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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill January 13, 2021

Ma ral Ambition yo

Mary-Ann Baldwin draws her first challenger

BY JANE PORTER P. 11


Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 2

Allan Gurganus, p. 18 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

CONTENTS NEWS 6

A Black community staple transitions to fast food. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

8

Notes on an attempted coup.

9

Mid-pandemic, groups grapple with the living wage. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

BY DREW MILLARD

10 Racial bias in testing the COVID vaccine. BY MELBA NEWSOME FEATURE 11

A Q&A with Raleigh mayoral candidate Terrance Ruth. BY JANE PORTER

WE M A DE THIS

ARTS & CULTURE 16 Dry January gets a boost with creative mocktails. 17

BY LEIGH TAUSS

A new photography exhibit traces the local efforts meeting food insecurity needs. BY ANNA MUDD

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The second coming of Allan Gurganus. BY SARAH EDWARDS

20 Local releases to look forward to. BY SARAH EDWARDS AND EMMA KENFIELD

THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes 4 Quickbait

5 Op-ed 14 PHOTOVOICE

COVER Photo by Jade Wilson

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January 13, 2021

INDYweek.com

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Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards

C R E AT I V E

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Annie Maynard

Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald

Jon Fuller

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Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

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Creative Director Graphic Designer Staff Photographer

C I R C U L AT I O N Berry Media Group

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BACK TA L K

This week, in response to no particular article, we received this note from not-quite-avid reader JOSH MCINTRYE. We just had to share it.

Greetings, Leigh, This might seem a little odd, but I wanted to reach out to thank you and the staff at The Independent for your work. Honestly, I don’t read The Independent as regularly as I once did, but aim to get back in the habit. One of the couple jobs I do is working weekend mornings at a convenience store near the north end of Glenwood South in downtown Raleigh. Recently, one of our regular customers, Mr. B.-, passed on. But, before I worked at the market, he and I often shopped at the market and then rode the bus together. Some mornings he would be paying for his couple beers while I waited to buy a pack of cigarettes and on other days he would shuffle up behind me in line. I’d never heard him speak until one Saturday when we were out of his usual brand of beer and I needed to ask him the price of the cans he plunked on the counter. “One forty nine,” he said. Since then, we rarely spoke. Once, he brought back a few pennies he wasn’t due in change, but that I counted too hastily in hopes he wouldn’t miss the bus home. At that time, on the weekends, if he missed both the outbound buses—#12 or #16—he faced an hour wait to ride for two stops. But, over the years I noticed something. Every Wednesday, when Mr. B- got off the #12 Method in front of Eckerd’s, then Rite-Aid and, lastly, the Crunch gym, he would shuffle across the street and snatch your newspaper out of a row of boxes. He must have liked it. Thought you might like to know. Best regards, —Josh

WANT TO SEE YOUR NAME IN BOLD?

indyweek.com backtalk@indyweek.com @IndependentWeekly @indyweek

Whitsett

e

15 MINUTES Gerald C. Harris, 38 Senior Director of Campus and Student Engagement at Duke Alumni Affairs and Co-Founder of Tall Grass Food Box BY ANNA MUDD backtalk@indyweek.com

How has COVID-19 impacted student and alumni affairs at Duke? We have gone through a very minimal process in person. That has been different, and a blessing in disguise, because we have been able to be more creative in how we navigate and engage our community as a whole. Mentorship is a big part of my job: Looking at ways we can engage students and alums and finding places to network, as well as providing skills and tips on life, because a lot of people are in transition—especially more recent and younger alums.

What’s Tall Grass Food Box? It’s a platform that we created, [similar to] a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where we encourage the sustainability of Black farmers by increasing their visibility and making sure that they have space within the local marketplace. There are a lot of obstacles out there from a systematic nature, so we wanted to make sure that as we look at Black food systems, we can continue to tell the narrative of Black farmers in North Carolina. CSAs give people an opportunity to buy local through shares of produce and food boxes. What makes us different as a CSA is that we pay our farmers retail, or close to retail, for their produce. We wanted to make sure the farmers were getting compensated at their worth and not wholesale.

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Where did the idea come from? Gabrielle E. W. Carter, one of my partners at Tall Grass, was having a conversation in late March with the owner of Goorsha, a Durham restaurant. They were talking about how lots of restaurants at that time were shutting down, going on furlough, and just trying to make ends meet. Gabrielle and my other partner, Derrick Beasley, came up with the idea to create a newsletter highlighting Black-owned restaurants in the Durham area and ways to support them during the pandemic. That conversation then went from “How are restaurants doing?” to “How is the rest of the food system doing?” This brought the conversation around to Black farmers.

What drew you personally to this cause? My connection with agriculture goes back to how I grew up. I’m originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, but I spent a lot of my time in Fordyce, Arkansas. My father grew up on a farm, which automatically makes me a farm kid. Anytime I went to see my grandparents, I was around agriculture and was putting in work. W INDYweek.com

January 13, 2021

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Q UIC KBA I T

Red State

BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

T

he post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases has arrived, and it’s terrifying. Every other day it seems North Carolina sets a new record for daily reported cases, and the percent of people testing positive for the virus has hovered around 14 percent, nearly three times what state officials would like it to be. The state’s latest COVID-19 map is blood red, indicating critical spread in 84 counties. Nurses are rallying the governor to enact tougher restrictions before it’s too late, and while more and more residents are getting vaccinated, officials have warned that the rollout will be slow and vaccines won’t be widely available until at least the spring. The immediate outlook is bleak, but our best shot at beating this thing is still the same: Wear a mask, wash hands, and wait six feet apart. W

NC Counties by Tier (December 20 through January 2, 2021)

By the numbers

13.9%

daily percent positive

629,124 total cases

Critical/Red Substantial/Orange Significant/Yellow

7,578 deaths

3,843

Weekly Cases Trend

hospitalized with the virus

50,000

number of cases

37,500

151,902

25,000

received first vaccine dose 12,500

9,115

completed vaccine series

0 8/16

9/13

10/11

11/18

12/6

1/3

Week Source: NCDHHS COVID-19 North Carolina Dashboard

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OP - E D

Restaurant Reckonings Industry veteran Lauren C. Phillips believes it’s time for the Triangle’s restaurant scene to change BY LAUREN C. PHILLIPS backtalk@indyweek.com

