Friday, August 23, 2013

I'd Walk a Mile for Good Barbecue

Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, NC gets rave reviews and when Garden & Gun, my  favorite magazine, recently called it one of the best in the South, I decided I had to  find the answer to that age-old Southerner's quandary: Is any pulled pork barbecue worth driving an hour out of your way for?

You may have missed Ayden, NC on previous trips. It's on the way to. . .well, nowhere, really. I love the South and I like driving down two lane blacktop roads through Andy Griffith country, so driving an hour out of my way on a recent trip from Chapel Hill to Nags Head wasn't what I'd call a hardship. 

I could forgive someone with a more pressing schedule for wondering what could possibly be worth the fuss, though. 

Ayden is remote. It's 11 miles from nowhere. (Greenville.)

We pulled up to one of the silliest looking buildings in the South (no small hurdle), adorned by an inexplicable fake dome and absent, oddly enough, any sort of skylight. 

We counted 28 cars in the parking lot at lunchtime, which we estimated to be about half the population of Ayden.

Except they weren't all cars. Most were pickup trucks. 

And they weren't all from Ayden.

There was a long line so we struck up a conversation with an elderly lady standing behind us. She told us she had been eating at Skylight for over 35 years.

"So, you live around her, I suppose?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "I live over in Edenton."

"We're headed that way. It's quite a haul from here, isn't it?" I asked.

"About an hour and a half," she informed us.

OK, so Starlight has at least one customer who has been driving an hour and a half each way for 35 years. That's encouraging.

"What's good?" my wife asked as we listened to the cook chop pork barbecue into tiny pieces with a large clever. "How are the ribs?"

"Well, they're wonderful," the lady answered as she craned her neck to see back into the small kitchen, "but I don't see any today."

And that may be the first important thing to know about Skylight if you're visiting from afar. Ribs and chicken are on the menu, but are not always available, and sometimes they run out of whatever they do have.

Sort of reminds me of the lunch bucket my grandmother fixed my grandfather each day when he worked in the mines. He didn't open it up at noon and ask, "What would I like today?"

He ate what was in the damned bucket.

I heard a lady yelling into her elderly husband's ear over and over, "They don't have chicken today."




I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw, the only side available. The cole slaw was a little sweet for my taste, but good.

My wife ordered the pulled pork plate which came with something called cornbread and cole slaw. In other words, they substitute cornbread for a bun.

The barbecue was  excellent. Three squirt bottles adorned each table. One held a tomato-based sauce, one held eastern NC-style vinegar sauce, and one was stuffed with small, hot peppers soaking in vinegar. I grabbed that one and enjoyed the spicy, hot vinegar taste. Besides, the little peppers crowded into the transparent squirt bottle were kinda cute.

I've never tasted anything like what they called cornbread. It was more the consistency of a brownie than cake and the top and bottom were crisp and crunchy. It tasted like fried corn mush and, while my words may not be doing it justice, it was delicious. It just didn't taste like any cornbread I've ever eaten.

As I looked around the crowded room, I noticed that nearly every patron swatted at flies while he or she ate. It didn't add to the experience but it did sort of authenticate it.

Skylight has been in business since 1946 and from the looks of its weekday lunch crowd, it isn't going away soon. They brag that they still cook with wood. Cooking barbecue with wood is a dying technique due to insurance problems. (Allen's Barbecue in Chapel Hill uses wood and it seems like they burn down a couple of times a year.) In all honesty, I cannot tell the difference between wood fires and electric and I eat a lot of barbecue. It's one of the reasons I retired in North Carolina.

The pulled pork barbecue is outstanding. I haven't had better eastern NC-style barbecue anywhere. . . but I've had barbecue that's as good. If I lived near Ayden or passed through regularly, I'd eat there a lot. 

But would I drive an hour out of my way for great barbecue? 

Fortunately, I live in North Carolina, so I don't have to.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hey Babe, Take a Walk on the Wet Side

I had planned to take a walk this evening, maybe into town, but then this rain blew in as we were eating dinner. (It rains at least once a day in Chapel Hill this summer.) 

That made me want to do it even more.

I love to walk in the rain. Here's why.

