It’s That Time Again: Wing’s World Hits The Road

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for at least a year, you know by now that Wing & Mate take to the road in February with the regularity of migrating swans–minus, of course, the awesome grace.* Also we’re heading east, not north, and also, swans have that life-or-death impulse behind their travels, while ours is more…let’s say … discretionary.

(*please, no Wingspan jokes)

OK, bad metaphor. But anyway, for you newbies, fair warning: Wing’s World is about to morph into a travel blog for the next several weeks.

The original draw for this trip is described in this earlier post; click here to read.

For now, I’m going to enjoy throwing out a few teasers from past trips, answering the question, “Why take seven weeks to drive across the country in the off-season?”

  1. Beautiful places at their least crowded. Like…

    Like Guess Where National Park

2. Beautiful places we’d never even heard of

The Source of the Missouri River, in Montana.

3. Faraway friends with ridiculously cute kids who are growing up way too fast.

NC Wildflower Walk!

4. Hidden cool spots of cities we didn’t even think we liked.

Watching an ambitious grafitti artist at work in Dallas

5. Ridiculously cute animals on the farms of family members.

Ben the Sheepherding Donkey in Vermont 

6. Deserts!

Arches National Park (duh)

7. Mountains!

Long’s Peak in Colorado

8. Desert mountains!

Anza-Borrego SP in California

9. Bike paths! (We are FOOLS for bike paths.)

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

10. and…let’s not forget FOOD.

It’s all about the BBQ. With hush puppies, slaw, and fried okra. Not pictured: sweet tea.

‘Scuse me, I just got very hungry for some reason. But I’ll see you from the road!

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!

Road-Tripping: Tough Job, But Somebody’s Gotta…Nah, I Just Love Road-Tripping.

Serial blizzards in New England. Roller coaster temperatures across the South. And here in the Pacific Northwest, week after week of mid-50s days that are so nice most of us are getting nervous. Someone has to get to the bottom of this continental climate weirdness.

I volunteer. Starting February 21, I vow to drive (with The Mate) across this great country of ours until we a) solve the climate mystery, or b) watch a series of Tarheel basketball games while stuffing our faces with BBQ…whichever comes first.

Kidding. Of course. It’s time for ROAD TRIP V, that’s all! Who needs an excuse?

An explanation, however, might be useful for those of you new to Wing’s World. Here’s what I wrote a year ago about the roots of our annual pilgrimage:

I’ll start with my husband. Former professor at the University of North Carolina, therefore HUGE Tarheel basketball fan. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest 23 years ago, he continued to fly back every March to watch the ACC tournament with his fellow crazed fans friends.

During our sabbatical in New Zealand…yup. You got it. He still flew back. And when the underdog Tarheels WON that year, my husband became a legend among fans.

But he always hated the hassle of flying. So when he retired in 2010, he declared, “That’s it. From now on, I’m driving to Chapel Hill.” Then he uttered the fateful words: “You’ll come too, won’t you?”

And thus was born the Great Annual Cross-Country Road Trip. We are now about to begin our fourth. Along the way to NC and back, we’ll catch up with family members and long-lost friends, visit some national parks, and discover byways we never knew existed in places like, I don’t know, Oklahoma.

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What awaits the Wings this year? All I can tell you is this: I’m an inveterate planner who feels happiest knowing exactly where I’ll be and when I’ll be there, months in advance. The Mate is enjoying, in retirement, a period of spontaneous freedom so unfettered I hate to even ask him his plans for the day not. If there’s one thing these Road Trips have taught us, it’s how to find a balance between our styles.

Luckily for The Mate, traveling in Feb-March means staying flexible. So…our route? I’ll keep you posted!

I wonder: who’s more like me, who’s more like my Mate? Are you a trip-planner, or do you prefer to trip fantastically lightly through your trips? 

 

R.I.P. Dean Smith: Why You Will Love Reading About This Man Even If You Don’t Care Beans About Basketball

I’ll start with the Litany of Impressive Facts, for those of you who don’t follow men’s college basketball. 36 seasons at Carolina. 11 Final Four appearances. Two national championships. 96% graduation rate. Coaching Hall of Fame. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Mate and I are Tarheels, so I’d be lying if I said those facts weren’t a large part of why we admired Coach Smith. And we have a lot of company

Basketball fans in general can thank Coach Smith for the 35-second clock, which was developed in response to his game-slowing Four Corners defense. But they can also thank Coach for that gesture players make after scoring, pointing to the player who passed them the ball to share the glory.  Coach Smith started that tradition, along with starting all seniors (including non-scholarship walk-ons) at their last home game, and having the entire bench stand up when a starter comes out.