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020 was a difficult year for the food and beverage world. The entire industry was utterly crippled by the pandemic— forced to lay off workers, switch to delivery and takeout, and scramble to implement safe and often complicated protocols for on-premises dining. Very little aid was offered. PPP loans disappeared quickly. By April, more than five million food and beverage service workers had lost their jobs, and by year’s end, more than 110,000 restaurants had permanently closed. For most of us, there’s no such thing as a sick day or health insurance— and many establishments aren’t even bothering to inform their staff or the public of exposures. The industry has long been rife with problems, from unfair wages and lack of basic workers’ rights to sexual harassment, racism/sexism/classism, and substance abuse. As the year dragged on and prospects dwindled, folks nationwide began coming forward. Locally, the accusations have been grim—from the well-publicized instances of racism and inappropriate sexual behavior of the owner and management at Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, to the numerous sexual harassment scandals from other local establishments that keep getting swept under the rug. And while the pandemic has presented huge obstacles, it has also given us the opportunity to reexamine and ask: Can we do better? I’ve spent my entire adult life in restaurants. The restaurant industry put me through college, and ultimately, I chose it. There was something truly gratifying about it. I was constantly learning—about food, spirits, wine. I learned to read people, to disarm an uncomfortable situation. I learned to cook in restaurants. I made

lifelong friends and formed a sense of community. I felt like I was really doing something. I was always moving, learning, and adapting. But as I entered my thirties, the glaring injustices so ingrained in this industry became harder to ignore. Over the last decade, the pay structure has barely changed. Tipped wage in North Carolina is still only $2.13 an hour, and restaurants rely on tips to supplement income for their servers, bartenders, and support staff. Most line cooks still only make $1012 an hour. Kitchens rely on immigrants and people of color to staff dishwashing positions, often paying them very little and rarely offering opportunities for growth. Most managers average 60+ hour weeks and typically don’t even bring in $50,000 a year. The public’s attitude contributes heavily to these systemic problems. There’s an insulting underlying assumption at play: that we are uneducated, that we have made poor life choices, that our jobs aren’t “real” jobs. Diners expect us to perfectly guide them through a meal from start to finish, anticipating every need, and they often still believe that we’re morons. Just this year, Senator Ted Cruz suggested that we didn’t deserve the extra $600 a week and were lazy for not

wanting to return to work in the middle of a pandemic. The argument has been made that restaurants couldn’t survive without tipping—that they can’t afford to pay a living wage. Margins are tight, waste is often high, and capital is limited. But owners and chefs have profited greatly from the rise of the celebrity chef and the public’s growing fascination with the industry. They appear on television, do NPR interviews, and are featured in national publications. Business skyrockets, reservations book out weeks in advance, and profits soar. They build brands on the backs of their employees, often never acknowledging or properly compensating them. Instead, they build hot tubs on their roofs, spend hundreds of thousands renovating their homes, shell out thousands on custom lighting for their new projects, and then look you in the eye and say they can’t afford to give you a $2,000-a-year raise or increase the line cook wage by $1 an hour. Yes, even here in the Triangle. We just need HR departments, they say—sensitivity training, an external investigation. And sure, that’s a great start. But let’s be honest: HR departments aren’t the ones with the power to advocate for work-

“While the pandemic has presented huge obstacles, it’s also given us the opportunity to ask: Can we do better?”

ers’ rights. They don’t decide what constitutes a fair wage or fight for paid sick days. They are there to mitigate damage, to preserve a business’s public image. So how exactly does this solve any of the big problems? I’m genuinely asking. Fortunately, some folks have stepped up. In June, Bay Area chef Teague Moriarty, owner of Sons & Daughters, vowed to close the gap between his salary and that of his lowest-paid workers. Locally, Andrew Ullom of Union Special starts pay at $15 an hour and has stayed open this year with strict protocols, simply to ensure that he can make payroll—and prioritizing his people above profits. What do these establishments have in common? The owners are right there with their employees, scrubbing floors on their hands and knees, unclogging drains. There is almost no turnover. There is no formula that will work for everyone. Each place has unique challenges. But there is no longer any excuse for allowing these injustices to take seed. We have the time to reexamine our practices and create environments where folks can thrive rather than just survive. To restaurants and chefs: It’s time to start standing up for your people. It’s time to value those who run your company over ill-behaved customers and stand up for those brave enough to come forward about misconduct. To the public: You have a part to play here, too. Take the word “unskilled” out of your vocabulary when referring to us. When you hear that someone has abused their staff, stop giving your money to people who refuse to take accountability! You ask so much of us—don’t we at least deserve a little respect? Aren’t we worth fighting for? W INDYweek.com

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Durham

Chess to Checkers A longtime Black community staple becomes a fast food joint BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

B

ruce Bridges used to feed his customers knowledge and fried chicken at his beloved Know Bookstore in south Durham. Now, the owner of the Fayetteville Street property where the bookstore used to stand plans to feed the community hamburgers and fries. Last week, Durham city council members unanimously approved a $140,000 economic incentive grant to Bookman Commercial Holdings. The Durhambased limited liability company is run by Dobbin Bookman, whose family has deep business ties to the community, including longtime ownership of 2520 Fayetteville Street. In the years since Know Bookstore’s closure, the McLaughlin family—of which Bookman is a part—ran CoCo’s Jazz and Cultural Arts Center out of the same storefront. But the business failed to deliver on its promise of Black music and culture in a historic Black neighborhood. CoCo’s also stumbled as a recording venue where artists could expect “clean, dry vocals” at $35 an hour, according to its billboard. The Thursday night specials for nearby North Carolina Central University students never materialized, either. “The space has been vacant for a while,” council member Pierce Freelon noted during the council session. Bookman is president and owner of Bookman Commercial Holdings, which first registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office on June 4, 2020. Bookman’s extended family has operated several businesses in the area over the decades, including The Neighborhood, a now-closed, small store at the intersection of Fayetteville and Dupree streets, where N.C. Central students could purchase snacks and cooked food items between classes. Bookman wants to use the $140,000 in City incentives to demolish the two-story brownstone building and begin construction of a new Checkers fast food restaurant with walk-up, drive-thru, and outdoor seating. At the virtual city council meeting, the thought of the major changes at the site of the former bookstore, which closed in 2010, had council members feeling nostalgic. Bookman’s grandmother, 104-year-old Mozella McLaughlin, was once Freelon’s babysitter. 6

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The shuttered CoCo’s Jazz and Cultural Arts Center

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

“I grew up in and around that building,” he said. “I remember being able to get some really good fried chicken [at the bookstore] back in the day,” said Jillian Johnson, the City’s mayor pro tempore. “You couldn’t go in the bookstore and not have anybody know you were at the Know Bookstore, because it left a wonderful aroma in your clothes,” said council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. “I used to go there to get whole bean pies, and try to avoid Bruce, because if he saw you, you were going to leave purchasing much more than you anticipated—or a debate. Fifteen minutes turned into an hour and a half. Wonderful memories.” “Apparently, I was the only one who bought books,” mayor Steve Schewel said, jokingly. “I bought a book once when I came in for fried chicken,” Johnson quipped. The good feelings flowing from council members’ memories of the bookstore served as a prelude to their vote on January 4. “I’m glad to see it going to good use,” Johnson said. “It’s not just a sign or placard saying, ‘Black Folks Were Here,’” Freelon later added. “Black folks are here, building on a legacy through jobs and development.” But their optimism obscured the ugly series of events that shut down the bookstore years ago. The handsome brownstone building was built in the 1970s as a pharmacy owned by now-retired pharmacist and jazz musician William McLaughlin, a relative of Bookman’s. But it enjoyed its greatest success when it was rented by Bridges, who for 18 years operated a vibrant and