10. I like when my wife looks at me before I leave and says, “Have you lost your mind?”

9. I like when I come home wet and my wife says, “You’ve lost your mind.”  (I love it when we settle issues.)

8. The rain reminds me of a thousand great rain songs. Like Willie singing Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, Credence singing Who’ll Stop the Rain, Elvis doing Kentucky Rain and one of my all-time favorites, Eric Clapton.

I love that college kids downtown are asking, "Who's the old guy walking in the rain, playing air guitar and singing Let it Rain?"

7. It’s easier to get a table.

6. Headlights look cool in the rain.

5. Tail lights look even cooler.

4. I love the sound of car tires swishing as they go by.

3. The sidewalks aren’t crowded, so you don't bump into people when they pass.

2. I get to wear my rain hat.

1. Nothing smells better than rain.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Too Happy? Take Two of These

It's Sunday and when I took my morning walk to downtown Chapel Hill this morning an old Kris Kristofferson song, Sunday Morning Coming Down, stuck in my head. If you remember the lyrics, you won’t find that surprising. Maybe it was that line about the “Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken”. This is the South, after all, and Lord knows someone is always fryin’ something.

Heck, over at Mama Dip’s Country Cooking they deep-fry the napkins.

Anyway, I got to thinking about songs that people should listen to when they find themselves feeling too happy.

See, I walk a lot and to paraphrase A. A. Milne, sometimes I walks and thinks, and sometimes I just walks.

Back to Kris, though, this might be the most depressing song ever written; yet, it sticks in my head. Do I like it? Don’t know, but I’ve been singing it in my head all morning. (I sound a lot like Kristofferson in there.)

There ain’t nothing short of dyin’ that’s half as lonesome as the sound, of a sleepin’ city sidewalk with Sunday morning coming down.

Yeah, if I were feeling manic, I could probably stabilize my mood by listening to that.

I heard Kristofferson do the song in concert. In the middle of the tune, he stopped singing and said, “Kinda makes you wanna get up and dance in the aisle, don’t it?”

It don’t.

This week, a friend on FaceBook mentioned what an awesome song Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne is. It is awesome. I loved to play it on my guitar until I noticed that I always seemed to want to jump off a bridge after I did.

It tails off with a guitar solo of Auld Lang Syne. Taps would’ve worked equally well.

I worked with a young lady named Carla years ago and I remember something she said when several of us got together for a beer after work. She said, “I was feeling depressed last week so I went to a record store and bought a Dan Fogelberg album. Never. Do. That.

She got a round of amen’s.

We went to have ourselves a drink or two, but couldn't find an open bar. We bought a six-pack at the liquor store and we drank it in her car.

If there is a more depressing scene for two old lovers having a drink together and reminiscing, I’m sure Dan would’ve found it.

I’ve always thought Janis Ian’s Seventeen, and in fact the entire Between the Lines album, could bring Betty Boop down. It’s a pretty catchy tune, though, and I’d love it were it not for the lyrics. Truth is, I love it with the lyrics.

Besides, if your parents named you Janis Eddy Fink, you’d change it and find yourself writing lyrics like, “I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens”, too.

If I were super-manic and looking for a natural way to dampen my mood, I have always thought that listening to Seventeen and Same Auld Lang Syne back to back would do the trick. I would worry about an overdose, though. 

They should come with warning labels. “Same Auld Lang Syne: Do not take with Seventeen. If you have suicidal thoughts, stop listening and call your doctor.”

There’s no shortage of competition, though. One of my favorite John Lennon songs, Imagine, posits that if we just have a fertile enough imagination, we can envision a world that doesn’t suck. Imagine wins polls for best rock song ever.

My favorite song ever is Fire and Rain. Nothing I’d rather hear. Nothing I’d rather play. J.T created the genre of acoustic singer-songwriters.

But it’s a recovery song. About heroin.  You better look down upon me Jesus, you gotta help me make a stand. Just got to see me through another day. My body’s aching and my time is at hand. I won’t make it any other way.

Would it be my favorite song if I had understood the lyrics the first four hundred times I heard them? Probably. It’s a hell of a song.

Gordon Lightfoot is another of my favorites, but The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald just relentlessly beats the joy out of you, verse after verse. And it’s not like you can’t see how it’s all going to end.

It can’t hold a candle to Gordy's  Circle of Steel, though. A child is born to a welfare case where the rats run around like they own the place. And it goes downhill from there. At Christmas, no less.

