state tree: longleaf pine


Tonight we went to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (yes, that academy) for a low-key yet inspiring party for this years crop of bright-eyed Tar Heels trying to make it in Lalaland through the UNC Hollywood Internship Program. I wish everyone could see how much fun these folks were having, exactly the sort of thing we would have LOVED if it had existed in 1990 when some of us tried coming out here the first time.

Of the things UNC has now (but didn’t when I was there): air conditioning, drop/add by phone, THE INTERNET, and this Hollywood Internship Program. First off, the internet. Can you imagine how much easier everything is with Google? I was one of the last classes to graduate before the internet came to Carolina, and I remember actually having to go to the frickin’ library to research something. The book would inevitably be gone, and I’d be stuck on the sixth floor of Davis wondering what the fuck I was going to do about my paper due in eight hours.

I don’t say this like other old farts say stuff about “kids today.” When old people kvetch about kids’ manners, or their dress, or their technology, they’re usually complaining about something that had evolved differently over the decades. The internet, however, exploded onto UNC in the course of about two years and I just missed it by a matter of eighteen months or so. Unbelievable.

Anyway, this internship is awesome – lots of these UNC grads get internships with other Carolina alumni, gigs in major movie production houses, TV studios and whatever else we can rustle up for them. They have that wide-eyed excitement of being in Hollywood, and as one of them said, “escaping from the boondocks” (she was from Salisbury, NC).

This is my old fart rant, and it is 100% true: when I came to LA in 1990 and looked for a job, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and drove gas prices out of my reach. Not being able to find employment, I subsisted on a brick of cheddar cheese and Branola wheat bread for two weeks (I know I’ve said that before, but it feels good to type). Finally, through my angel of mercy John Altschuler (who was also there tonight), I got a gig at New Line Cinema as their first intern. Three weeks into the job, I got rear-ended by a reggae drummer in a white truck that gave me whiplash and totaled my car. Weeks later I was back in Chapel Hill, wondering what the fuck went wrong.

These UNC program interns will be spared that fate, and from the looks of a few of them, they’ll be producing some of your favorite movies and TV shows in 2012. But I don’t begrudge them a centimeter; it’s right for each successive generation to have a slightly easier time, and while my adventures in Hollywood have been occasionally horrific, I wouldn’t trade one second of the Wild Teacup Ride that got me where I am.


at Mallory May’s house just before leaving, May 1990

0 thoughts on “state tree: longleaf pine

  1. ken

    I hear ya. I didn’t even get as far as Hollywood before my cinematic internship fizzled out. Through a tenuous connection through one of my Film Production Professors at U of Iowa, I managed to get an interview with someone at Orion. They accepted me but then called me back a few weeks later to say that the company was on the verge of banruptcy, so they were no longer taking on any interns.
    My fallback internship was at a Chicago radio station which led to a commercial radio DJ gig. Thirteen years later, I’m still at the same station in Chicago (where I met my wife) working with no less than five Iowa grads. So now we have our own little unofficial Iowa-to-Chicago radio pipeline.

  2. jje

    Drop/add by phone? That was the latest and greatest of spring semester 1991. I was part of the last class to go through drop/add in Woollen, so I remember well the introduction of Caroline and her cruelly indifferent “Request Denied.” Anyway, it’s all done via the internet these days. My understanding is everybody has their own UNC homepage where they do everything from picking classes and checking grades to paying tuition and sending/receiving e-mail, etc.
    And I was mostly born and raised in Salisbury (except for a stint in France) and my parents stll live there. It’s less than an hour outside of Charlotte and less than two from our beloved Chapel Hill. It’s a small town, yes, with both charming and frustrating small town ways, but hardly the boondocks. We even have a Starbucks. And the internet. ;-)

  3. alan

    They can have hollywood and all that, I prefer the boondocks anyday. Good folks, down home southern food, and simple living vs. rude people, crappy overpriced food, and a general overindulging lifestyle.
    “way down yonder in the land of cotton
    Old times there ain’t near as rotten as they are
    On this damned old L.A. street ” -Dwight Yoakam