profitable neighborhood center of learning, great food, and live jazz. When contacted by the INDY, Bridges was surprised to hear that Bookman and the McLaughlin family were planning to open up a Checkers. He offered a cynical contrast between what used to happen at the bookstore and the proposed plans for the location. Bridges hosted a youth chess club at the bookstore that was supported by Research Triangle Park professionals, along with N.C. Central and area high school faculty members. “We were teaching young people how to play chess, and about its Moorish-African origins,” Bridges said. “Chess is about thinking strategically and analyzing. It’s like jazz. It’s cerebral. The place has gone from teaching chess strategies to a Checkers.” Longtime residents recall a sprawling, 3,000-squarefoot bookstore that was a funky and fun place. Body oils commingled with the smell of fried chicken coming from the kitchen. A Rock-Ola jukebox spun out golden oldies like “La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics, “Misty Blue” by Dorothy Moore, and “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley. It was one of the safe spaces in the neighborhood, where thin wisps of blue smoke trailed upward from sticks of Shahadah incense that could not be found anywhere else in the Triangle. A college student from Duke or Central standing at a bookshelf thumbing through a copy of J.A. Rogers’ 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro or Cheikh Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization was a familiar


sight. A budding, earnest young womanist might drop in to ask if her order for bell hooks’ latest book had arrived. The store’s very name was inspired by the directive to “know thyself”—an adage often attributed to the ancient Greeks but that Black scholars, including Bridges, say was borrowed from the ancient Egyptians. It’s hard not to wonder what impact the bookstore might have had on the neighborhood if it had remained open—whether it might have inspired young people to pick up books instead of guns, possibly curbing some of the violence that has bedeviled the community in the decade since its closure. Generations of students, activists, politicians, and numerous others throughout the community would come out for the music, food, and spoken word events. Debates, workshops, and lectures featured the likes of a then-relatively-unknown Michael Eric Dyson. Former Essence magazine editor Susan Taylor, Andrew Young, Sister Souljah, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, and C. Eric Lincoln all lectured at the bookstore at various points, along with local luminaries like John Hope Franklin, Benjamin S. Ruffin Jr., Howard Fuller, and former Durham mayor William “Bill” Bell. “The place was a landmark,” Durham native William Rogers, a professor of African and African diaspora studies who recently retired from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the INDY. “Durham lost a tremendous asset when it lost the bookstore. From 1983 throughout the 1990s, I would come to Durham two or three times a year. My first stop was always at the bookstore.” Funding unanimously approved by the city council will help jumpstart the proposed Checkers. Ironically, in 2009, discussion of a similar City financing initiative coincided with the bookstore’s closure in the first place. That was the year when City officials found themselves caught between a contentious dispute between Mozella, the building’s owner, and Bridges, her tenant, who began renting the property in 1991, splitting it into three spaces for a bookstore, a restaurant, and a kitchen. At the center of the dispute was the City’s consideration of a plan to grant Mozella neighborhood revitalization funds to renovate the building. As previously reported in the INDY, giving the money to Mozella would effectively squeeze out Bridges and his bookstore. Bookman recently told the INDY, however, that his family didn’t ultimately receive any City funds at the time.

Mozella, then 92, informed the City Council at the time that she wanted to create “Mok’e Jazz & Cultural Center.” The building would house a restaurant and two retail spaces, one potentially being a smaller version of The Know. But Bridges says that in 2009, the McLaughlin family did not bother to tell him that city council members were poised to vote “for money for the store, but not include me.” Shortly before the meeting was set to start, he closed the bookstore early for the day and “expressed his thoughts” about the issue to the council members. “Everyone was shocked,” Bridges said of the council members, who subsequently delayed the vote. “The next day, Mozella came to the store with a letter and evicted me from the premises. They retaliated against me for speaking out.” In a recent interview with the INDY, Bookman praised the bookstore’s contributions to the neighborhood. “We, along with the entire community, very much appreciate Mr. Bridges’ contributions and time spent at this location,” Bookman said in an email. “We are proud to own the property and to have supported several businesses at this location over the past [four] decades.” Bridges tried to save his bookstore. He hired long-time Durham attorney George Exum, who filed a complaint on his behalf accusing the McLaughlins of violating the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Bridges says the case was settled out of court in 2015, when the McLaughlins agreed to a financial settlement. Exum told the INDY that the Black community was outraged when Bridges was ousted from the bookstore location. He called the building of a national fast-food chain “a remnant of gentrification” and “urban colonization.” “There was a hidden agenda to displace a viable Black business that was an asset,” Exum said. “It’s a damn shame.” Bridges closed shop in April 2010 and accepted a teaching post in N.C. Central’s political science department. He was approved for a loan that would have enabled him to move the bookstore to the old Weavers Cleaners & Laundromat location at the north end of Fayetteville Street, he said, but the plan fell through when the place was deemed not suitable due to the cleaning chemicals that had contaminated the building. The State Employees’ Credit Union then offered funding to build a new bookstore from the ground up. “But we couldn’t find a good place [in the Black community] to break ground,”

said Bridges, who says he still wants to reopen the bookstore—a decade after it closed. During last week’s city council meeting, Bookman said the new $1.4 million building will have 954 feet of retail space and provide 30 full-time jobs that pay a living wage in a neighborhood that has been targeted for an economic development incentive by the city’s Office of Economic and Workplace Development. Bookman noted that City staffers are endorsing a project that promises to bring more vitality, along with an increase in Black and Brown business ownership in the historic neighborhood. The fast-food restaurant, he added, is also in keeping with the City’s strategic economic plan of shared equity and prosperity. Bookman said that along with paying his employees a living wage, they will have health benefits. Moreover, when it comes to COVID-19 protocols, “Checkers really led the path” by not offering indoor dining since the 1980s, he said. Council member Freelon noted the business could have a positive impact on the gun violence that has beset the community by providing jobs and opportunity. “It’s important to do economic development in the area,” Freelon said. “It’s right across the street from St. Joseph’s [African Methodist Episcopal Church], and a historic shopping center.” Checkers’ offer to help to keep a roof over 30 future employees’ heads is significant. But council member Middleton remains concerned about the neighborhood’s cultural history and the former bookstore’s positive impact on the neighborhood. He reminded Bookman and his fellow council members that, “The Know wasn’t just about economic power, but also cultural power.” “That was part of the identity of the neighborhood,” Middleton added, before asking Bookman about his plans to allay concerns that a fast food restaurant at the location could erase a “cultural footprint in the neighborhood.” Bookman said that education—with N.C. Central and Hillside High School in close proximity—is “foundational” for him and his family. “I used to ride my bike in front [of the bookstore],” he replied. “I’m sensitized to what it means to be a part of the community.” Bookman added that he plans to open more than one Checkers. “But first and foremost I want to start at this location,” he said. “The priority is to be a presence in the community and continue to be part of the DNA of the community.” W INDYweek.com

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N E WS Trump supporters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF AP PHOTO/MANUEL BALCE CENETA

Putsch League Storm the Bastille, but make it dumb

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BY DREW MILLARD backtalk@indyweek.com

h, my God. That’s just about all you can say about January 6, when, following a pep talk from Donald Trump at his so-called “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., thousands of right-wing psychos breached the doors of the Capitol Building as lawmakers were going through the largely ceremonial step of ratifying Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. I’m not exactly sure what they were attempting to do, really. Intimidate elected officials into handing the presidency back to Trump? Straight-up take over the government? Wreak havoc as a show of impotent rage? If it was the third thing they were after, they definitely got it. This past year, we’ve seen our fair share of violence and property damage at protests, and while I’m not particularly interested in debating the utility of those tactics in furthering a cause such as the Black Lives Matter movement, I want to be clear that it is not ideologically inconsistent to approve of anti-fascist activists smashing a window and then condemn the events of last week. Because the battalion of aggrieved Ski-Doo dealers, human Pepe memes, and unapologetic white nationalists running roughshod over the Capitol building “cannot be called protesters,” as Senator Chuck Schumer, the soon-to-be Democratic Majority Leader, put it in a speech on Wednesday night. 8