One of the greatest hits of the Beatles? Yesterday. And because the lyrics might not totally rip your heart out, George Martin added that damned cello. As a result, Guinness World Records has named "Yesterday" the most recorded song in history.

I wish I could figure out why we love depressing songs so much. I have every song mentioned above. On vinyl. And most on CD, too.

But I can’t figure it out, and my brain is getting tired.

Time to just walks for a while.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

About 1.2 million years ago, around the time I graduated high school, a section of North America about the size of Ohio and located around the Four Corners (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) was uplifted tens of thousands of feet. It’s known as the Colorado Plateau and its southern face is the red cliffs seen around Sedona, Arizona. This uplift is the reason the Grand Canyon and several other national parks in the region exist.
There is no other place like it in the world.
Over the last 10 days, we put 1,981 miles on our rental car.
We flew to Phoenix and then drove to Sedona, Flagstaff, Monument Valley, Cortez, CO, Moab, UT, Torrey, UT, then back to Arizona and Page, Flagstaff and Sedona again, then to tiny Jerome and back to Phoenix (but not to Winslow).
I wanted to detour to Winslow on the drive from Page to Flagstaff to have my picture taken standing on a corner, but my wife said she thought that was dumb.
We went from 425 feet of elevation in Chapel Hill to 2,100 feet in Phoenix to nearly ten grand near Boulder, UT. (Nope, I didn’t know there was a Boulder in UT ‘til this week, either. I think the population is like, 12.)
I have no idea what the elevation of Winslow is.
I don’t know exactly how many photos I took, but it seems to be more than 700. Of course, many of those are bracketed shots that I will combine into single HDR photos when I get home, so I'll guess maybe 600. (If you're interested, there are far fewer than the full 700 at
We learned that Utah skimps on guard rails and oxygen (above 7,000 feet, or so), and offers an absurd over-abundance of privacy. Parts of Arizona are hot as hell in June, though we already knew that, and other parts, like Flagstaff, are delightful.
We loved the southwest corner of Colorado, but we were only in New Mexico for a few minutes and only because we parked in the southeast corner of the parking lot at the Four Corners Monument.
Vicki agreed with my 10-minute detour request to the Four Corners monument (but not to Winslow). I just couldn’t see being so close and not getting a look.
We visited Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park (NP), Monument Valley, Mesa Verde NP, Canyonlands Needles NP, Arches NP, Dead Horse Canyon State Park, Canyonlands Islands in the Sky NP, and Bryce Canyon NP (but not Winslow).
We even stopped twice in Tuba City, on the border of the Navajo and Hopi nations. The Tuuvi Cafe there has great Navajo fry bread.
My vote for Most Breathtaking and Can’t Be Missed would be the Grand Canyon. Most Fun goes to Arches NP and the Most Beautiful award goes to Bryce Canyon.
If I could only go back to one, it would be Bryce Canyon. At the first six overlooks at the Grand Canyon, you think you’ve spoken with God, but by the seventh, you’re like, “Yep. Grand Canyon. Still there.”
I learned that I really missed the Diamond Heels playing in their Regional and Super-Regional baseball tournaments while we were gone. I followed the games on Twitter, but coverage was so sparse I could only get updates when we passed through towns — and that ain’t often in the Southwest.
This photo of a trail at Bryce haunts me. Vicki and I walked five minutes down this trail and back on our way out of the park. I REALLY wanted to hike it.

It looks like promise. There’s some really good stuff beyond that peak in the distance where the trail disappears over the ridge.
This trip was on Vicki’s bucket list. I couldn’t even think of something to put on a bucket list. I’m glad she dragged me along. I may have enjoyed it more than she did.
Vicki brought me sudafed, Kleenex and naproxen when I developed a sinus infection and a few times I had to walk to the parking lot and bring the car back to the trail head when she looked like she couldn’t take another step.
But she climbed steep steps carved into rock and four ten-foot ladders to make it out of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, (I had to climb the ladders holding both our water bottles in my left hand) and she coached me through my fear of heights on the climb up to Delicate Arch.
I was so impressed.
And she didn’t complain once when I sang “Take It Easy” all the way from Page to Flagstaff.
Not much on the radio in Tuba City.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Kentuckian's View of North Carolina

My daughter-in-law recently posted 38 Signs You're From North Carolina. She's from NC, but I'm not. I grew up in Kentucky and then spent my adult life in Northern Virgina. I retired to Chapel Hill in 2005, though, and thought I should give you an outsider's perspective on the "38 Signs".

