The nightmares have just kept coming for Raleigh since I migrated here in 1996.
Every week – 689 and counting! – has brought another report declaring the City of Oaks the best place in America for almost anything. If you believe these rigorous scientific surveys, we combine New York’s hum with Mayberry’s charm, ranking as a top place to launch a business and also one of the least stressful places across the fruited plain: “Hey, Bubba, you can pay me, like, whenever.”
We are recognized as one of the best places for young people and retirees – and, when they do the research, will no doubt emerge as the spot to have your mid-life crisis.
We are saluted for our farm-to-table (i.e, virtuously expensive) restaurants, our hipster bars (i.e., expensive but with free entertainment featuring tattooed women and urban men with backwoods beards) and coffee shops that provide the complete genome of every bean kidnapped from its exotic homeland and roasted to toasty perfection so we can compose clever tweets on our Apple watches.
Using cutting-edge algorithms that sift, sort and synthesize a dizzying array of data points, innumerable nonpartisan, independent research organizations (bloggers and boosters) have deemed Raleigh one of the coolest, most-educated, arts-loving, bike-friendly, pizza-twirling, barbecue-smoking cities in the contiguous United States (evidently Hawaii is really nice, and when it’s thrown into the mix, the numbers get all Maui-wowie).
I don’t have to tell you why this seemingly good news is a nightmare: Just hop onto Glenwood Avenue, Capital Boulevard, I-40, 440 or 540 at dawn or dusk. Traffic is so bad we will soon be saluted for having America’s best red-light district. At lunch time, parking spaces in Brier Creek, Cameron Village and the Triangle Town Center are as rare as Duke students who actually hail from North Carolina. Thanks to all those glowing accolades, our charming community is becoming a hustling hub of hubbub. Oh, the humanity.
But lo, fear not, help is on the way from a most unlikely source:
a Queen City writer who must have really been pushing up against his deadline last week. In the fearless tradition of Woodward, Bernstein and Perez Hilton, Mark Washburn of the Charlotte Observer declared all that high praise hooey. Instead of a burgeoning epicenter of fantasticality, he called us out as a sleepy backwater that can only hope the gas station signs are working this summer so we have someplace to watch flies.
Sure, those shills at the Chamber of Commerce might tout our world-class orchestra, ballet company and performing arts center; they might even fool some people by trumpeting our museums, night clubs and theaters. But not Washburn. Despite all that spin and hype, he knows – did you tell him? ’cause I didn’t – that “a big night in Raleigh is driving out to a cow pasture on the edge of town to watch professional Canadians skate around with curved sticks and beat each other up.”
He also figured out that when we tire of sitting on our porches on Saturday nights sipping moonshine or reading the Bible, we fire up our trucks and hang out at the Char-Grill on Hillsborough Street. (Not to quibble, but my peeps prefer Snoopy’s.)
To paraphrase our patron saint: “Dang, Barney, we got told!”
Five or 10 years ago, Washburn’s rant might have raised some hackles, igniting a war of words between North Carolina’s leading cities. In a sign of how cool and confident we have become, Raleighites are responding with irony. An outfit called the House of Swank (how hip is that!) is selling T-shirts with the message: “Keep Raleigh boring.”
Let’s hope that’s only the start. How about shirts emblazoned with a mighty oak and the words: “Raleigh: Did you see that? Me, neither” and “Raleigh: Capital of Nothing” and “Raleigh: Not even exciting enough for Mark Washburn.”
Washburn’s column offers a golden opportunity for us to turn the tide on all the boffo publicity that has turned our fair city into a magnetic megalopolis. It’s a chance for us to seize control, change the narrative, stop letting others define us. If we act now and stop the fat lady from singing our praises, we might keep our population under half a million.
We might not find ourselves tooling down I-640, I-740 and I-840 someday. We might still be able to snag an open swing at the playground, find a doctor who accepts new patients or, hope against hope, get a table at Poole’s restaurant after 5:30 or before 9:30 p.m.
That’s the dream, anyway.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.