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The more appropriate term, as Schumer saw it, was “violent extremists.” What happened on January 6 was a planned but failed insurrection. That isn’t hyperbole or speculation on my part. There was a Daily Beast story on January 2 which noted that on the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald, people were distributing maps charting routes from the Stop the Steal rally directly to Congress and posting comments like, “We’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country.” Though the MAGA mob was eventually driven off by law enforcement, given the openly planned nature of the insurrection, the only conclusion a reasonable person can make from the fact that it happened at all is that those responsible for security at and after the rally didn’t take the threat seriously, or didn’t think that the MAGA crowd— which claims to love law enforcement—would try to rush them. (Internal Pentagon memos that were subsequently released show that, in the days prior to the rally, Pentagon officials intentionally restricted the National Guard’s ability to respond to an emergency, and then were reluctant to authorize the Guard to aid local police when an emergency did occur, which raises a whole other, decidedly darker set of theories.)

When the breach happened, Trump did nothing. Or rather, he did worse than nothing: He’s literally the one who made it happen. At the rally, Trump told the crowd, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol […] we’re never going to take back our country with weakness.” There were other words between the ones I quoted, but given the plans that some of his supporters had already concocted, this was tantamount to a “Go” signal. While Senators, U.S. Representatives, staff, press, and security barricaded themselves in their chambers and offices with furniture as MAGA chuds banged on the door like extras in a George A. Romero movie, Trump tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” That tweet was deleted, along with another one in which he blamed Vice President Mike Pence for not delivering him the presidency on the Senate floor. Not for nothing were these dipshits heard screaming, “Where is Pence?” as they smashed their way around the Capitol. That night, Pence gave a speech in front of a reconvened Senate, condemning the day’s violence and reintroducing the session that would end in a formalized Biden victory. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but it seems like the only recourse at this exact moment is to put Pence in charge until Inauguration Day on January 20. Between him and Trump, he’s obviously the best man for the job. Even if Pence sucks, at least we know he’ll hand over the keys to the car next week. There is no guarantee that Donald Trump will do the same, regardless of the sleepy-eyed, no-talent statement he made on January 7 assuring us he would. Get him out. Fast-track impeachment proceedings, invoke the 25th Amendment, tell him he can host The Apprentice again if he resigns. I don’t care how it happens and neither should you. The night of the insurrection, some of the Republican lawmakers who had previously threatened to derail the counting of the Electoral College votes suddenly changed their tunes, in a desperate attempt to backpedal towards a place of decorum. But people like Jim Lankford and the recently defeated Kelly Loeffler should have known that if enough powerful people falsely claim an election was stolen enough times, eventually, others might try to take that election back through violent means. Maybe Trump’s tenure in office was always going to end with the dumbest possible recreation of the storming of the Bastille, and maybe this authoritarian, insurrectionist mentality was always present in a not-insignificant chunk of the American populace. The only thing I know is that this is a mess, and we’ll be cleaning it up long after we’re rid of—as Anderson Cooper called him last week on CNN— “a very small man who was once considered the leader of the free world.” W


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Orange County

Price of Life Orange County Living Wage adjusts for 2021 as businesses struggle to hold on in a pandemic BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

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haina Holman anticipated a broken arm or a burned down office, but she never anticipated a pandemic. The Chapel Hill dentist has had her own practice for three years. She was committed to paying her hygienists, office workers, and assistants a living wage from the jump. If an emergency were to happen, she wanted to be able to continue paying them for up to three weeks, while they looked for other jobs. So she saved. In March 2020, an emergency happened. Despite North Carolina never shutting down dentists’ offices, Holman decided that closing would be the safest option as the country learned more about COVID19. She told her employees she’d continue paying them for three weeks while they signed up for unemployment. She also informed her clients. “I just literally wanted them to know my people were good, and I was taking care of my people, because that’s just who I am,” Holman says. Holman is one of 222 businesses currently certified by Orange County Living Wage, a nonprofit that defines the wages it takes to afford to live here. On January 5, the organization announced its 2021 living wage, bumping the hourly threshold from $14.90 to $15.40. The calculation, based on the standard that only 30 percent of income should be used for housing, takes into account the cost it’d take to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the area. “Since July 2009, we have had a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour,” Susan Romaine, chair of Orange County Living Wage, says. “For folks who were working or have families, that really is a poverty wage. We feel it’s so important that as we move forward

with our living wage effort, we want to continue to advocate for a minimum wage that’s a living wage.” North Carolina is one of 21 states that have plateaued at the federal minimum wage requirement for more than a decade. The amount may be the highest our minimum wage has ever been in the United States, but its purchasing power has decreased since the 1980s by failing to keep up with inflation. While North Carolina’s cost of living is slightly lower than the national average, the Family Success Alliance of Orange County reports that the area has the highest cost of living in the state—as well as the most income inequality. The pandemic changed the living wage project’s conversation this year, leaving the group to consider whether or not it should announce a new base wage for 2021 or allow a grace period. Ultimately, the group decided to continue its work, increasing the certification requirement from $14.90 an hour to $15.40 an hour, about a 3 percent increase. “Our mission is devoted to living wages; we want to continue to create that awareness in the community—that rent continues to go up, other expenses continue to go up, inflation goes up,” Romaine says. “In a way, it’s more important than ever that we come out with a new living wage.” For Holman and others, this means more than a certificate. It’s a personal mission— which is why she created her emergency fund. When she informed her clients that she’d continue to support them, the news spread throughout town. “People posted in the local mothers’ club about it, and really there was a lot of talk around town, because so many people were just kind of kicked to the curb,”

A barista makes a to-go drink at Open Eye Cafe PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

Holman says. “They were like, ‘Wow, she’s really paying for them anyway, that’s pretty awesome.’” When Holman Family Dental Care reopened after eight weeks, she says they were “slammed” with new patients who had taken notice. Because of this, Holman is sure she’ll continue paying her employees a living wage—even at the higher rate—and has been able to hire more people. When a business is certified by Orange County Living Wage, they have to re-register every two years. Businesses that last renewed in 2019, when the living wage was set at $14.25 an hour, were expected to meet 2021’s new benchmark. Despite the new minimum, the businesses have three months after North Carolina’s state of emergency expires before they have to meet the new goal. Currently, the state of emergency is set to end on March 30, 2021. By June 30, the businesses would need to be up to date. Romaine says there has not been pushback based on the new living wage expectations—or during the pandemic. However, some of their partners have been erased from the list—not because of opting out, but because they shuttered for good. Among them are party store Balloons & Tunes and outdoor outfitters Townsend Bertram & Company, two Carrboro businesses that closed after the pandemic started. Scott Conary, owner of Open Eye Café and Carrboro Coffee Roasters, says their goal was always to pay employees a living wage; the countywide project was simply a means to verify this with the community. Their

goal hasn’t changed with the pandemic, but it means more spreadsheets than ever. “It’s entirely stressful, and we worry about it every day, and I lose sleep, and I’ve gotten a couple of ulcers,” Conary says. “It’s horrible, and it’s not an easy thing to do, period—especially for a small business that’s running on slim margins. But now, during a pandemic when everyone’s revenue is slashed at least 50 percent, and sometimes more, it’s a real mission. You gotta dig in and figure it out, and we’re pulling out all the stops to make it happen.” Orange County Living Wage factors in cost of living for four counties—instead of just Orange, they look at Alamance, Chatham, and Durham. They have to, because so many people can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill or the immediate surrounding area. “Even at $15.40, there is no cushion in this budget,” Romaine says. “It’s a very tight budget, and it is just for that one-bedroom apartment.” Conary and Holman both say that these minimums are just that: the minimum. “You want your employees to feel supported and encouraged and empowered, and the way to do that is not by saying ‘Get off the clock,’ or, ‘I don’t really care if they have health insurance or not,’ or ‘I don’t really care if they have a retirement plan or not,’” Holman says. “I really want my employees to know that I care about them as people. I care about their future and their health, and I’m wanting to make that personal sacrifice for my own income and make sure that they are good. That’s just important.” W INDYweek.com

