The Many Rabbit Holes of 2023
Here's what I did this year.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’re holed up somewhere, hiding from your family. It’s okay. I’ll be quiet. Nobody will ever know that you’re crouching in the dark, reading the Rabbit Hole.
Anyhow, since this is the time of year to be professionally lazy and unambitious, I present this to you: A hastily-assembled recap of the year that was, in convenient groups of three.
The 3 Most Viewed Rabbit Holes
If you view pageviews as an important metric (which is probably not great), the most popular story I wrote over the last year was this one:
Coming in at number two, the damn license plate:
And in third, the most Boone story ever:
The 3 Most Hard-Hitting Investigations
Folks, I occasionally do some journalism here! Which, at the very least, means digging into some old newspaper clippings or picking up the phone and making one compulsory phone call. That being said, here are three stories where I decided to really get into the weeds, even more so than usual.
This story started with a fairly simple premise: Why is Asheville so Asheville-y? The answer has its roots in decisions made in the run up to the Great Depression, and can best be explained succinctly by saying that the city had a fear of debt that kept its oldest buildings intact. I did not explain this succinctly, however. This story was the longest one I wrote this year, clocking in at 4,600+ words. Still though, this was maybe the most satisfying thing I wrote this year, because I got to figure out something that I’d been wondering about for a long, long time.
SPOILER: That building was a strip club, and now it’s gone. After I wrote it, the strip club’s owner jumped into the comments:
To all the individuals who fed there families paid there bills and entertained past presidents, sports heroes, and movie stars job well done. We were good stewards of the land and turned it over to the right group at the right time and for the right project.
New investigation: Which, uh, past presidents were “entertained” at the Uptown Cabaret?
Richard Burr is a weird dude who looks fairly normal, and the fact that he actually cast a Senate vote in shorts is not out of the ordinary for him. However, it IS out of the ordinary for the famously staid U.S. Senate which, like your assistant principal, got bent out of shape over its dress code for a bit.
Top 3 Stories Where I Did NOT Get To The Bottom Of It
Here at the North Carolina Rabbit Hole, WE GET ANSWERS, except when we don’t. Here, then, are three instances when I set out to solve a mystery and then, uh, did not actually solve it.
In fairness, this place may not have ever existed, except inside the LSD-addled mine of a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy in Fleetwood Mac. I did discover that a lot of people think Pilot Mountain is some sort of nexus of otherworldly power. ANDY GRIFFITH KNEW, MAN. HE KNEW.
Every year, I post something that is meant to get people to virtually throw hands in the comment. This was that story. And no, we’re no closer to a universal agreement on the definition of nabs. But we did get this not-so-veiled threat: “Reconsider. Renounce your ‘cookie stance.’ Do not make me Bless Your Heart.”
Maybe the real combination Cook Out/Taco Bell was the friends we made along the way.
The 3 Most Political Stories
To me, politics are more interesting when they’re not entirely political. I know that sounds naive in an era of attention, brinkmanship, and horse-trading, but here were three things that I found to be interesting.
Off-year elections are basically complaint factories for political types, but there’s a very good reason why North Carolina has them. That reason doesn’t exactly hold up in modern times, but still!
Party-switchin’ used to be so quaint. After Tricia Cotham’s move from Democrat to Republican opened the floodgates to a conservative wave in North Carolina, I went looking for previous state legislators who flipped to the others side. Among them was Jesse Austin, who’s in his 90s now and picked up the phone when I called him back in April.
The original story, about North Carolina’s white supremacist statues at the U.S. Capitol, led to a SPIRITED reaction from the man who played Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard. Two things to know about Cooter: In real life, actor Ben Jones was active in the civil rights movement and became a congressman from Georgia. And two: Cooter was a damn free subscriber to the Rabbit Hole, at least until I wrote about the statues.
