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  SIX THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT: NORTH CAROLINA.  
   
   
 

You've been there. Or maybe you haven't.

Regardless, you know deep down that there's a land just teeming with top-flight schools drawing discontented Northerners by the SUV load; high-flying rim rattlers who just win, baby; and ready-to-barbecue pigs that wouldn't fly away even if they could. Somewhere in the New Jack Upper South, you sense that there's one place you can count on to deliver the weather you love and the senators you love to hate.

 
 

 

How do you know all of this? Perhaps one-name legends like Mike and Mia told you during a Nike-sponsored pickup game, or John Edwards shared the bright, bright, sunshiny news with you on the campaign trail. Maybe you just understood intuitively as you soaked up the swinging sounds of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane or Nina Simone.

It matters not how you came to this point in your life, but what you'll do with the nifty North Carolina knowledge that follows:

 

#1. It's All About the Q.

Everybody and their mother's brother "barbecues," from Sarasota to Seattle. We all know that. But only Carolinians, North and South, bother to barbeque.

You see, while y'all were busy tearing the nation apart with your red-and-blue-state cocktail talk, you failed to realize -- chattering class that you are -- that we North Carolinians had already divided land along internecine pork lines and loins a mighty long time ago. We have 100 counties, to be sure, but the reality of life on the ground is that it is mapped out by proud and prejudiced barbeque regions.

The short and sweet of it is that in the eastern part of North Carolina, barbeque is smoked, whole-hog pork accompanied by a pepper-vinegar sauce. There in Jesse Helms territory, folks swear by it, even though cussing remains illegal in 98 of the aforementioned counties. (For real.)

In the western part of the state, "Lexington style" barbeque carries the day, with its wood-fired or pit-roasted shoulders paired with a sauce that has at least one additional ingredient: a dab of tomato base. And -- this is crucial now -- it contains nary a bit of mustard. (That's South Carolina barbeque, buddy. And now that we're here, let's go ahead and get this out of the way right quick: While South Carolinians were shootin' BBs in the backcountry, North Staters were smoking wood and basting BBQ, perfecting our time-honored recipes pit by pit, county by county, artery by artery, throughout the 20th century.)

So come to the Old North State -- along with the 150,000 or so who travel every October to the mecca that is the Lexington Barbecue Festival -- and you'll find moist and tender Bar-B-Q that beats the pants off that dry and tough stuff in Tennessee or Texas. We literally cater to the backyarders and tailgaters, dishing out a pleasing blend of meat and sauce that is none too hot, mild or excessive. Barbeque is pork, mind you, plain and simple. Accept no substitutes.

 

#2. Thanks to N.C., NASCAR Works For All of Us.

Nearly three score ago, the foothills of central North Carolina -- a.k.a. The Piedmont -- gave birth to stock-car racing. The sport (you got that right) has gone nationwide now, in all its post-down-home glory. But it all started in the Old North State. And rest assured, the homegrown driving dynasties of Petty, Jarrett and Earnhardt won't let you forget that mess anytime soon.

The rest of the New South may have its fair share of Bubbas, but North Carolina speeds past mediocrity, going from good to great ol' boys in no time flat. Long before NASCAR's top racing series dropped big tobacco for a high-tech sponsor, and way before Dale Earnhardt Jr. was old enough to drop an S-bomb on live TV, there was the Tar Heel-filled, tar-lunged field of the Winston Cup circuit.

And that's just the latest in a long line of bumper crops on Tobacco Road. Cigarettes may be on their way out, and the new wave of basketball is lapping foreign shores, but we've got plenty more where that came from. As NASCAR jumps the shark and somehow forgets its North Carolina upbringing, we're happy to bring you competitive bass fishing and game shows that track wild species instead of Lotto numbers. Ay, if that's what we gotta do to keep you hooked …

 

#3. Winston and Salem Are the True Twin Cities.

Of course, the benefactor brand of NASCAR's old-school Winston Cup was Winston cigarettes. The noxious weed is and seemingly forever has been made and marketed in North Carolina by Winston-Salem's very own R.J. Reynolds tobacco company, which no longer trots out Joe Camel or even the Keebler Elf to talk your little cousin into lighting up between Phys Ed and fifth period. (At least RJR isn't stooping as low as market leader Philip Morris, which continues to unveil ads meant to spread warm fuzzies about its non-carcinogenic contributions to society.)

If the rest of the state has fly fishermen covered with many a freshwater stream, Winston-Salem is headquarters for all that you need for your bloodstream. RJR handles the nicotine, Sara Lee feeds your inner food fiend and who can resist Krispy Kreme? (Pass the glazed, like we used to say.)