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N E WS Tanara Gilbert receives the COVID vaccine during the initial rollout in December PHOTO COURTESY OF UNC HEALTH

Shut Out A first-hand account of the vaccine trials’ racial diversity problem BY MELBA NEWSOME backtalk@indyweek.com

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hen I first became interested in taking part in a coronavirus vaccine trial, I assumed all I had to do was step forward. I believed that the same characteristics that raised my coronavirus risk—Black, over 60, Type 2 diabetic—also made me highly sought-after as a volunteer. But it wasn’t nearly that easy. North Carolina was one of the first states to release coronavirus data by race. The numbers from Charlotte/Mecklenburg County, where I live, showed the disparate impact of the virus on people of color and were soon confirmed by the skyrocketing COVID-19 rates in other cities with high Black populations. Then the myth began circulating on social media that Black people were somehow immune to the disease. In one day, five different people sent me a link to the Plandemic conspiracy-theory video. I could see how the Black community’s 10

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justified skepticism about public health initiatives would exacerbate the health crisis we were facing. Last summer, vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna announced they would recruit 60,000 participants—18 and older, from all genders and racial and ethnic groups—for their late-stage clinical trials. Volunteering was a way to ensure that Black people were adequately represented in the research and to demonstrate that the vaccine is safe for my community. While some people thanked me for being willing to risk my personal safety to advance medical science, others expressed surprise and even outrage. How could I offer myself up as a human guinea pig to the very medical establishment that alternates between ignoring and exploiting Black people? “Without guinea pigs, where would we be?,” I asked rhetorically in response.

A Washington Post poll conducted in the spring of 2020 found that more than 30 percent of Black people personally knew someone who had died from COVID19. Yet, a December 2020 Pew Research Center study found that only 42 percent of Black adults said they would be willing to receive the vaccine, down two points from a survey taken in mid-June. Black people have many reasons to distrust a public health system that has used our bodies for experimentation without care or consent. But given the coronavirus’s impact on the Black community, informed participation in clinical trials is essential to ensure the vaccine works, regardless of age, gender, and ethnic background. Little has changed since 1993, when Congress passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which requires federally funded research projects to include women and minorities in their trials. Yet the numbers appear to be headed in the wrong direction. People of color account for fewer than 10 percent of patients enrolled in clinical trials, according to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. There has been a longstanding assumption that the problem lies in minorities’ distrust of the medical establishment due to historic mistreatment during the Tuskegee study and the eugenics movement. While lack of trust is a factor, a recent study published in the American Cancer Society Journals found bias among health care professionals as a contributing factor, too. Some study recruiters perceived race as irrelevant when screening and recruiting potential participants. Others not only viewed racial and ethnic minorities as less promising participants, but reported withholding trial opportunities from minorities based on these false perceptions. Pfizer and Moderna touted diversity as a priority for their Phase 3 coronavi-

rus vaccine trials. I responded to several solicitations looking for volunteers in the Charlotte area, feeling confident I would be picked. If selected, I would receive two shots: an initial vaccine (or placebo), then a booster shot (or placebo) about a month later. I would be required to document any side effects from the vaccination in an electronic diary. Those side effects commonly include pain or soreness near the injection site, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, and fevers. My white friends Anita and Lucia were both selected for the Pfizer trial. Lucia, a retired manufacturing executive, was recruited because she was in their database after participating in a study for people with celiac disease a year earlier. Anita, a psychology professor, told me she wanted to put her “body on the line to help others.” Anita believes she got the vaccine and not a placebo because she developed a mild fever (99.5 to 100.0) the day after her first injection. “I usually don’t run fevers and haven’t had once since,” she says. Lucia thinks she got the placebo because she had no side effects after her shot. As I stood by for the call that never came, in early October, Moderna announced that it had failed to recruit enough Black, Latinx, and Native American participants in its study. To make up for the shortfall, the firm slowed enrollment and instructed research centers to increase participation among minority volunteers. Frustrated, I applied again—clearly identifying myself as Black this time—and waited. Still nothing. I wasn’t willing to give up but clearly, this was going to be much harder than I imagined. W

“Without guinea pigs, where would we be?”

This story was originally published by N.C. Health News


Raleigh Mayoral candidate Terrance Ruth PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Ma

ral Ambition yo

Terrance Ruth, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s first challenger, has a vision for a more engaged, united Raleigh.

BY JANE PORTER jporter@indyweek.com

T

he race for Raleigh mayor is on. Last week, Terrance Ruth, 37, a lecturer at N.C. State’s School of Social Work and exectuive director of the Justice Love Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for social justice causes, threw his hat into the race for Raleigh’s top elected office against Mayor Mary-Ann Balwin. We spoke with Ruth about his reasons for running, his top priorities, and his vision for a more enaged Raleigh. INDY: What specific policy disagreements do you have with current Mayor MaryAnn Baldwin that prompted you to run for the seat? TERRANCE RUTH: My entry into this race is not about the current mayor, but because I have seen the slow dissolving of public trust in our city—from how the protest was handled, to how the Downtown South project was passed, to the removal of the CACs [Citizen Advisory Councils] with very little input from the community. In order for us to be a healthy city and continue to be a healthy city, we have to be in touch and in proximity with, and to lean on, the people we are serving. That is most critical. All ideas sit on that public trust. All vision, all policy, all missions, all principles for the City must sit on the idea of sustaining and improving public trust. Without that foundation, it is really difficult to be successful. INDYweek.com

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You’ve laid out ways you feel the council could do better in addressing Downtown South, including providing transparency around how Opportunity Zone tax breaks could benefit nearby residents, helping to develop a community benefits agreement, and improving communication with stakeholders. Is there a scenario where you could support Downtown South?

