An atlas of North Carolina's best places for an ass-whuppin'
I asked for the places where you could conceivably meet up for a ridiculous fistfight. Here are the top five (and more), ranked by your votes.
You wanna go? I said, DO YOU WANNA GO? Because if you do, may I refer you to this Google Map I made:
Two weeks ago, I posed this question: What city is North Carolina’s Temecula? If you didn’t read that newsletter, here’s the shorthand: Temecula is a small city that’s in between two larger cities where you might drive to in order to get into a fistfight over something trivial (in Temecula’s case, it was a Twitter spat over Kobe Bryant). Anyhow, I wondered, hey, maybe you all know of some places where people might be inclined to get into fights.
You sent me 74 different places.
Some were oddly specific, like the 8th Street Ballpark in Spencer, the Bojangles in Siler City, or the wildlife boat ramp in Coinjock. A few were general, like anywhere on Highway 301 between Rocky Mount and Dunn, behind the library (like, any library), and your choice of parking lots on U.S. 70 in the greater Hickory area. Almost all of these places are just off of major roads, which is a win for ease-of-access. They’re fairly evenly distributed across the state, with one big exception: very few are in the mountains. You also have introduced me to the delightful euphemism that is “catching hands.” Thanks in advance for the thing that’ll have my wife asking me “why are you grinning like an idiot” for the next week or so.
Here’s what I did: I took all of your replies on Twitter, Facebook, and on the actual newsletter itself, wrote down all of the place names, put every one on a map, and then tallied up the ones that got the most mentions. I did not add any places of my own to this list. Hence, while I was personally mad that nobody suggested that you might eat a rapid succession of knuckle sandwiches in Roanoke Rapids, that city did not make the cut. Also, know that as much as I am analyzing and adding context to this data, this is quite unscientific. Again, you are reading this in a newsletter called the North Carolina Rabbit Hole. Think about how ridiculous it would be to cite your source when speaking about this.
Overall Winner: Gaston County
Remember how I told you that Gastonia was a lazy answer? Well guess what? Seven of you said Gastonia anyway, because — and I’m just going out on a limb here — y’all are lazy. But then something remarkable happened in one thread when someone else pointed out how uninspired Gastonia was: Several of you just named OTHER TOWNS IN GASTON COUNTY. Bessemer City! Dallas! Lowell! Ranlo! (cups hands around mouth) Ranlooooooooooooo!
I used to work with a guy from Gaston County, and he said something to me years ago that I still think about. Sure, Gastonia is a punchline for Charlotteans, because everybody has a place that they think they’re superior to, and they need a shorthand way to reference it. But my former colleague said no, people in Gastonia don’t look at themselves as inferior to Charlotte. Rather, they think they’re better than people in Bessemer City. And if you’re in Bessemer City, you think you’re better than people in, say, Cherryville. And on it goes. At some point, you have a slippery slope of people looking down. I’m guessing that the lowest point of the trough, at least in Gaston County, would be Spencer Mountain, which had a population of 2, and really can’t defend itself.
Still, though, there is very specific Bessemer City-Gastonia beef that I never understood. At least, not until Rabbit Hole reader and Charlotte Ledger proprietor Tony Mecia sent me a few old clips from the Charlotte Observer. Here’s an item from February 1998:
During a City Council discussion about prostitution in Gastonia's Highland community, [then-city manager Danny] Crew talked about efforts the city has made to eradicate the problem and how difficult it is. He mentioned how prostitution had been moved from one part of the city to another, then added: “We'd like to just kind of move them over to Bessemer City or somewhere.”
Bessemer City got MAD. Crew later apologized, and the Bessemer City folk accepted it, but the article goes on to talk about the idea that Charlotte looked down on Gastonia, but all of Gaston County saw Bessemer as a “dumping ground.” Folks, there is bad blood everywhere you look in Gaston County. I think they deserve an award, even if it’s a fake one from a free Substack newsletter.