Top 3 Stories That I’d Been Sitting on for a Very Long Time
I went to the Charlotte airport overlook in 2017 and talked to a bunch of people for a story that didn’t ever really materialize in print. But! I met Bill and Annette Grier, and we had a lovely conversation that I didn’t know what to do with. So, finally, six years later, I just ran with it. Bill and Annette are doing just fine, by the way.
I’ve long known an absurd amount about possums, which are lovely, misunderstood animals. So even though North Carolina’s annual Possum Purge begins tomorrow, please be nice to them.
This story was pure, dumb delight, and I am happy to tell it for any reason. A lot of money was spent to complete this ridiculous project. Silver lining though: It wasn’t my money.
The 3 Most Fun Rabbit Holes For Me, Personally
As non-voting shareholders in the Rabbit Hole, Inc. (not a real company), I really do care what you, the subscriber, thinks. Occasionally, though, I do a story because I think it’d be really fun for me, personally, and I don’t care if you hate it. You usually don’t hate it, but still, here are three examples of me being selfish in story form.
Somehow, I conned the North Carolina Governor’s Office into letting me spend half of a Carolina Hurricanes game with superfan Roy Cooper, who could not have been nicer. He’s also, for real, a gigantic Caniac and only wants to talk hockey when he’s watching a game. This was another long-time story idea that became real in 2023, thanks to the help of a lot of people.
I’d known that the screaming cat noise that’s played ad nauseam at Carolina Panthers games wasn’t what it pretended to be. What I DID not know was that that word “panther” is sort of scientific slang, and doesn’t refer to a precise species of animal. Also, when I wrote this story, it was April, and the Panthers were still full of promise! Anyhow, let me just check on their record this sea—OH NO.
I’d assumed that stuff like this was done almost entirely with autopilot, but no, I was completely wrong here. This ended up being an example of my favorite type of story: People who do interesting things just to do them.
Top 3 Stories That Either Involve Wieners, AI Bears, or Dirtbags in Tyler Hansbrough Jerseys
I just wanted to mention these other stories because I’m the captain of this here ship.
You know how some buildings were obviously Pizza Huts at one point? Well once you see this, you’ll be scanning for former Wiener Kings wherever you go. It’s a good reminder that things that feel commonplace at the moment can vanish just as quickly. Also, just know that the real Wiener King once dressed exactly how you’d expect a man nicknamed the Wiener King to dress.
It is possible, I think, to be TOO good at Photoshop and Midjourney. But I think what this story proves is that the Outer Banks is a mystical place where anything can happen. Like a bounty of Doritos on the beach!
Outer Banks is the best show on television, and this dude is by far my favorite character. I will not be taking questions at this time.
Top 3 Stories You Have To Remind Me To Do In 2024
Look, I am happy to accept your tips/challenges/ideas, no matter how big or small. However! I have several stories that are just sitting in my drafts, waiting to be revised, finished, and published. I am telling you about them now so you can shame me into getting them done, for I am forgetful and scatterbrained.
A Story About A Big Construction Project On The Outer Banks That Was Gonna Happen And Then Didn’t. I finished the reporting on this sometime in 2022 and I just haven’t had the time to actually sit down and write it. I should! You should harass me until I do!
A Update On A Story I Wrote A Long Time Ago That Got Aggregated Without Context. I wrote something a long time ago that I thought was settled. Apparently it is not! You should make me weigh in on it! Again, my failings here are not on me, gentle reader, THEY ARE ON YOU FOR NOT REMINDING ME TO DO MY JOB.
A Short Road Trip To Try A Very Unknown North Carolina Delicacy. I’m not a food writer by any means, but earlier this year I discovered something that would please my highly uncultured palate, and if I can take some time to drive an hour out of my way for lunch, I can finally bring this story to the masses.
There are more! If you want to go back through the archive, please click on this link and have at it. I really enjoyed bringing all of these stories to you this year, and I’m excited for what 2024 has in store.
Have a Happy New Year, everyone.