That’s not basketball–that’s kindness, honor, decency. And fans of a certain kind of decency will appreciate that Coach Smith never, ever cursed, and did not allow his players to use foul language in his presence either.

We loved Coach Smith’s obvious love and care for his players. Michael Jordan said, 

Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it.”

Other former UNC players–a galaxy of NBA stars, but non-scholarship players as well–are now chiming in with stories of how Coach Smith helped them negotiate the world as they left Carolina, how Coach remembered their mom’s name and asked about her, how Coach would call to check on them if they’d sustained an injury. The man cared.

(Ellen Ozier, Reuters)

(Ellen Ozier, Reuters)

But here’s why I think anyone–not just basketball fans–should want to know about this man. Dean Smith never let his role as a highly-paid, political figure (don’t tell me Div. I basketball coaches aren’t political figures!) keep him from following his conscience. He participated in desegregating restaurants in the early 1960s. In 1966 he was the first coach to offer an African American  player a scholarship at UNC, when white players and fans were still spitting on Black players. He protested, with his church, not only the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, but the death penalty. He even took his players to visit Death Row inmates in Raleigh. In later years, through his church, he supported gay rights.

Remember: we are talking about a MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH. In the SOUTH.

So, you can see why there are many reasons we truly loved Dean Smith. Now here’s one for you to add your admiration.NPR quotes sports writer John Feinstein, a Duke alum who was working on a book about Coach Smith, in the most telling example of Smith’s character:

To me, his legacy is summed up in something that happened that I was involved in peripherally, years and years ago when I first learned about his involvement in desegregating the restaurants in Chapel Hill. And I asked him about it ’cause it was his minister who told me the story.

And he said, I wish Reverend Seymour hadn’t told you that. And I said, Dean, why? Why would you want that? You should be proud of being involved in something like that. And he looked at me, and he said, John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.

I’m going to repeat that last part, just to let it reverberate: “You should never be proud of the doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

Now aren’t you glad you took the time to read about this man? Rest in Peace, Coach–and thank you.

RIP, Stuart Scott–Sportscaster, Tarheel, Dad

If you say “Boo-yah!” when you score points on somebody, if you say someone is “cool as the other side of the pillow,” you’re just one of the millions of us Americans who regularly quote Stuart Scott without realizing it.

Last Sunday, January 4, ESPN announcer Stuart Scott passed away from cancer at the far-too-young age of 49. The Tarheel basketball players I watched this week wore “Stu” patches on their jerseys. Along with all his other roles, Scott was a Tarheel through and through. And I am oddly proud to know that.

Courtesy Wikimedia

Courtesy Wikimedia

Of all the testimonials I’ve read, the two themes that stand out the most are “Stuart Scott, Trailblazer” and “Stuart Scott, Devoted Father.”   ESPN notes that it was Stuart who worked to make the national sports media more relevant to ALL Americans, not just the dominant culture:

ESPN knew enough to have sportscasters who represented 45 million Americans, not to mention 80 percent of the players in the NBA and 70 percent of those in the NFL. What we didn’t know, until Stuart got here, was how important it was to have someone who could relate to them.

“He was a trailblazer,” says ESPN anchor Stan Verrett, “not only because he was black — obviously black — but because of his style, his demeanor, his presentation. He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves.”

“Yes, he brought hip-hop into the conversation,” says Harris, “but I would go further than that. He brought in the barber shop, the church, R&B, soul music. Soul, period.”

Some of his best moments on the air came when he adopted the persona of a preacher: “Can I get a witness from the congregation?!” And one of his best moments off the air came when a producer suggested he change a reference on his NBA show from Omega Psi Phi, the fraternity of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal, to something more universal, like Animal House.

“I have friends who have no idea what that movie is about,” Stuart told him. “That movie was made two decades ago, and black fraternities have been around since 1906.”

Even more important, as this ESPN article and many others show, is how much Scott loved his daughters and made himself an unself-conscious role model for modern dads:

“His girls mean everything to him,” says Harris. “I mean his girls mean everything to him. He would easily take Stuart Scott, dad, over Stuart Scott, ‘SportsCenter’ anchor.”