Community engagement is something we accept in any other industry. So when we talk about human-centered design, and you see companies provide pre-products to the customer base to see if they would accept it or like it, we accept that practice. If you look at research, the best practice is a strong community engagement. The Downtown South project is not something that is unattractive because it is the Downtown South project. What I heard in the community is, “Can we be a part of this? Can we come to agreements? Can we be included, not just in the final stages, but can we build something this size together?” This is not a unique request. There are cities that are doing this well. Oakland’s Department of Transportation just created equity indicators, and those equity indicators drove how they planned, who they included, how they made decisions, the timetable, what was relevant and sufficient for the [city’s] needs. What I’m asking for is not even for innovation. There are best practices across the country. Downtown South could have used an improved and strong community engagement from start to finish. That project is more of the icing on the cake than it is a project that stands alone. If you look through this first year, from protests [against the project] to the planning commission’s vote that stood in opposition to the council’s vote, to that continuous debate over what is replacing community engagement platforms, it is a culmination of disconnection between community and City leadership that would make it very hard to salvage any healthy communication. Someone coming in with a fresh idea, a fresh way to engage community, starting with community and building trust—new leadership would have a better slate in terms of building public trust and community engagement and rebuilding that relationship between developers, investors, City leadership, businesses, and community. That is where my strengths lie. At the moment, I think it would be very difficult to walk down that road because of the social capital that has been lost throughout that year. Over the years, council members have held differing views about the rate and scale at which Raleigh should grow. You’ve asked how we can rectify this council’s commitment to “unbridled growth” when downtown businesses are dissolving and families are living in motels. Where do you fall, ideologically, on the question of growing the city?

From my experience in engaging community, we have tough times ahead in terms of rebuilding our city and recovering from the damage of closed businesses, people out of work, people who are going to be evicted from their homes. There is something about growing as a united Raleigh. 12

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“It is one thing to say you are at the table. It’s another to say you have true, decison-making power.” When I sat in community meetings, I didn’t hear too much of a voice that says, “No, don’t build, don’t grow.” And for those who are building, I didn’t hear that “We don’t want to be inclusive and equitable.” I didn’t hear a purist at all on either side. What I heard in discussions [about Downtown South] was [a united] group [saying], “Let’s grow, but let’s grow with balance. Let’s grow where we have more opportunities to talk, not just with council members and the mayor, but also with each other.” With that, there is accountability on both sides, so that we’re building with existing residents in mind and we’re growing with new residents in mind. And how do we grow and stay attractive? I heard a balanced conversation—not one side or the other, as it’s neatly placed in theoretical terms in articles. I heard a call for balance. You’ve criticized the council for abolishing Citizen Advisory Councils [also known as CACs]. If elected, would you act to restore CACs, or are there better ways to engage residents?

The CACs, in my opinion, are symbolic of trust between the public and City leadership. I would center on what the best way is to re-establish public trust. I would do that with guiding principles: Any conversation around community engagement must have diversity, equity, and inclusion as its element. My plan is to walk in in the first 100 days with a strategy to engage the community deeply, to meet the stakeholders, and to design an approach that meets every resident—not just those who can attend a meeting at night, but also those who can only engage virtually, or those who may not be able to attend a meeting and may need to watch later. My desire is to create a community engagement platform that takes the rich history of the CACs and also leans on the richness of the technology we have in the Triangle. The goal would be to establish equity, and the way I define that means that everyone would have what they need today, while considering how resources have been distributed in the past. And that is hard, as equity means providing what is truly needed for anyone in any situation to have access to options that allow them to live and move freely, and flourish.

For that to be accomplished, the City must know what that is for the community. We must maintain diversity. To do that, we need to have a large and representative population engage in our discussions and decisions. So we need to ensure representation from a collection of people that represents our city—from race, to class, to religion, to abilities, to gender—to just make sure these are important and that we design community engagement with these in mind. The pillar that is most important—what will set the base of our conversation around the Downtown South project—is inclusion. It is one thing to say you are at the table. It’s another to say you actually have true decision-making power. People who make the organization more diverse should also be allowed to participate, to lead in the decision-making process. There is value in being informed by community itself. How do you think the council will implement recommendations that come out of the ongoing community engagement study?

I am confident in the researcher. I have talked with Mickey Fearn—he is a solid thinker and innovator. This is not so much on him as it is on the leadership. When you talk about the City leadership, you also have to talk about the perception, or the public trust, that may exist to exercise this in a meaningful way. That is in question, and I think the community will provide the final answer to whether this will be successful or not. What, if any, reforms should the City make to the police department and the way law enforcement is conducted in Raleigh?

We must first look at leadership in terms of how it is facilitating relationships with the police department itself and how it is leveraging that relationship to connect bridges between the police department and the community. Again, this is not an area where we need innovation. There are cities and police departments that have best practices. I sat on a panel for compassionate policing, where there were police departments with amazing models that center community voice and community leaders. They hired community leaders, not in uniform, to inform the police as to what is going on in the community, and they also have compassionate police officers dressed in regular clothes who had offices embedded in the community. We don’t have to be innovators in this conversation. We lean on existing strategies and see what would be best practice here in Raleigh. But that takes leadership— and a vision to create a strong relationship between community and policing. Raleigh has an opportunity. I can lead that conversation to create a strong relationship between the police department and the city. I’m not seeing a reluctant audience on either side. How is the city doing on transit? If there’s room for improvement, what would you recommend?

There have been great strides in terms of the conversation around bike safety, bike transportation, walkways. We can


also improve, number one, in how we are engaging those who do not have access to transportation. So where are our bus routes? Can we exist in a city that has no bus fees? There are already groups advocating for [the] removal of bus fees and reallocating the funds to support that idea. It’s going back to those pillars of equity, diversity, and inclusion. When we are thinking about transportation and planning, do we have people who are impacted most in those meetings? Again, there are cities who are designing their decision-making, their planning, around the schedules of those most impacted and incorporating a larger group of people. There are ways we can improve in that area. An $80 million affordable housing bond referendum passed in a landslide this fall, but most agree it will only scratch the surface in addressing affordable housing. What more can be done?

I’m organizing a group right now to look at what it means to address [those who make less than 30 percent of the area median income] with private investment, to see how we can make a difference in homelessness. COVID has left a number of people who will be impacted: Renters no longer being able to afford to rent, homeowners no longer being able to afford their homes, those who were in hotels that are now at capacity, and those who were already homeless. We are looking at a model of faith-based affordable housing. A national organization has been meeting with us to try to get private investors at the table. So we have private investors, donors, and religious leaders—a mixture of audiences. We went that direction because we found a majority of the property owned in most cities is owned by religious institutions. There is an opportunity there to make an impact on affordable housing by partnering with religious institutions that already have property in prime locations, or buildings that could be repurposed. Also, these religious institutions are traditionally providing services to these same populations, so we are trying to have a meaningful conversation around affordable housing to really eradicate homelessness in Raleigh with dignity. We are trying to figure out ways to supplement the $80 million. We know it will not be enough. Raleigh is a place people want to live, and it’s a wonderful place to live, but we know that is not the case for everyone. But the people who have homes, who are comfortable and are doing well—a

lot of them care and would like to leverage their resources to help families in need. A committee is currently studying proposed changes to the council, including longer term lengths, staggered elections, and making council positions full-time and paying accordingly. Would you support any of these changes?

There are pros and cons to each proposal. Obviously, the wonderful benefit of the existing model is that you are more accountable because you have to turn around and show the city you are working on its behalf in order to be elected again. The pros of longer terms is you get to work on systemic, long-term impact projects with the same team for a longer period of time. I would love to hear further discussions on where the committee is leaning in that conversation. Are there policy decisions this council has made with which you agree?

Allowing ADUs [Accessory Dwelling Units] by right and starting the police advisory board with the individuals who were involved with organizing the protest this summer. I thought that was a good idea, so those are two areas. Is there anything else you want Raleigh residents to know about your campaign for mayor?

