Chapel Hill, NC
Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can’t go home again,” and he should know: he used to live in Chapel Hill. Really, the only way to deal with this place is to have a sense of Infinite Elasticity, to look upon the town as a living organism that sheds its limbs – even useful ones – en route to its future.
This town forgets you the minute you leave, like a lover that has moved on to another boyfriend. “What about all the good times?” you plead, “What about doing Dead Nazi shots at Molly Maguire’s and flirting with Kelly McElheny on the 6th floor of the Graduate Library?” And the town pauses briefly and asks, “What was your name again?”
Why people continue to have businesses on Franklin Street elude me. Besides Sutton’s Drug Store (1924), Pepper’s Pizza, Ye Olde Waffle House and the various places that sell Tar Heel paraphernalia, every other vendor totters on the precipice of extinction. Shit, even the Gap couldn’t make it here. They should have taken a cue from Schoolkids Records (still extant) and changed their seasons more rapidly.
One such storefront housed my favorite place in Chapel Hill: Barrel of Fun, the arcade with everything, including Chiller (Jon Vaden’s fave), the Cyclone pinball machine, and even Track & Field. Being a pianist, nobody could beat me at Track & Field, and I was pretty fucking good at Paperboy as well.
Of course, the bottom fell out of that market (like it does for everything except razors) and it was replaced with a rapid succession of unworthy stores, none lasting for more than a semester, it seemed. Then the coffee craze hit Chapel Hill with the same caffeine-induced mania it hit every other college town, and the property became Judges (an upscale coffee joint), replaced by The Roastery (an upscale coffee joint) and is now being replaced by Jack Sprat (an upscale coffee joint).
Which leads most scientific-minded souls to wonder what Jack Sprat will have to offer that Judges and The Roastery didn’t (macadamia nut syrup?), but us long-timers know it’s just a matter of time before it’s replaced by Dante’s Lattés (an upscale coffee joint), followed by The Frothery (an upscale coffee joint) and Uncle Fuckwad’s Cock Palace (an upscale coffee joint).
O, when will these merchants learn? The only places that will stay on Franklin Street is the post office and the Starbucks. Everything else will drift off into the ether, replaced by places that sell wraps, or smoothies, or juiceries, or trinkets or muffins. And these, too, will pass as quickly as they come.
You can’t get wistful when recalling your times past in Chapel Hill, or else you will be backed over by the Nostalgia Dumptruck. Nothing will ever stay the same. Trees fall, friends are long gone, and if you don’t make some new memories, your old one will start to smell bad. Remain pliable, as it is your only defense in the fickle world of your best recollections.
Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC – circa 1890