“He’s a great, great dad,” says Ramsey. “He just takes so much pride in the girls, and you can’t see him without him taking out his phone and showing you a video of Taelor or Sydni singing or dancing or playing soccer.”

Occasionally, Stuart would give a shout-out to Sydni’s soccer team, but that was easy compared to another commitment he made to his daughters. “His daughters and my daughters danced at the same studio,” says Anderson. “One year we went to their performance of ‘The Nutcracker.’ And here comes Uncle Drosselmeyer, and I thought, ‘That man looks a lot like Stuart Scott,’ and it was — he was there for his girls. I’ll never forget him coming out in this big cape, swooping in with his nutcracker, and he was great. I’m not sure the dance steps were up to Baryshnikov, but certainly the intentions were.”

 

Then there’s Stuart Scott, cancer warrior, inspiration: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”

So why does it matter that Scott was a true-Carolina-blue Tarheel till the end? It doesn’t, not really. Except that who wouldn’t want to claim any kind of allegiance with a human being like this?

Thanks, Stuart. Go Heels. Rest in peace.

Gone to Carolina in My Mind…But My Body’s a Lot Happier Here, Thanks

Who knew? I’m part of a tribe: GRITS. Girls Raised in The South. 

I just learned that from a bumper sticker, back in my home state of North Carolina on a visit with my besties from high school. The fact that I never heard this term when I lived there, 24 years ago, tells me something.

Roots change. Or rather, our sense of where we come from, and how we feel about it–that changes. Continuously, it turns out.

When The Mate and I moved, in 1990, it was largely out of frustration. North Carolina had just re-elected Senator Jesse Helms for a SIXTH term. A baldly racist campaign, playing on white fears of preferential treatment for blacks, left us feeling shaken and soured. So much for the “New South.”

Then there was the weather. We were both distance runners. The only way to get our workout in during the summer was to be out the door by 6 am. That got old real fast.

In the Pacific Northwest, we found a home, both culturally and geographically. I developed a mantra for explaining to people how I felt about the South.

“I only miss five things,” I’d say. “My parents, Tarheel basketball, big ol’ oak trees, fried chicken, and BBQ.” For years, I said that.

Now, thinking back over the sweaty weekend I just spent with my girls on the coast, I realize my non-nostalgia is more nuanced. Here are some other things I’ve missed:

#1. Flat-out Wackiness. The South has a special affection for “characters.” Despite its insistence on conformity in most issues of dress and religion and Livin’ Right, if you’re a “character,” you can not only get away with quite a bit, you’re loved for it. Example: The Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art compound we discovered. Part connected treehouses, part structures of bottles stuck in mortar–think End of Star Wars III meets The Burrow from Harry Potter, with a little Gothic Pippi Longstocking thrown in.

Building inspectors aren't too picky in Supply, NC.

Building inspectors aren’t too picky in Supply, NC.

Mary's Gone Wild! But she's good folks.

Mary’s Gone Wild! But she’s good folks.

#2. Summer Veggies. Having not been back in the summer for years and years, I had forgotten about SWEET sweet corn, velvety slabs of ripe tomato, basil bursting weedlike out of gardens. And the watermelon? Makes me feel like crying just thinking about it. We don’t get enough sun here in the Pacific Northwest to grow hot-weather crops that taste the way they were meant to.

#3. Quaint vestiges of respect built into conversation. “Yes, ma’am, these peaches are ripe.” And my mom, who tutors a guy older than me who’s finally learning to read, says he calls her “Miss Martha.”

#4. Did I mention wackiness? These ironic flamingos decorated our rental house:

Is that even legal?

Is that even legal?

#5. Boiled peanuts. Just try ’em, ok? You’ll see what I mean.

#6. Fried pickles. Ditto.

Of course I bumped into several items to add to my WHAT I DON’T MISS list, namely:

#1. Smoking. YECCCCCCCCCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHHH. People still smoke a lot more in NC than they do here. And there’s still tobacco growing every old where.

#2. Billboards. Everywhere. Turning otherwise pretty land into pretty ugly land.

#. Humidity. Yeah, that one’s not new. But I had forgotten how much my HAIR hates it. I turned into a sticky, grumpy Mufasa. “Muuu-FASSS-ahhhh!”

But enough with the lists. I’m home now, and I’m curious about your own love-hate relationship with a place you once called home. What do you miss? What do you NOT miss? Share!