Here goes.

You don't have to be from Carolina to hate Duke.

Cheerwine isn't very good, but it's cute and sometimes fun.

There is no argument over barbecue. Western Carolina style is very, very good. But Eastern style is better.

I've been to more Asheville brew pubs than a lot of Ashevillians, and yes, it's Beer City, USA. If you haven't tried Wedge Brewing's Golem, you've been sadly deprived. Keep Asheville weird, but the entire state of North Carolina is covered with great microbreweries.

"Y'all" is not grammatically correct, but no one from the South gives a damn and no one from the north matters. (Yes, the capitalization is intentional.)

Tea is not always better sweetened, unless you're eating barbecue or fried chicken.

Not interested in NASCAR or hockey. I grew up in the South before ice. (Well, before air conditioning, anyway.)

Of course, I'd live off Bojangles biscuits. You would, too, if you tried one.

App-a-LATCH-un or App-a-LAY-shun? I know how to pronounce Appalachian State correctly.

It's "App State".

That's like asking whether the capital of Kentucky is pronounced "Louavull" or "Louie-ville".

It's Frankfort.

Grits and biscuits are staples? Duh.

Ohio is not the birthplace of aviation. Kitty Hawk, NC is. Then again, Lincoln was born in Kentucky, not Illinois.

I didn't watch the ACC Tournament in class, but we did get a week off to go to the Kentucky State High School Basketball Tournament. The Kentucky Education Association pretended to have teachers meetings that same week next door in Louisville to justify closing schools. . . but we all knew.

Love me some Bluegrass music. If there's a heaven and The Seldom Scene won't be there, I don't wanna go.

I suppose I brag about the NC music scene, but when you've got James Taylor, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Earl Scruggs, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Clay Aiken, Old Crow Medicine Show and the like, it's more fact than bragging.

I love The Lost Colony and Blackbeard. I jumped off Jockey's Ridge a million times before I ever moved to NC.

I don't know anyone who has tipped a cow or anyone who has not tipped a waitress.

I ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts long before they were trendy. Nowadays, I just don't need the extra calories. Still, I'm glad they opened one on Franklin Street. Just walking past the sign makes me happy.

Not interested in the Charlotte Hornets, but then I'm not interested in the NBA until late in the playoffs. Maybe they'll be there one day.

Defend North Carolina even when the state disappoints me? I probably would if we were chatting in person, but privately it pains me to see the current state legislature send the state back to 1950.

Lived through a couple of hurricanes.

And Wagon Wheel?

One helluva song.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Family Plot

“This is the Jones cemetery,” the old lady sitting in the chair to my left says. “You know that, right?”

Her look is stern and she says “Jones” with much drama.

I hadn’t noticed her until she spoke.

My wife and I drove the back roads of Casey County, Kentucky in her father’s pickup truck looking for a very old family plot called the Cochran Cemetery. We had come to celebrate her Dad’s 95th birthday this May and she wanted to spend some time searching for an ancient family plot whose precise location she had narrowed through research to an area about the size of two counties.

It was a fool’s errand.

Nonetheless, we spent a beautiful spring morning, with the sun finally shining after days of rain and the fields blooming, driving narrow paved roads and scanning both sides of the road for 150-year old headstones.

Just as we had given up on finding this proverbial needle, I noticed a hilltop with four large shade trees in the middle of mowed pastureland. The wire fence and gate around a small area in the middle of fields of cattle is a tattletale sign of a family plot and then I noticed the outline of a single headstone against the blue sky.

Excited, we drove to a nearby farmhouse. The farmer saw us in the driveway and came out to meet me at the end of his sidewalk. I asked if that might be the Cochran Cemetery on this hill.

“No, sir,” he replied. “That’s the Jones Cemetery.”

He went on to explain that he didn’t own the land but the man who does doesn’t mind visitors, so long as they close the gates behind them.

“Even the gate around the little cemetery plot, please, because the horses. . .”

“Yes, sir,” I assured him. “I grew up on a farm.”

“Then you know,” he said with the wave of a hand and he walked back inside.

