Things that sound bad but are actually good.
Young lighthouses! The What-A-Burger Witch Doctor! The Charlotte Bobcats! Here are 12 North Carolina things you've been wrong about this whole time.
Lighthouses are a universal good. Like, who doesn’t like a lighthouse? Well I’ll tell you: Some people do not like the Oak Island Lighthouse. I mean, they don’t hate it, but among North Carolina’s spectacular lighthouses (Hatteras! Cape Lookout! Ocracoke! Old Baldy!), Oak Island gets overlooked.
I happen to think the inverse is true, that Oak Island’s lighthouse is the BEST one in North Carolina. There are few reasons why: a.) It was built in a WEEK. b.) The concrete was colored as it was poured, so it never needs to be painted. c.) Instead of a spiral staircase, this one has steep ships ladders inside, cutting the number of steps by half.
I tend to err on the side of practicality over sentimentality, and thus, Oak Island wins out. It’s obsolete and modernized at the same time. Case in point: its big sweeping light, once the most powerful on the coast, was converted to energy-saving LEDs earlier this month. The volunteers there know the value of efficient lighting. They upgraded their Christmas lights to LEDs a few years ago because the old incandescent ones (which are fed by a different line than the big light) kept on tripping the circuit breaker. As I wrote after I visited in 2016: Christmas lights proved to be too much for a lighthouse.
I say all that to say this: Some things that seem bad are actually very good. So, what other things fit this category? Here’s what you said when I asked this question on Friday:
I’ve been ready to explode like Mt. St. Helens, waiting for someone to reference this video, which may be the most exciting thing to ever happen at a Charlotte City Council meeting:
Here’s some more context on what’s going on. As always, those Boy Scouts in the audience had a right to be scared.
Folks, (concerned parent voice) I don’t want to get all political here. But look at it this way: For many years, you were not allowed to wear a mask in public in North Carolina. Yes, there is an ANTI-MASK LAW on the books. It existed mostly to keep people like robbers, protesters, and Klansmen from concealing their identities, and there were exceptions for things like parades, Halloween, and so on. It was rarely enforced, although in Mecklenburg County, you could be given a $50 fine.
The pandemic has actually flipped everything on its head. I’d imagine that the people who are arguing that a mask mandate violates their rights today would have argued, a few years ago, that the law banning masks violated their rights (and vice versa).
tl;dr Masks are cool. We are all the Skoal Bandit now.
North Carolina’s population is north of ten million, and slightly less than half (44%) of those people were born in another state, which means the population growth here is driven by outsiders. However! If you thought it was northerners who were leading that charge, you’d be wrong. The IRS monitors changes in addresses on tax returns to track migration, and the top three states that currently send people to North Carolina are Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina. New York is fourth. Pennsylvania is eighth. My native land of Ohio is 11th. Yes, there are 14 chapters of the Browns Backers in North Carolina, but there are 379 worldwide, which means Clevelanders are really desperate to get to, well, anywhere else.
I’ve done stories on North Carolina’s migration patterns before, so I can add a few things here. First: Half of the moves tracked in North Carolina come from out-of-state, and those folks tend to move to the big cities. The other half comes from within the state. People tend to move from rural areas into big cities. And when people LEAVE big cities, they tend move to suburban counties. Of note: I relocated from Charlotte to the Greensboro area in 2015, two years after I wrote a story entitled “Yo Mama’s So Ugly, She’s Greensboro.” The IRS doesn’t track migration driven by irony.
Props to the northerners moving here.
This is my favorite minor league hockey tidbit from the North Carolina: The Fayetteville FireAntz have only had one alumnus make it to the NHL. That player? Jorge Alves, the Carolina Hurricanes equipment manager who dressed as an emergency goalie and actually played for the final 7.6 seconds of a Canes game in 2016.
Here’s the spicy meat-a-ball: Alves was a backup goalie for the FireAntz and NEVER ACTUALLY LOGGED ANY PLAYING TIME.
Pro tip: If you ever want to have someone from Shelby throw a punch at you, tell them livermush sucks.
Buddy, that’s because it’s the ONLY way to the beach. And yes, the above statement is from a Charlottean who is heading to the stretch of coast that’s between Myrtle Beach and Camp Lejeune.
Back when I used to regularly make the Charlotte-to-Wilmington drive, someone told me that it was faster to get to the beach by using Highway 218 between Mint Hill and Polkton. This allowed you to bypass Monroe before the actual Monroe Bypass opened.