  4. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    What a great program! Ugh — how wonderful it must be to be a college student these days. Remember typing papers in the “computer lab”, waiting for an available terminal, printing on the dot matrix printer. No cell phones, no a/c, no cable TV. We totally missed the boat, man.
    Nothing about my Carolina experience looks very cutting edge now. Except for one thing — I (and Julianna!) was part of the first UNITAS group in Carmichael Dorm in 1987-88. It was a multi-cultural living/learning program, established before anyone even heard of Multi-Culturalism. Before stuff like “The Real World” (this is the story of 7 strangers, picked to live in a dorm. . . ). From what I can tell, UNITAS is still alive and kicking. Multi-Culturalism in the state of Jesse Helms! We thought we were all so forward-thinking and progressive. . . which I guess we were at the time. Although, truth be told, the average Carolina student probably referred to us as “that group of gays and weirdos over in Carmichael Dorm.”
    Now I see that UNC has ALL SORTS of living/learning programs. . . . Man, to be a college student again!

  5. Emily

    Hey, we college students still need the library for research! Most of my papers require 15 to 20 sources, and there’s always a limit on internet journals/magazines. And google doesn’t even help that much.. once you have a topic narrowed down, it’s too big to use.
    I can’t really complain though, since I’m sitting in my air conditioned apartment reading and waiting for laundry to dry in the next room. :)

  6. eric g.

    Another important innovation at UNC: at Sundance this year, I met two of the first class of graduates from the UNC screenwriting program. Imagine that!
    And we cannot forget two important contributions of Salisbury, NC to Southern culture: Cheerwine and Francis Bouvier (aka Aunt Bea).

  7. CL

    I’m still feeling post traumatic stress from my early 1990s job hunt. That was not a good time.
    But yeah, our struggles got us where we are today. ;)

  8. kjf

    your last line is so true. i want the creative people who entertain me to have struggled to get to their end product. there’s more passion there and the results are better for it. maybe that sounds like a cliche but i think its true.

  9. cullen

    Tar Heel nostalgia–that must have had some pangs all its own to be first time leaving ye Old Well for Beverly Thrills. Glad you see the booty in ’em both. It is a wonderful thing that NC is and has been such a great film location, another intangible feature of our state that behooves anyone in that industry, these lucky interns included.
    Oh yeah, I heard Hobex on WFUV this morning. Stars align.

  10. jje

    Add Elizabeth Dole (okay, a Republican and a dook grad – understandably not the greatest example for this particular blog), Bobby Jackson, and Carl Torbush (okay, technically East Spencer, but he lived a stone’s throw from the uptown) to the list.
    Andrew Jackson read law for several years in Salisbury.
    I’m 99% positive Phil Ford’s sister went to Livingston College because I remember him telling a story at a Ram’s Club meeting about how visiting her at college inspired him want to attend college, too. Can you imagine Carolina without Phil Ford?
    Have a Food Lion in your area? Founded and HQ’ed in Salisbury. At one point, the state’s largest concentration of millionaires resided in Salisbury…because of “Food Town” stock.
    And you can’t forget Cheerwine and the best barbecue this side of Lexington!

  11. scruggs

    JJE…I’ll give a shoutout to the Salisbury Metropolitan area for you. My father was from Spencer and his father was a train man. And you can’t beat Winks’s BBQ of Exit 76 for tailgating before a Heels game. BBQ in GA sucks. There wsed to be this dive place called the Chicken Shack that had the BEST beer battered french fries, too. And my aunt is a Ketner of Food Town and Apple House (gone now) cafeteria fame.
    As for the young ‘uns in Chapel Hill having it easier now, you should check out Lenoir and the Undergrad if you haven’t in the last few years. Fancy digs compared to back in the day.

  12. CP

    alan gets the worst homespun logic/weakest sweeping generalization award for his uninformed indictment of los angeles, which he seems to feel the need to do in order to defend the honor of country living.
    [insert dueling banjos theme from deliverance here.]
    fine. but the question then becomes this: if someone doesn’t know what the word schmuck means, how rude is it for me to call them one?

  13. Neva

    Oooh! This is a good day to be an Ian blog reader! I, too, am from Salisbury. The coincidences and connections of the folks on your blog are startling Ian! Hello to my homies! I lived there for 16 years! Can talk Food Town, Chicken Shack, Hap’s hamburger’s, Rufty’s general store with the best of them. I know most of the Ketners so Scruggs and jje – we must all know each other or are related somehow. My Mom was principal of Overton School for 20 years there and maybe she taught some of you? It’s a good town, a little small minded if you ask me but still feels safe and will be “home” forever.
    The latest Sbury news is that homeboy John Hart has a bestseller book which will soon be made into a movie. It’s called King of Lies and I heard it is entertaining.

