Travel: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Every week Travel lets you experience the world through someone else’s eyes. This week, Montreal’s own Jimmy Hayes travels down south and meets with a culture clash.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This place is straight out of a university frat-house movie from the 80’s. And everyone who doesn’t fit that mold is homeless and addicted to crack. It’s like a cross between Legally Blonde and Boyz n the Hood.

There is a weird veil over drug-use here in the United States. I made the ultimate faux-pas on Monday when I went into a hemp shop and I asked the 30-something clerk if he smoked pot. I might as well have asked him if he enjoyed sodomizing pubescent boys.

Every afternoon, I make it a point to have a latte at Caribou Coffee. Imagine Second Cup but replace the fake Italian sheen with a log cabin and antlers for a logo. It’s located on Main Street, right on the cusp of rich versus poor (or Cracktown versus Americana). As I sit on the terrace, I eavesdrop on the drug deals being made beside me.

In Montreal, we take these things for granted. Deals happen in forgettable areas, such as Berri Metro or in the lobby of a building. Here, people sit down for their transactions. They order coffee; chitchat about Alito; offer you a smoke. Then, the client stands up and leaves with the pack of smokes the other guy left on the table. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.

My best one-liner of the day comes from Amy, the southern belle in her early 30’s who cut my hair at Syd’s Hair Shop (imagine ‘Coupe Bizarre’ without the coupe and the bizarre.)

In her thickest suthern accent she says, “I know the fried food’s bad for you; and it clogs your arteries n’ stuff. But sometimes a little Ranch dressing on top makes it pretty tasty!”

Natalie, another person I met here who works in a hospital with really sick children whose parents are often much sicker, has remarked that Ranch dressing is very popular here. If you ever thought you had a grownup job, you should hear her stories.

Next week: Jimmy travels to Bankok, Thailand.

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