I tried it a few times, and I could never figure out whether it was actual traffic relief or more of a placebo effect. After all, a longer trip on on a two-lane road where you never stop moving can feel shorter than a quicker, traffic-laden one. Plus, it did not allow me to bypass Wadesboro, a town where my wife once got a speeding ticket and now hates with the fury of a thousand white-hot suns.
Kathleen Purvis wrote up a great story about What-A-Burger for September’s issue of Our State. Here’s how she describes the Witch Doctor:
It’s a What-A-Burger signature drink, a muddy-red mixture of all the flavors from the soda fountain plus pickle juice, and topped with a bunch of pickle slices and a lemon wedge. It tastes grassy, sweet, and vinegary, like putting coleslaw on a slice of cherry pie.
I have never had this because this sounds sort of Bloody Mary-esque, and I do not like Bloody Marys (nor pickles). But I have partaken of Jeppson's Malört, which I can only describe as a liquor you use to punish the people you hold most dear. That stuff is as godawful as it is beloved. If a Chicagoan discovers that you have never had it, they will corner you in a room, remove a bottle that has been hidden somewhere on their person, and block the door until you try it. Then they will love you forever, and you are free to go.
What I’m trying to say is: The What-A-Burger Witch Doctor is North Carolina’s Malört.
Here’s the secret thing that makes living in Charlotte great: It has a very large land area. That makes it bigger in square mileage (and population) when compared to Atlanta. I don’t want to oversimplify here, but that makes it easier to do big things.
For example: Back in 2014, Charlotte was hit with 8 inches of snow. It was annoying, but that was about it. A week earlier, Atlanta got hit by 2 inches of snow, and the entire region cratered. Some people were stuck in their cars for 20 hours. School children spent the night in schools, police stations, and buses. A baby was born on I-285.
What was the difference? Well, for one, Charlotte has one very large school district which dismissed early. Plus, its snow removal plan covered a larger area, and was better coordinated. There were a ton of other factors at play, but in Charlotte, the first ring of inner suburbs are still within the city, which means you get more bang for your tax buck.
Charlotte does have a bunch of actual suburbs, but not as many as Atlanta, which has 60. Sixty! Being physically bigger makes it easier to line up the coordination you need to build stuff like, say, a light-rail transit system. It also makes the schadenfreude for cities that reject it much spicier.
I will never forget you, Gerald Wallace.
There is a Christmas tree farm in Back Swamp, which is sort of close to Jacksonville, so no, it is not as bad as it sounds. Other swampy-sounding places that are also good: Greensboro’s Bog Garden (half bog/half garden/ALL GOOD) and the Great Dismal Swamp (no longer great/no longer dismal/no longer a swamp).
Everybody gets to drop one #WellActually a week, and I’m going to use mine right now.
Here’s the thing about Carolina Treet: Nobody knows exactly how it’s made! THE MYSTERY GIVES IT ITS POWER. It’s sugar-free, and if you’re not putting it on venison, apparently you’re doing it wrong.
This one is a hard one to write, mostly because my wife went to UNC and she will kill me later today when she reads this. But I cannot bring myself to hate like this and be happy forever, mostly because I had one encounter with Coach K, and it was very, very normal.
In 2017, I was walking across Duke’s campus, back to my car. Coffee in my hand. Behind Cameron Indoor Stadium, a door opened. Coach Mike Krzyzewski walked out. With a cup of coffee in his hand. He promptly spilled the coffee all over himself. Ha ha, you say.
What did I do? I promptly asked him for a picture. Now is not a good time, he said, trying to wring coffee from his shirt. Well duh, I thought. I shrugged. Told him I was sorry about the coffee. Then, a moment later, the strap on my laptop bag broke, and it went crashing to the pavement. I looked up. Coach K was staring at me. Well, I guess this is our day to drop things, he said. I told him it must have been karma for me asking for a picture after his coffee spill.
A few moments later, I got back to my car. A Cadillac Escalade pulled up behind me. The window rolled down. It was Coach K. Hey, he said. You’re about to drive away with your coffee on your roof. I smacked myself in the head. Thanks, I said. It’s okay, he told me. When he was a cadet at West Point, he used to leave his cap on top of his car and drive off. “I guess this is what we do when we have a lot on our minds,” he said. I agreed, and thanked him again. He wished me a good day, and he was gone.
And I thought, am I friends with Mike Krzyzewski now?
No. But from that point forward, I found myself quietly rooting for Duke basketball. That way, they can be highly ranked when they lose to UNC.
I, Jeremy Markovich, am a journalist, writer, and producer based outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. If you liked this, you might like Away Message, my podcast about North Carolina’s hard-to-find people, places, and things. Season 4 was all about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Author avatar by Rich Barrett.
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