I’m focused, number one, on just baseline strengthening our community engagement. It is not an easy project, but it is fundamental to launching anything else. My goals and vision start there. After that, I want to make sure we are able to engage all of Raleigh around affordable housing. That will be a critical conversation, especially post-COVID. The final thing is really beefing up our support for small businesses all across the city, but particularly downtown. I think we can do more in terms of an experience around shopping local in Raleigh that will drive shoppers back to downtown and back to our local shops. Small business is a reflection of our community. That is where we hire local residents, where people make their livings and invest in Raleigh. So we need a healthy small business community, and my energy will go into those three pockets. W This interview has been edited for length and clarity. INDYweek.com

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PHOTOVOICE 14

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Guns Down. Hearts Up. WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON

Every Saturday starting at 2:00 p.m., a small group of people marches on the sidewalk along East Main Street in Durham, from South Dillard Street to North Elizabeth Street. The marchers have one thing in common: All have lost a loved one to gun violence in the city. They are parents, siblings, caretakers, and friends. A few of them are mothers who lost children this summer. Many of these murders remain unsolved. The group is demanding that the community and City government come together to seek justice. W

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FOOD & DRINK

Mock Trial My dry January was off to a rough start. Could creative, boozeless concoctions serve up some redemption? BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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s the day’s shortened and darkened with 2020’s final act, I found my nightly glass of wine coming earlier and becoming two, or three, sometimes chased by shame the next morning. A disclaimer: I don’t see drinking as a black-and-white divide between good, self-controlled, responsible drinkers and bad, glutinous alcoholics. Everyone who chooses to imbibe exists on a spectrum of risk, and where you fall depends on your relationship with alcohol. I’ve always liked to drink, although since college, my relationship with alcohol has mellowed. Pre-pandemic, I’d go out and throw a few back once a week with pals, but for the most part, I felt in control. Until I didn’t. So, like many folks, I committed myself to a dry January this year. It’s something I’ve done the last few years (sometimes with a No-Drink November thrown in) as a personal health challenge. I see it as a reset: To remember how my body feels at 100 and discover if my constant morass has been a perpetual low-grade hangover. I didn’t intend to put down the bottle forever, but my liver was asking for a month off. I was off to a strong start—feeling more awake, more productive, just more. But then, last week, right-wing terrorists stormed the Capitol. I found myself paralyzed in front of CNN, eyeing the cabinet and telling myself a whiskey shot wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t terrible. But it also wasn’t great. Even without the pandemic, January is also notoriously not great for the restaurant industry, as liquor is one of the most lucrative menu items. For Raleigh chef Scott Crawford, the solution is to keep a mix of booze-free options on the menu 16

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all year round—an ever-changing slate of creative concoctions that aim to complement what’s on the plate as much as a cocktail would. “Our basic philosophy is that anyone who comes to our restaurant and chooses not to partake in spirits should still have the same excitement about what it is that they are drinking,” Crawford says. Crawford has been sober for 16 years and runs a local support group for workers in the restaurant industry grappling with sobriety. When he was a young chef, Crawford says, what began as a “work hard, play hard” mentality morphed into a serious problem. One night, Crawford attended an industry event. He’d just gotten sober, so he turned down the wine pairing for the evening. But instead of water, the beverage director asked if Crawford wanted to try an alcohol-free pairing. “By the end of the meal, instead of being the person who everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s not drinking,’ they were like, ‘What was that? Oh, that’s cool,’” Crawford recalls. “So I was engaged in the conversation and the profile of these beverages. That was a game-changer for me.” For me, this required a radical perspective shift. It’s easy to look down on mocktails as an inferior alternative, and in many places, it’s just the same tired mix of soda and syrup minus the booze. But Crawford got me wondering: Could I come to see a mocktail as something more—something special, even enjoyable? So on Friday, I rendezvoused with Crawford at his eponymous Person Street restaurant to give mocktails an honest go. I sit at the end of the low-lit restaurant’s bar and a few minutes later the

ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER

salty-haired, tattooed Crawford emerges from the kitchen. The goal of the mocktail menu, which is constantly evolving, is to provide patrons with a booze-free treat as complex and thought-provoking as anything else on his menu. It’s all about balance, he says, in both life and drinks. “If I’m not balanced, I can’t be creative,” he says. The first mocktail that beverage manager Jordan Joseph slides me is a savory drink infused with smoked golden beets and a bit of vinegar, capped with a thyme sprig. The champagne vinegar provides the same tingly kick you’d usually get from vodka or gin. But it also makes you slow down and savor every sip. The next mix I try is a sweet combination of roasted apples and cinnamon that, if I’m honest, doesn’t strike me as

terribly different from a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey in cider. But it’s light enough to serve as a perfect aperitif or digestif bracketing a meal. The final mocktail is the most mindblowing: an Aleppo pepper-infused tropical snowstorm. It’s a pannacotta-themed painkiller, with notes of fruit and piecrust in every sip, topped by a frothy, emulsified snow-like foam sprinkled with pepper flakes. It’s spicy, sweet, and utterly unique. In a perfect dish, one element can’t overpower, and it’s the interplay of flavors that elevates even the smallest bite. Here, a beet is more than a beet; it’s a symphony. Perhaps that’s what I’d been looking for during my temporary sobriety: something to balance out the bitterness but also make me ask the hard questions, evaluate my relationships and goals, and hopefully adjust accordingly. And just like taste, our needs change over time. W


A RT

LIFELINE: HUNGER RELIEF DURING THE PANDEMIC

The ArtsCenter | Online through Feb. 15

Meals on Wheels Orange Co. switched from delivering a hot meal daily to five frozen meals once a week to keep recipients and drivers safe. PHOTO BY TOM SIMON

How did you pick which food distribution locations and organizations to photograph? I wanted to look beyond Chapel Hill. I had been in touch with folks at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, and I knew I wanted to shoot at a food bank. Then I started talking to people who were involved, asking them to recommend others. I started calling and emailing organizations explaining what I was doing, and virtually everyone said they would love to be a part of it. I met some amazing people.

To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, please contact advertising@indyweek.com

have you observed about how To advertise or featureWhat a pet for adoption, local food insecurity and hunger are changing during the pandemic? please contact advertising@indyweek.com There was a greater awareness of it. Yet,

Turning the Tables

The photographer Tom Simon takes a close lens to the local organizations fighting food insecurity BY ANNA MUDD arts@indyweek.com

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ifeline: Hunger Relief During the Pandemic, the Carrboro ArtsCenter’s first online exhibit of the year, takes a close look at the local food distribution channels that are fighting food insecurity during the pandemic. Chapel Hill photographer Tom Simon’s 35 quietly emotional photographs capture weekly food distributions across the Triangle by organizations like The Produce Box and PORCH-Durham. The series sheds humane light on the workers behind these donations—and the people who rely on them. The INDY reached out to Simon to learn more.

at the same time, it was an incredible struggle to deliver food to people in the midst of a pandemic, as many of the volunteer organizations were relying on volunteers who typically worked very close to each other. When I was a driver at Meals on Wheels before the pandemic, we were delivering one hot meal a day to clients. They couldn’t do that anymore, because they wanted to limit exposure for the volunteers and recipients, so they had to switch to delivering five frozen meals once a week. On top of that, many volunteers are older and most vulnerable to the pandemic, so the volunteer core was diminished as people were concerned about their health—and people had to adapt to that.