There was no gate in sight and the hillside up to the cemetery was steep. I told my wife she could wait at the bottom and I’d check it out. I climbed the fence and walked through blooming red top grass to the summit.

No signs of a Cochran headstone. I walked back down the hill, climbed the fence and got back into the small pickup truck cab with my wife and her father.

“No Cochrans,” I told them, “but I sure wouldn’t mind being buried up there one day.”

“You’d wanna be buried with strangers?” my father-in-law asked incredulously.

“Would I care if I was dead? Besides, you can see beautiful farmland and woods in all directions from up there. There are four large shade trees and a nice breeze that you don’t get down here.”

But then, Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, popped into my head.

In Act III, a bunch of people sitting in chairs in a graveyard, motionless and emotionless, carry on a quiet conversation. We soon realize that they are the permanent residents of the family cemetery. Their eyes are focused far away and they never change their stare.

In my mind, I sit in a chair in the Jones Cemetery and stare at the verdant pastures and tree-covered hillsides circling the horizon. I see the red top grass growing on the hillside just below me and notice yellow fields of blooming sweet clover in the distance, but the predominant color is green.

I notice the breeze.

I notice the breeze blowing through my hair.

I notice that I have hair and I wonder what that’s all about. (A lot of good it does me now.)

My reverie is broken when the woman in the chair to my left speaks. She sits in front of a weathered headstone that is barely legible. I can just make out  “Jones, B. 1750, D. 1801.” I can’t make out a given name. She has the leathery face of a pioneer. Her face is motionless but somehow conveys annoyance.

“This is the Jones cemetery,” she says without diverting her stare from the distant hills.

“You know that, right?”

“Yes,” I tell her.

“But you’re not a Jones.”

“Nope,” I answer.

“Not even married to a Jones?” she continues, though I’m sure she knows the answer.

“I knew a Jones kid in high school,” I say.

She ignores me.

“This is the Jones cemetery. You don’t belong here. You’re not family. You’re intruding,” she insists.

“Well, not much I can do about that now,” I say matter-of-factly.

“You should’ve thought of that before you told them to bury you here. We don’t want you here. No one is going to speak to you.”

You’re speaking to me,” I point out, because being a smart-ass worked so well for me when I was alive. Probably why two people showed up at my funeral. One of them was lost and asking for directions.

She ignores me again and continues to stare at the hills in the distance, but I see just the slightest trace of a smirk cross her face before she fades into the background.

I sense others present, but none speaks so I return to my view.

There’s a dog in a pen at the farmer’s house below, where I stopped that day to ask if this was the Cochran cemetery. He barks frequently (the dog, not the farmer), but isn’t otherwise interesting.

I see two pickups pass on the road below all day. Then a John Deere tractor trudges by, more interesting because it is slower than a truck and stays in view much longer and because I can see its driver more clearly. The farmer takes off his cap to wipe the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, keeping one eye on the road ahead, and then stretches the cap back on and continues his journey.

I watch the sun set above the hills to the west and it sets the sky ablaze.

The night sky is clear and filled with stars. I see the Milky Way band across the center of the sky. It’s dark here in the countryside and it seems I can see every star in the galaxy.

We don’t sleep anymore, or perhaps we sleep all the time; the distinction is meaningless.

Eventually, though, the sun begins to rise in the east and my chair faces it without having had to move. It is a glorious sunrise. I hear the bells from the Hustonville Christian Church chime a hymn that I don’t recognize.

It’s then that I notice the lady in the chair to my left again.

“This is the Jones cemetery,” she says sternly.

“You know that, right?”

Friday, March 29, 2013


Sometimes, I hear it in the afternoon, when I’m standing in the kitchen and the house is quiet. A deep rumbling in the distance and maybe a long, low whistle. I hear it more clearly when I’m working in the yard or laying by the pool. It enters my consciousness so gradually that I’m not really sure how long I’ve been hearing it.

And then it’s there.

If there’s any noise around me, a lawn mower, or traffic, or if I’m distracted, I don’t notice it at all.

A train track runs about a mile from my home in Chapel Hill. It was built around the time of the Civil War and, in fact, its construction was delayed by the war.

