You’ve probably already seen them. As my friend who just moved to Carrboro from Durham described the ones she saw in Harris Teeter: young men, dressed in polos with Croakies around their necks, carrying cases of Natural Light. But that’s just a certain species in the family.
But the entire kingdom – those that attend the University of North Carolina – are back.
A lot of natives have a love-hate relationship with students. The university makes us a center of innovation and there’s no denying the students’ economic impact. But the invincibility with which they walk across the street at any time, at any hour, can be maddening. But empathize with the youngest members of the species. They’ve come from down the road or from across the world, with lofty dreams and crazy schemes, and a backpack in tow. And not one thing can stop them. Except for one thing…they don’t have a car.
When I was a freshman at Carolina, I felt like I was experiencing particular frustration, because I KNEW everything that was out there and I couldn’t really get around as easily as I did before. So, what can you do in Chapel Hill with students without cars?
The only way I avoided the “freshman fifteen” was because I lived in the dorm named for the student who WALKED all the way from Wilmington to attend UNC. And I lived on the sixth floor and took the stairs nine times out of ten. And I walked to Franklin Street.
In the wise words of Petula Clark, “Downtown – everything’s waiting for you.”
TOUR DOWNTOWN: After you’ve finished your early afternoon class, take some time to tour the Ackland Art Museum. I went there on a class field trip, but their collections are always changing. And their museum store has re-opened so you can take a bit of the museum home to your dorm room.
EAT DOWNTOWN: Chapel Hill’s very own mayor is exploring just how many places you can eat downtown. You too, should check out #everydowntownChapelHilllunchspot. But if you don’t have the right meal plan or you’re short on time, just check out my faves: Breadmen’s, Linda’s, Pepper’s, Spanky’s, Sandwhich, Sutton’s, and Cosmic Cantina. (Long, long, ago, The Rat, was my dad and my place, but more recently I’m hoping to make the pilgrimage to B’Skis for their mecca of soda).
VIEW DOWNTOWN: One of my favorite memories as a student was during a snow storm. My friend and I walked from our sorority house to make snow angels in the middle of Franklin Street and see a fantastic flick at The Varsity. Now the tickets are $3, why wouldn’t you go see a movie? – even on a school night. (The first time I saw a movie by myself – it was for extra credit for Italian class and I went to The Varsity – but ended up being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.)
INDULGE DOWNTOWN: So if you’re doing all this walking, then you’re allowed to indulge. If you’re craving something sweet on Franklin Street, check out: Sugarland, Cold Stone Creamery, Sweet Frog, Ben & Jerry’s, The Yogurt Pump, and a bit further afield, The Chocolate Door.
And because I learned some hard lessons about credit cards, I’m skipping the “shop downtown” description. But if you can exercise better self-control than a freshman, then you should check out this list of stores.
And a great way to get acquainted with downtown Chapel Hill? While on foot? And win prizes? Get a team together for the annual Love Chapel Hill Scavenger Hunt! Stay tuned for details, but make sure that you save the date for October 13!
But what if you want to go beyond Franklin Street? You could walk to Carrboro, but it might take a while. Or find yourself hitchhiking down Estes Drive Extension (yes, I am speaking from personal experience, and it was much, MUCH, more recent than when I was a freshman). And in explaining the wealth of transit options for those without a car, I believe I will show my age, but here’s what you can do to get around Chapel Hill without a car:
So, children…long, long ago, a person could travel on a bus, plunking your coins in at the front of the bus. If you wanted to know when the bus would arrive or depart, you looked at a printed schedule. But guess what? Students today can ride *fare free* on Chapel Hill Transit. And want to know when your next bus will arrive? No problem! Take out your smartphone, and type in nextbus.com and you’ll know almost exactly when you’ll be on your way!
And some places, you could probably walk to, but you just need to get there a bit quicker, and avoid an arrival where you’re dressed in sweat. Just this year, the Bike Share Task Force in conjunction with the Residence Hall Association has created UNC’s first bicycle share program called Tar Heel Bikes. According to the program’s FAQ, “For the two-year pilot program, bicycles will only be available for residents of Craige, Hinton James, and Ehringhaus. Each bicycle will act as an enhancement in which the residents of these communities who have signed the usage and waiver policy may checkout a bike for daily use.”
Another innovation unavailable to the Class of [REDACTED], was the Zipcar. I see sedans parked at Bynum and by Swain, and – though envying their parking spot – realized that *anyone* can take them for a ride for a small price. But, maybe the Zipcar’s predecessor is still a transit convention folks still use: the taxi. Yes, I did call a taxi to Hinton James once to take me where I needed to go. But in all seriousness, if you’ve been drinking, PLEASE call a taxi. Have a couple of numbers saved in my phone and can recommend Carolina Taxi, Destiny Transportation, and Red Ride.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ve yet to go on a road diet, because I’m still trying to master my food diet. As I alluded to before, it’s been a while since I was a co-ed at Carolina. But the young and able Town of Chapel Hill planning staffer Megan Wooley is doing A LOT in Chapel Hill without a car. She’s trying 30 days of living locally, trying to “[o]nly shop at locally-owned stores, only eat at locally-owned restaurants, and only be entertained at locally-owned venues for the month of August.” Though, I think we all have different definitions of local, I’m impressed with her initiative, and I think reading her blog (check out her two first posts here and here) might give the wayward freshman with no automobile some great ideas.
So, if you’ve just come to campus, welcome. You’re at the beginning of four (or five, I confess for me) of the best years. But even if you’ve been here for decades, there so much to do in Chapel Hill, even if you don’t have a car.