I can tell you exactly where the dividing line is between upscale, nouveau, Chef and the Farmer Kinston and Put-Up-Your-Dukes Kinston: Queen Street. I stayed in the O’Neal Hotel a few years back, and if you turned right at night, you were greeted by Panama Hat-wearing old folks who had just had a good meal. Turn left, and you were out there having to fend for yourself once you walked past the Tae Kwon Do studio.
Also, former Kinston newspaper reporters know precisely what’s up:
Third Place: Meat Camp
One thing that shocked me about these responses was that the mountains were largely excluded. In fact, there was only one town west of Asheville that made the list! That town, folks, was Brasstown, where the locals used to drop A LIVE POSSUM on New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t figure out why this was, because I have a theory that fights are actually evenly distributed, even if they’re reported more in small towns.
But friends, let me give you a case study about why the mountains may be a little different. I was all ready to nominate Murphy to this list. Murphy is, let’s just say, a pot that is quite stirrable. It is the westernmost town in North Carolina. It is the place where Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph was caught. There’s an enormous hillside-engulfing monument to the ten commandments. And then, a few miles away, you have a casino. Murphy: Town of contrasts!
I have been to Murphy four times (and hence, North Carolina’s westernmost brewery four times). Once, I was in town to report out what ended up being my personal favorite episode of Away Message, about a murder case from 1892 where a guy fired a rifle from the North Carolina side of the border to kill a guy on the Tennessee side. That guy beat the rap twice. I ended up finding all of the historical records I needed at the State Archives in Raleigh. But when I went to Murphy to ask around, nobody had ever heard of this case. Records did not exist, because the courthouse has burned down several times and the local newspaper’s archives were destroyed in the 1930s. But! There were plenty of other murders that people were familiar with and wanted to talk about, most notably a one-armed tough guy who wore a metal breastplate around because he was worried that someone would try to kill him, which, someone eventually did. Here, then, is a direct quote from Wanda Stalcup, a lovely woman who is now retired from the Cherokee County Historical Society: “We’ve had a lot of murders.”
A list for North Carolina’s most murderous places is a list with a completely different vibe, and so I will let the mountains be the mountains. But! For some reason, five of you replied with Meat Camp, which puts it in third place. Meat Camp is just north of Boone, has a baptist church, and was a once place where traders gathered to hang up the spoils of their hunt. But, more than anything else, it is named Meat Camp, and so you voted for it.
Fourth Place: Fayetteville
It’s a city where thousands of soldiers are being trained to fight. I get it. Still, Fayetteville feels like an uninspired choice. Massive props, though, to the guy who suggested Southern Pines. That is sneaky good. Where else are you going to have Vineyard Vines bros intermingling with the 82nd Airborne?
Fifth Place: Lumberton
A lot of places got three votes, but the people who voted for Lumberton really vouched for it, so I’m elevating it to a standalone fifth-place finish. Lumberton has all the makins’. It’s in the death triangle of Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Myrtle Beach. It sounds tough. The Lumber River is constantly coming out of its banks. Yes, the water there is constantly fighting the land.
However! Lumberton is in the vicinity of one of my favortite North Carolina' ass-whuppin’ stories of all time. Back in the 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan was trying to set up shop in Robeson County. The local Lumbee Tribe was having none of it, though. Before one Klan rally, someone shot out the lights. Then the Lumbee came pouring out of the hills in the dark, screaming and scaring the everloving shit out of the Klansmen. The Lumbee whupped them so bad that the KKK left Robeson County and never came back. This flawless victory was so amazing that it left to an incredible picture in Life magazine, of two Lumbee tribesmen smiling gleefully as they draped themselves in a captured KKK flag.
Bro, if you’re gonna fight in Lumberton, just know that you are not the toughest bro there.
Also receiving three votes:
Hickory - Sometimes people see an alligator in Lake Hickory, very metal. Also:
Henderson - Some good Henderson fightin’ words: “Imma cancel you with my fists like they cancelled Henderson native Charlie Rose.”
Honorable Mentions (two votes)
Goldsboro - Literally a piece of an atomic bomb in the ground nearby, conflict is in the groundwater.
Rocky Mount - The state headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles is moving out here, just imagine everyone in town having extreme DMV feels.
