11/13/08: Finding Brecht in Chapel Hill/Offbeat in Durham

Shopping, Travel

The morning was grey and overcast, and it had been raining, but it wasn’t at the time I checked out of the hotel. There was a restaurant called the 501 Diner down the road from the hotel, and I ate breakfast there, and then drove on into the downtown area of Chapel Hill, which somewhat reminded me of Bloomington, Indiana.
The CD Alley store that I needed to visit wasn’t open yet, so I drove further down the street into Carrboro, where there was a cool used book store, and there I purchased several books by Bertolt Brecht. There was a coffee house across the street from the bookshop, so I stopped there for a latte, and by then CD Alley was open. Next door to the record shop was a Marxist-Socialist-Anarchist bookstore called Internationalist Books, and in there I found a book that I had been looking for about the Wilmington Ten case. The other music store in Chapel Hill, Back Door Music, turned out to be used only, and the rain had picked up somewhat when I visited there.
I then drove on to Durham, first to Bull City Records, which proved to be a vinyl only store, and then to Offbeat Music, which is one of the best record stores I had ever been in. The store was located in Brightleaf Square, former Liggett & Myers tobacco warehouses that had been turned into a collection of hip boutiques, shops and bistros. The store was full of used classical and jazz CDs, as well as great imports, and it was all I could do to keep from spending all my money there. A Brazilian bistro across the courtyard had good espresso and gelato, and then I drove on over to Raleigh, with the rain even heavier. I stopped at Schoolkids Records near the North Carolina State campus, as well as a coffee bar and two used record/bookstores, and then I drove through downtown over to the eastside, where there was a store called Mr. Freeze’s, not far from a housing project.
Further out on the northeast side was a store called Big Katt Records, and once I had left some promotional things there, I headed eastward toward Greensboro and Winston-Salem, making a brief detour into Burlington to stop at Keith’s CDs & Tapes. Finding a decent place to eat dinner proved to be far more difficult than I had imagined.
I passed on through Greensboro into Winston-Salem and got checked into my suite at the Residence Inn. I then decided to eat dinner at The Loop Pizza Grill, which was outstanding, and then I drove downtown looking for live jazz or at least a coffee bar. Winston-Salem’s downtown was dead, looking like it had experienced a half-renaissance that died aborning. Few places were open, although I did find a coffee bar, but, by the time I located a jazz event (in Greensboro) it was too late to go back over there. I finally drove back to my hotel and went to bed.

11/12/08: From Charleston to Wilmington to Chapel Hill

Breakfast, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Diners, Durham, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, Indie rock, music, Myrtle Beach, Parks, Raleigh, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, rock, Shopping, soul, Travel, Wilmington

A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.