Road Trip VII, Days 10-16: Tobacco Road (a.k.a.Durham and Chapel Hill, NC) During March Madness

Spending a week in the house you grew up in will, when you’re my age, make you think. A LOT. First of all, I’m one of the VERY few people I know in their mid-50s whose parents both still live in the house they raised me in. Which means I can, in fact, go home again–with apologies to fellow Tarheel Thomas Wolfe.

That’s a pretty rarified privilege right there.

So I’ve been spending the week thinking about privilege. Not just white privilege, which has been much on people’s minds since, say, Trayvon Martin, with the 2016 election as a nice little underline that this shit is real. No, I’m talking about about a more generalized idea of privilege. The kind you breathe growing up, to the point where you’re not aware of it. Like air, it’s just THERE.

That’s how it feels to be a Duke or a Carolina basketball fan.

Yes, the two programs, at either end of Tobacco Road, are  bitter rivals. One’s private, one’s public. But like their colors, both share only slightly different shades of the same blue-bloodedness. While some universities would give their eyeteeth to be able to join the NCAA Big Dance even as a lowly 16-seed, Duke and Carolina people are shaken to the core at the mere possibility of coming in anywhere lower than a 6. (Yes, it has happened, and no, I don’t wanna talk about it.)

Full disclosure: I’m a Carolina fan who was practically raised on the Duke campus. So I know what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about walls–visible and invisible. I’m talking about that sense of safety and well-being that comes with belonging to an exclusive club. I’m talking about walking onto a park-like campus of huge trees and gracious architecture thinking nothing more than, “Hmm, a chicken biscuit sounds good right now” or “That’s a cool shirt, maybe I’ll get one of those.”

Order yours today.

[Note: a major component of club-belonging is in-jokes. Case in point: the above T-shirt, which would take so long for me to explain to you that I’ll just mention the hashtag and move on: #theceilingistheroof ]

The other day I took a break between watching ACC basketball games with my fellow Carolina Tarheel fanatics*** and went for a run along Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill. There I saw a young woman lying in a hammock strung between two trees, on a tiny island in the middle of the creek. She was working on her laptop, in the hammock. (I don’t generally carry a camera when I run, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)

[***since, for those of you new to Wing’s World, watching ACC games with our Tarheel Tribe, from our former NC lives, is the reason the Mate and I started road tripping to begin with]

That girl was, I decided, the perfect symbol for this feeling I was trying to capture: confident in her ability to creek-hammock without asking anyone’s permission, in her safety to do so without getting bothered, in her artless joy in the beauty of her surroundings. Laptop in hammock in creek? Can’t get more privileged than that.

The wall surrounding Duke’s East Campus doesn’t keep anyone out. It just sends a message.

That was my whole childhood: supported, surrounded, embraced. I had Duke Forest practically in my backyard to run and ramble in, the Duke track to train on, Duke coaches to consult with (during my high school years) and hone my athletic talent and (I suspect) help me get into the college of my choice.

One of the Duke Forest entrances. Anyone can enter…but does everyone feel, as I did, that it was really mine?

Of course I’m not saying that everyone who walks onto the Duke or Carolina campuses comes from circumstances as lucky as mine. I know most of them must face, or have faced, adversity of some kind–financial, emotional, physical, all three. But once members of those Duke or Carolina tribes, we are somehow blessed for life, whether we choose to think about it or not. We belong. We expect our team to win.

So what?

I’m still thinking about the “so what” part. I suspect it has to do with empathy. What, I wonder, do you think?

PS: Go Heels!

Road a Trip V, Days 15-17, Durham, NC: Dook-Carolina: The Joy of Irrational Hatred

“To Hate Like a This Is To Be Happy Forever.” That’s the title of Will Blythe’s book on Duke-Carolina basketball, and it’s been on my mind. (The modest subtitle: “A Throughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-Carolina Basketball Rivalry.”)

(Courtesy Indieboun.org)

(Courtesy Indieboun.org)

 

 

I am a native North Carolinian and a walking Duke-Carolina mashup. A professor’s daughter, I was practically raised on the Duke campus. In high school I spent as much time taking Duke classes, training with the Duke track team, and dating Dukies as I did being a high schooler (Hey, those track guys were cute!). Then, in college, I underwent a Michael Jordan 1982-NCAA Championship conversion to Tarheelism thanks to my then-boyfriend-now-Mate, and Duke became Dook. For six years we enjoyed season tickets in Chapel Hill. Despite moving to the west coast in 1990, we continued to watch and listen to every Tarheel game, wearing our Tarheel gear. And, since 2011, I’ve driven across the country with The Mate every spring to watch ACC tournament games (and eat BBQ) with our Tarheel Tribe.

My parents remain Dookies. It goes without saying we don’t watch games together; we don’t even talk basketball. But our Tarheel Tribe? We call Duke’s Coach K “that weasel.” Although I am an otherwise nice person (or so I’ve heard), I relate completely to Mr. Blythe’s book–something my friends who know me only through music or Quaker Meeting probably find bemusing.

(Courtesy Johnnytshirt.com)

(Courtesy Johnnytshirt.com)

This past weekend, The Mate and I had the opportunity to relive our past and attend the Carolina-Duke game. Last game of the regular season. Senior Night. First time (for me & The Mate) back in the Dean Dome in 25 years. And it all came back: the ridiculousness, the over-the-top display of sports commercialization, the wriggling cheerleaders, the immature fans…and the pure, raw, irrational passion of team sport.

No matter what else it is, college basketball is religion. And Carolina-Duke is Mecca. 

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Sports pundits nationwide call it the greatest rivalry in sports. Hyperbole? I don’t think so. But who cares? 

I screamed myself hoarse, convinced that the ball depended on my noise to guide it into the basket. When Carolina lost, succumbing to a–let’s face facts–superior squad of players, I blamed myself as much as the Heels. Just a few more decibels…!

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I don’t hate Duke. Duke practically raised me; it paid (through my dad) for most of my college tuition; it launched me as a competitive athlete. But Dook? Dookies? May they burn in Blue Hell with the Weasel!

Except for my parents, of course. And a handful of old friends; they know who they are. And they understand…to hate like this is to be happy forever. If only all hatred were so benign!