The following places received only one vote, but they were special enough that I have decided to highlight them here:
I have been to Oakboro exactly one time to cover some news: A few years ago, I found out this one-stoplight town of 1,800 people received the following surplus items from the Pentagon: A 1981 Dodge Peacekeeper armored truck, a grenade launcher (easy now, it’s just for tear gas!), five 5.56mm rifles, five 12 gauge riot-style shotguns and two pistols. Don’t fight here unless you want the police to show up dressed like Riot Spartacus.
This place is south of Selma and not on any maps, because an explosion on March 7, 1942 literally wiped it off the map:
Around 1:30am a munitions truck headed to Fort Bragg with 30,000 pounds of explosives – including gunpowder, grenades and other explosives “to be delivered to the Army” – caught on fire after a car rear ended the truck. The entire complex was destroyed and a huge crater described as “20-30 feet deep and as long as a railroad car” was left in the highway. Debris was found as far as 2.5 miles from the crater.
“The complex” refers to a tavern, cabin and service station called “Catch-Me-Eye,” all destroyed in the explosion that killed six people. Holy crap.
“Wherever ‘Knuck if you Buck’ plays”
Here are the North Carolina Google search trends for “Knuck if you Buck” over the last year, broken down by metro area:
Welcome to PAIN.
The Cook Out in Huntersville
Several of you mentioned Cook Out as a brawl site because it’s a fast foot place that’s open late. It’s a place where you might see your nemesis across the parking lot whilst being in state of lowered inhibition.
Still, I did not see it as a training ground for mixed martial artists:
I tried, in vain, to locate a list of North Carolina-born MMA fighters that include hometowns, so it’s hard to cross-reference that list with this one. But there are a couple of standouts. Spencer Fisher is from Cashiers. Derek Brunson is from Wilmington. Jason Miller is from Fayetteville. Abel Trujillo is from Greensboro. And Justine Kish is from Cramerton (Gaston County!). Justine, unfortunately, found her way to fame by doing something in the ring that, quite honestly, all of us would probably do if we found ourselves in the octagon. The Charlotte Observer’s social media headline about her was this: “NC fighter who pooped in MMA ring gets sponsorship offers.”
Big Boys Truck Stop off I-95 just outside of Kenly
When you take a closer look at the map, you quickly see a lot of fightin’ towns are located just off of the exits of North Carolina’s interstate highways. However, only one of you voted for a specific truck stop. I have no idea what makes this one special, but I would like to take this moment to veer off on a tangent about Maximum Overdrive, a terrible 1986 movie where trucks and other machinery come alive and try to kill people. The movie was written and actually directed by Steven King, and starts off with this cameo of King at an ATM which has just become sentient (language warning!):
This was a movie that we talked about INCESSANTLY as kids and guess what! It was shot in Wilmington! North Carolina, may your chests swell with pride, and may your fists fly freely at anyone who suggests that Maximum Overdrive should not be in the Criterion Collection.
Why? Because that’s where Kenny Powers is from!
Don’t be confused: While Shelby is real, Shelby County, the setting for Eastbound and Down, is not. My favorite fake North Carolina county is still Pelham County, though.
The argument for Wilkesboro is succinct:
Enjoy the week, everyone, and stay out of trouble.
Just happened across your blog (is that what this is? Anyway I like it!) Because of your piece about Mick Jagger showing up at a bar in Charlotte, and as soon as I saw the headline I knew that Gaston county would be on your list. I grew up there and there's no question you're correct that most Charlotteans love to look down on Gastonia. However my Pawpaw Bub (born in McAdenville in 1925) was a contrarian that way and had no use for Charlotte's big city airs. He was famous for saying he'd "rather be sittin' in Bessemer City with a broke leg, a toothache, and his pants full of shit, than own all of Mecklenburg county." Each to his own taste, I reckon. 🙂
I can vouch for the 8th St ballpark in Spencer. I lived on 3rd for a while and my football team practiced there. I got into multiple fights before, during or after practice .
Also, Lumberton would have been my vote had I known to vote beforehand. I've spent time there, Fayetteville, Jacksonville, and lived in Gaston County for 6 years but Lumberton would kick all of their asses.