Most mornings, my wife and I drive to neighboring Carrboro for breakfast at Weaver Street Market or Open Eye, Caffé Driade’s sister coffee shop, and we cross the tracks just a few yards before the entrance to The Weave’s parking lot. 

Occasionally, we have to wait while an engine barely crosses the road and then backs up, disappearing in the same direction it came from until the gate lifts slowly back away from the street, as if it's only real purpose was to disrupt traffic for a few minutes while looking for all the world like a 200-ton prairie dog momentarily sticking its head out of its burrow.

For a few weeks last year, the crossing was under construction to make driving across the tracks less bumpy. It tied up traffic at the busiest spot in Carrboro.

From The Weave, the spur continues on another half mile to UNC’s power plant so trains can deliver product there. The Libba Cotton Bikeway was built alongside this portion of the track bed so students can bike safely from Carrboro to the UNC campus.

“Libba” was the nickname of blues and folk musiciansinger, and songwriter, Elizabeth Cotten. Elizabeth was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on January 5, 1893. She died June 29, 1987.

Local restaurateur, Bill Smith walks along this railroad track spur in the heat of Carolina summers to pick blackberries for Crook’s Corner. If you’ve ever picked blackberries, you know that picking enough to serve in a busy restaurant is quite an accomplishment. Heck, picking enough for one blackberry cobbler is a challenge.

When I drive the “back way” to Carrboro from Chapel Hill along Estes Drive, I cross the railroad at a point where it vanishes in a straight line in both directions. I love to look down the track as I cross, through the woods at the converging rails. On rare occasions, I see a solitary person walking slowly along the track bed. I envy them and imagine that one day I will take that walk.

In February of 1861, the North Carolina legislature created a corporate charter for the University Railroad Company to establish a rail connection from Chapel Hill to some unspecified point on the North Carolina Railroad. The State University Railroad began service in 1882, more than 130 years ago. It is currently part of Norfolk Southern Corporation.

The legislature specified that the railroad could be built no closer than one mile from the university. Some claim this was so the noise wouldn’t disturb the university, but others claim they wanted it far enough from campus that students couldn’t readily leave town on weekends and spend their money elsewhere. For decades, UNC students arrived in Carrboro by train and walked the mile to campus over a dirt road.

"The Whooper" ran from University Station to Carrboro for over 40 years. From PiedmontWandering's blog. 

For whatever reason the train station’s location was determined, the town of Carrboro sprang up and thrived around the train station. The track runs by the old cotton mill, whose refurbished brick building now houses the Carr-Mill Shopping Center and Weaver Street Market. Abandoned tracks still run through the parking lot across the street at Fitch Lumber Company, where trains once delivered lumber.

Today, the border between Chapel Hill and Carrboro is barely discernible, though they are distinct municipalities. Once you’ve lived here for a while, you know when you have crossed the line between Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but it isn’t obvious even then.

I bought a book about the history of Chapel Hill not long after we moved here. The town has a long and interesting history because it is the home of the first public university, the University of North Carolina, founded in 1789. Many students left campus to fight in the Civil War and most of them died. There is a statue in their honor on campus.

A lot of history there.

I opened that book the other night and randomly landed on a page with a photo of Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten. Elizabeth wrote many songs, but perhaps her most famous is “Freight Train”, a classic that most budding guitarists know and want to learn to play. It was then that I learned she was born in Chapel Hill and lived on Church Street, within walking distance of my home.

I still didn’t tie her to the Libba Cotton Bikeway until a few days later when I discovered her nickname.

Libba was left-handed and played the guitar basically upside down and backwards. You can watch videos of Neil Young or James Taylor (also a Chapel Hill-ian) and figure out how to play their songs, but I dare you to learn from watching video of Elizabeth Cotten. She plays the bass notes with her fingers and the high notes with her thumb. People who learn to play guitar the traditional way are completely dumbfounded by watching.

I got into a conversation about Elizabeth Cotten with the regulars at Caffé Driade this afternoon (a fine place to enjoy the distant sound of trains while sipping on a latté) with people who have lived here much longer than I have. It was only then that I made the most obvious connection of all.

That train I hear when I’m working in the yard? The one that sometimes stops traffic at the crossing on the way to breakfast in Carrboro? The low whistle I hear from my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon? The train that runs by Bill Smith’s favorite wild blackberry patch?

That’s Elizabeth Cotten’s freight train.

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