People From Kansas

This week, I expressed frustration about a current narrative going around town, one that poses the question, “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo?”  I countered that the question shouldn’t be have we “lost our mojo,” but have we lost our “mojo ambassadors?” 
But it’s not fair for me to wonder where our ambassadors are, without putting my money where my mouth is.  So, here’s the beginning of an independent study in How To Becoming Ambassadors from the County of Orange, no political fundraising or foreign language study required. 
In discussing how we explore and show off how cool Chapel Hill is, I spoke with a couple of members of the Chapelboro crew about how we could talk about “what to do in Chapel Hill” with different groups.  Like “what to in Chapel Hill with your in-laws,” or “what to do in Chapel Hill with a precocious pre-teen.”  And the news director of a certain radio station offered, “you know, like what to do with people from Kansas.” 
Yes!  People from Kansas!  Turns out my dad is one of those people.  Born in Emporia and schooled in Topeka and Lawrence, my dad eventually found his way to the southern part of heaven.  (Former UNC provost Bernadette Gray-Little did the reverse of that journey.)
Although not a Jayhawker myself, this is my humble attempt to give a quick primer for those who have emigrated from the Sunflower State to the Old North State:

Photo credit: Phillip Brubaker

Arbor Day Every Day:  Every time my grandma Vesta (yes, her name really was Vesta) came to visit, she couldn’t stop talking about the TREES.  I was young and thought to myself “Geez, they’re just trees, Grandma.  What’s the big deal?”  But compared to Kansas’ geography, we really do have a lot of trees.  So, if you want to take in the shade of a tree, here are some great options:
                Carrboro: Tree City, USA, twenty-seven years running. 
Coker Arboretum: Arboretum literally means a “botanical garden devoted to trees.”  Don’t miss this on-campus gem. And if you’re getting hitched, it’s a great photo op.  
Davie Poplar: While you’re on campus, be sure to stop by this legend-laden tree

My friend Elena and I under the Davie Poplar

When I was a fourth grader at Carrboro Elementary, we were given an enrichment unit on ornithology, the study of birds.  Each of us had to do a special report on a bird, and I thought, Well, I’m going to do my report on the Jayhawk.  Well, I’m positive that even younger kids know that a Jayhawk is not a real bird, but if you’re interested in pursuing real live birds, Chapel Hill has a lot to offer. 
Chapel Hill Bird Club: I had no idea, but the only bird club in the Triangle meets at my church on the fourth Monday of the month. 
Mason Farm Biological Reserve: Read more about The Birds of Chapel Hill, or see them for yourself at a natural area accessible through the NC Botanical Gardens.
Wild Bird Center:  Maybe you’re not feeling as adventurous, and you just want the birds to come to you.  Get your backyard birdseed at one of Chapel Hill’s diverse and fun commercial centers.  
Even before one’s feet hit the red clay, most know the reputation North Carolina has for wood-smoked pork.  But for anyone hailing from Kansas City (Kansas OR Missouri), he or she skips the East vs. West debate and goes straight for Kansas City-style barbecue.   I’ll always say you’re better off just going to Allen & Son, but if you want to do it Kansas City style, here are your best bets. 
Cliff’s Meat Market and The Meat House: When I was little, I thought Cliff’s sign for “Rabbits Inside” meant he sold baby bunnies, and most folks expect to sit down for prime rib at The Meat House.  But these two local butchers are the best places to get your raw material. 
Southern Season: Though you just missed their Carolina Sauce Off, this world-renowned gourmet grocery still has everything you could possibly need to baste, marinate, coat, and accompany your meat.
UNC Press: This local publisher gave us the barbecue bible, and tipped me off (via Twitter) to the entity that can help Kansans find the barbecue they crave. 

My lunch at Allen & Son with Hanna Raskin

So welcome, ye people from Kansas, (or people from the Midwest, or from really anywhere) – we’re glad you’re here at The Edge of the Triangle.  Come stay a while. 

And for the rest of you?  Join me in becoming an ambassador.  Let’s show off our mojo.

Be Mojo Ambassadors

Just a few weeks ago, the Orange County Visitors Bureau launched a new campaign, inviting visitors to come see, taste, tune in to, and explore Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough.  A local print outlet took the CVB’s new marketing campaign to pose the question, “What makes Chapel Hill cool?” and a corollary question, “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo?” 

It’s a question worth asking.  We want to have confidence in our brand’s strength and durability before we invest additional resources.  But I worry that the question shouldn’t be “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo?” but rather “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo ambassadors?”

As a native that loves welcoming people to Orange County from as close as the county next door and as far away as the other O.C., it breaks my heart to have someone come into the Chamber saying, “Hi.  I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for over a decade. I’m expecting visitors.  And I’m thinking about taking them to Raleigh.”

In response to its coverage of the Visitors Bureau’s request for additional funding, the editor of the Chapel Hill News asked the question about “What makes Chapel Hill cool?”  This list has countless entries for me and I hope to help formalize and promote this list. 

But I think it’s important to clarify a few things before we start making the list…

First: Touting Carrboro’s merit over Chapel Hill is entertaining because rivalries are fun, but they aren’t helpful in trying to promote our area.  Visitors don’t know where town limits are, and they certainly don’t know the ins and outs of sales tax distribution.  So it doesn’t matter if they pick Crooks Corner or Carrburritos, which are almost spitting distance from each other.  It just matters that we invite them here to Orange County and ask them to spend their money here in Orange County

Second: For those folks that did not have North Carolina history in fourth and eighth grade, the University of North Carolina was chartered in 1789, the first public university in the nation.   UNC employs 8,325 people and is the driving factor for 40% of the visitors that come to this area.  As a Carolina alum, I don’t understand when residents don’t recognize how being home to this world-class research university is one of the coolest things about Chapel Hill.  

Third: In reading the responses to Chapel Hill News’ editor’s question, the most disheartening answer was from the town’s current planning board chair.  She says we’re lacking imagination and warns against chain stores.  Claims like those ignore the innovation in our town –happening both on campus and off– and shows little faith in our incredible brand.  Having a few nationally branded stores where residents could purchase affordable goods does not do any damage to our brand; if anything, it helps recapture sales tax revenue lost to neighboring counties, and that revenue can be used to market our area to both visitors and relocating businesses. 

So I don’t think we’ve lost our mojo.  Be proud of Carrboro and how cool it is.  Tout the university and its innovation.  But whether you’re welcoming people to the “southern part of heaven” or to “the edge of the Triangle,” join me in being a mojo ambassador by saying, “Come to — and stay in — Chapel Hill,” one of the coolest places you’ll ever visit.