowed to hold hands

– a fantastic underpriced thrift store

– a place to dance, 3 places to see bands

– an all-night diner with fresh donuts

– a garden shop

– a hardware store manned by a Guy Who Knows Everything

– at least one business owned by one family since 1799

Salem and I once had an idea for Chapel Hill: combine a Krispy Kreme and the Cat’s Cradle to make an all-night diner with Hot Donuts Now that had amazing bands and DJ’s every night. The diner would adjoin the club, and there would be a mezzanine for serious listeners and a mosh pit for serious dancers. The name: The Krispy Kradle.

Why doesn’t anyone listen to us?

Krista, Tad, Kari, me and Salem dancing in our Chapel Hill living room, circa 1989

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