  14. Rebecca

    Okay kids – My Mother is from Salisbury, so I spent a lot of time there too! (I grew up in the midwest, but moved to Cabarrus county when I was 13.) My grandfather was a train engineer in Spencer and went to high school with Wilson Smith, the other founder of Food Lion,along with Ralph Ketner. My Mother also grew up attending First United Methodist church with the Hanfords, as in Elizabeth Hanford Dole. Liddy actually babysat my Mom a few times.
    BBQ – my all time favorite is Gary’s in China Grove.
    Salisbury is such a beautiful, small southern town. I haven’t been there is about 3 years, since my Grandmother died. Now I am going to have to visit next month when I go to NC.
    JJE and Neva, I was class of 92 at UNC, so we were probably there around the same time. These interconnections keep me coming back to this blog. Well, that and pictures of Lucy.

  15. jje

    My grandfather worked at the Hanford’s shop and my grandmother used to say that Liddy “was the ugliest baby you ever seen!” ;-) And I attended First Methodist for a while and remember when the Dole’s would come into town, creating a bit a of stir attending church with Mrs. Hanford.
    Yummm…Gary’s and Hap’s (I’m partial to their ‘dogs, myself). I’d say Gary’s was the best bbq place around, though Winks is pretty dang good, too. Anyway, short of Lexington, you’re not going to get finer bbq. I often tell my yankee Dad, who learned to cook Lexington style from my maternal grandfather, that he’d make a fortune if he opened up a bbq restaurant in Charlotte.
    I’m old enough to still trip up and say “Food Town” every once in a while.
    I think the Chicken Shack is still going, but I’m not positive.
    Sadly, OO Rufty’s finally sold out of their family after over 100 years in business. I think it’s still a general store of sorts, but it’s got another name (something cutesy and dumb) and owner. It’s a shame, because it was a nice tourism destination.
    Interesting trivia – the scene in “The Color Purple” where Celie is in a general store, peeping at the woman she thinks has adopted her children? OO Rufty’s!
    Rebecca – I was class of ’94, so we were definitely there at the same time!

  16. jje

    Oh, and I can’t wait until Connor is old enough to appreciate the train museum in Spencer. He’s already been there for his first train ride, but of course he’s just one and I could have had him in a wheelbarrow for the same excitement level at this point in his life.
    But when he’s all gaga for trains, this is going to be a fun place to go explore.

  17. Rebecca

    JJE: My grandmother was Mary Dell Faison. Maybe you knew her, she was in the same old ladies Sunday school class with Mrs. Hanford.
    Why would someone change the name of OO Rufty’s? Foolish.
    Your son will love the train museum. I take my kids there everytime I go to NC!

  18. scruggs

    So, Neve, Rebecca, and JJE…
    My father and his brother were the first to go to college and got out of Spencer. My aunt got married out of h.s. and she and her kids are all still there; they went to N Rowan, unfortunately never went to college and all pretty much had kids by age 17, then got married! But we all keep in touch. My uncle married Betty Ketner, who was from China Grove and the daughter of Brown, Ralph’s brother). So pretty much everyone is related by this point.

  19. jje

    Scruggs, Rebecca, Neva – my maternal side of the family has deep roots in Salisbury/China Grove/Rowan County. Grandparents were Barnhardts (Tommy Barnhardt, punter at Carolina in mid ’80s, is my mother’s cousin) and Links and Breedloves. I’d be willing to bet we’re all distant cousins in some form or fashion!

  20. Rebecca

    My Mother’s cousin married a Barnhardt, her name is Carol. I know lots of Links, off the top of my head I can think of Carole and Anne, who might be cousins.
    Anyway, my Father does some genealogy research and he once told me that most of the natives in that area of NC are related by birth or marriage. Personally, I am always open to more interesting relatives than the ones I have, so I will henceforth refer to you ladies as Cousins Scruggs, Neva and JJE. Goodnight!


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