And lest you think the true-blue Twin Cities only take care of your cravings, know this: They also feed the famine of the mind. Wake Forest University -- a nationally ranked liberal-arts college and a highly-ranked hoops squad -- boasts the talents of slammin' poet Maya Angelou and Slam magazine cover boy Tim Duncan, now schooling foes of the San Antonio Spurs.

That's not to mention Wake Forest football stud turned United States senator-elect Richard Burr (so long, Johnny E ... N.C. hardly knew ye). Fittingly, Burr -- the son not of a millworker but a Presbyterian minister -- led the successful latter-day Congressional fight against FDA regulation of tobacco as a drug. As a result, cigarette manufacturers across the land can breathe a little easier, even if the rest of us can't. Apropos for an R.J. Reynolds High School grad.

 

#4. The Triad Triples Your Pleasure.

You know all about the Research Triangle of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill and its corresponding trio of world-renowned universities (N.C. State/Duke/North Carolina). But when it came time for top PC maker Dell to unveil plans for a new factory in the good ol' US of A in early November, it chose to spend $115 million to rock its new desktops down the road, in the Piedmont Triad of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.

This wholly entrepreneurial trinity includes not only vaunted Winston-Salem, but the actual town of Trinity; features the furniture capital of the world (the High Point/Thomasville corridor); and smokes enough barbeque to keep the state's myriad hog farms afloat in waist-high waste for decades. (For what it's worth, a 1999 study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that hog facilities emit 167 million pounds of ammonia nitrogen into the atmosphere each year in North Carolina alone. As a result, the level of ammonia in rain there has doubled in the past decade. Pretty sweet, huh?)

Nausea aside, there's good news all around the Piedmont (French for "foot of the mountains," or Southernese for "humid as all-get-out"). Greensboro was at the forefront in the fight for civil rights. Its Woolworth's lunch counter sits in the Smithsonian, and for good reason: On February 1, 1960, demonstrators defied the chain's whites-only policy with a sit-in protest that helped propel a national movement while undermining segregation in the South. A year later, Charles Sifford -- inducted in November into the World Golf Hall of Fame -- became the first black athlete to participate on the PGA Tour, playing his first event in Greensboro. (The state, which has nearly 600 courses, also gave birth to the careers of champion golfers Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Scott Hoch and Davis Love III, but I digress.)

The Triad city of High Point, striking a jazzy l'il note for all of humanity, is the birthplace of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, as well as the longtime home of Fantasia of "American Idol" fame. (One outta two ain't bad.) Next-door Thomasville, meanwhile, is home to the eponymous fine furniture line and the world's largest chair, which cradled LBJ as he stumped for JFK in 1960 -- the last time a Massachusetts pol actually did rock the vote.

 

#5. N.C. Shouts, Shouts, Lets it All Out.

Everybody talks about "holla" this and "hella" that. Where've y'all been? Every third Saturday in June, for 35 years running, North Carolinians with Olympian vocal cords have done nothing but holler back!

In a tiny town in the southeastern section of the state, vocal acrobats gather for the knock-down, drag-out National Hollerin' Contest. What's this hoarsing around all about? Well, for centuries in rural communities, the lost art of hollerin' has sent messages out across time and space -- to the tune of three miles' worth of distance when the hollers hail from the world-class competitors who make the pilgrimage to Spivey's Corner (population 49) each summer.

Now there's four kinds of hollerin': You've got your distress holler (as if to say, "I mean it Stanley, get on home!"); your functional holler (if you need, say, to herd your hogs one step closer to the barbeque pit); your communicative holler (translation: "What up?"); and your expressive holler (just 'cause).

However and whenever the spirit strikes, think of our shared North Carolina heritage the next time you "hollaaaaaaaaa" …

 

#6. We Smoke 'Em Out So You Don't Have To.

The Great Smoky Mountains are America's most visited national park, attracting more than 10 million folks a year. Former fugitive bombing suspect Eric Rudolph is no longer hiding out there. So you can all come back now. Seriously.

If you do, you'll join the innumerable visitors, Triangle transplants and carpetbaggers proud to call North Carolina their seasonal home. Our coast and Outer Banks are flat-out loaded with sandy beaches, and we host Floridians and New Englanders alike several times a year up in the Appalachians, where ferns grow like wildfire come spring; time ambles to the tune of bluegrass in summer; the foliage is stunning in autumn; and snowflakes and skis abound in winter. I mean, really, isn't it nice to actually have four seasons for a change?

So come on down, up or over, and drink to that. Only take your time, so's you don't disturb this groove: We produced more wine than any other state before Prohibition, but these days it's bottoms up with sweet tea for you and me. And that's the triple truth, Ruth. Holler.

 

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Brian Styers, a product of the North Carolina school and university systems, preaches the gospel of public education in his insurgent work with the Harvard Alumni Association.