To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, please contact advertising@indyweek.com

What do you hope to showcase to the community through these photos? al years, and over the last three or four years, I have been doing volunteer photography I wanted to put a face on hunger. People To advertise or featurego a pet forand adoption, online see shots of endless lines of for PORCH. During the pandemic, they [have been] involved in weekly food distributions please along with the town of Chapel Hill. I began to get curious about where allcontact the foodadvertising@indyweek.com was cars crawling through a distribution center, or they see an interview with one recipient. coming from and who was involved in it. I realized that this food folks were picking up was an incredible lifeline for them There wasn’t much exposure for the volunand the last step in a chain of human activity that began on farms and ended with teers, so I wanted to put a face on that as ToChapel advertise or are feature a apet Hill, you living in buba box of food in their trunk. I wanted to examine that human chain to see how the well. In forseemingly adoption, please comfortable contact an affluent food got there, and to find all the people who were involved. I wanted to learn more ble. It’s advertising@indyweek.com but there is a huge amount of about the people beyond the final stage of food distribution and to follow some of community, these people home to photograph them feeding their families with the food they got. economic disadvantage and food insecuriIf you look at the show, it ends with people at home either cooking or serving food ty here that people don’t see, and I wanted that to come to light, too. W to their families.

INDY: How did you get the idea for this series? TOM SIMON: I have been volunteering for both Meals on Wheels and PORCH for sever-

INDYweek.com

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THE UNCOLLECTED STORIES OF ALLAN GURGANUS

Liveright | Jan. 12

The Second Coming Sex, snake farmers, and seeing the future in Allan Gurganus’s newest short story collection BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

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llan Gurganus is talking about psychic visitations over Zoom one January morning when his phone—clearly a landline—begins ringing shrilly. He offers a genteel apology and ignores it as it rings three times more. A few beats later, my own phone goes off, briefly eclipsing our conversation. “Well,” Gurganus says, pausing. “Speaking of concurrent realities.” Zoom is a less auspicious stage than Gurganus’s sprawling home in Hillsborough, which is filled with historical tchotchkes and borders a graveyard that dates back to 1757. Still, even in a virtual setting, it feels perfectly possible that some element—a ghost, a concurrent reality, a wrinkle in time, whatever you want to call it—has joined the waiting room of our call. As we talk, Gurganus references a childhood experience where, riding in the back of a station wagon, he saw several cars race by and became paralyzed with dread. His friend’s mother, driving the car, pulled over to try and calm him down as he mumbled, “Something horrible is about to happen.” When they resumed driving and rounded a bend, they discovered a gory accident had occurred moments before. Gurganus’s sense of his ability is practical—he says these premonitions “don’t happen often, thank God”—but the result is a certain orderly mysticism that threads through his life and life’s work. He is a famously great talker, speaking in perfect ecumenical sentences—if the Constitution and Walt Whitman had a baby, it would probably sound like Gurganus—but he’s attentive and generous, too. In discussing the craft of writing, he’s quick to cite his influences with reverence. But while some elements of fiction, like structure and pacing, can be taught, oth18

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ers—his subtle ability to bend the spacetime continuum, for one—really can’t be learned in a classroom. “Sometimes zones get scrambled,” he explains. “There’s a leak between the realms of reality, and we get a glimpse of something that either happened long ago, or is about to happen in fluid time. One of the beauties of fiction writing is that you get to experience all those concurrent times at once. To be able to move backwards and forward is a beautiful thing.” Gurganus, 73, speaks with me a few days ahead of the release of The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus, his sixth book, and his first release since 2013. The stories, he says, are bound together by a common theme of “unknown people doing unbelievable things.” In the nine stories, all told in his characteristic comic voice, readers meet twin boys scooped up by a tornado, a dog saved just short of drowning, and a polyamorous snake farmer who bewitches an elderly spinster to the point of super-detailed cunninlingual climax. Gurganus doesn’t describe these instances as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” a maxim that’s become commonplace to the point of being commercial. Instead, the idea he revisits often in his fiction is that most people—unknown misfits and oddballs as they may be—are already extraordinary. All they need is a small opportunity to show it. Born the oldest of four sons in smalltown Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Gurganus was raised, by his telling, among a bevy of brilliant older women—teachers, relatives, the wives of preachers— who nurtured his ambitions. Variations of these women appear often in his fiction. “They had private lives of their own and were interested in books and paint-

Allan Gurganus at home in Hillsborough.

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

ing and all the things that interested me,” Gurganus says. “They became heroines of mine. I think being a gay man probably has a lot to do with identifying with the people who were challenged and left out and laughed at at times. To try and find my way into letting the world admire these people the way I did has been part of my work from the very beginning.” Originally, Gurganus wanted to work as a painter. The Vietnam War derailed these plans with three years of service on the USS Yorktown. With paint materials in short supply, the sailor turned to writing; after the war, he studied with Grace Paley at Sarah Lawrence College and John Cheever at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1974, Cheever submitted his 26-year old student’s story, “Minor Heroism,” to The New Yorker. It was Gurganus’s first publication, and the first time The New Yorker had ever featured a gay character in a work of fiction. Then came the eighties—and for Gurganus, who was living in New York City,

a decade of profound love and loss as he cared for dozens of friends dying from AIDS. “Maybe it was my Presbyterian upbringing, but I remember thinking that this was bound to end badly, that it was more than any of us could be granted,” he told the Oxford American, years later, of the freedom and community he found in New York. In 1989, he published his most wellknown work, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, which became a runaway hit and spent seven years on the New York Times bestseller list. Decades of books, awards, teaching appointments, fierce political engagement, and a move back to North Carolina followed. Of course, there’s more to his story: If Gurganus’s fiction teaches his readers anything, it’s that people have far more depth and mystery to their lives than what can fit on a Christmas card. But for the purposes of this profile, a summary finds him back in his home in Hillsborough—built in 1900 for the local doctor—where he gazes into


the Zoom screen, a vase of blue hydrangeas arranged behind him and an assistant moving quietly around in the background. Here, with a window overlooking the maybe-haunted, maybe-not-haunted graveyard, he wrote most of the nine stories that come out this week.

“A

Wish for a Good Young Country Doctor,” the leading story in the new collection, makes a strong case for Gurganus’s ideas about the physics of fiction. Set in 1847, the story takes place in a small Illinois town ravaged by cholera. At first, the town’s residents idolize the young doctor who comes to treat them; as the virus drags on, idolatry twists into blame. So, yes, it’s a historical viral disease story—one he just happened to write in the month before a viral disease swept the United States. Gurganus, who has been interested in epidemics since boyhood, says he’s had a premonition that we would experience another one in this lifetime. When he witnessed the HIV scourge years ago, that belief was only reinforced. The day he sent his agent the story, Gurganus says, was the first day the word “COVID-19” appeared in the pages of The New York Times. Urged by its prescience, his agent forwarded the story to The New Yorker. It was published in April. Many details, including misplaced blame on essential workers, resonate eerily; in an interview with fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Gurganus described this resonance as “rhyming across time.” And then there are the story’s closing lines, part of a letter from the doctor, which sound like a gong in our current, collective fight for survival: “Stay we must, however strong be our sinful urge to solely save ourselves. Certainly, our very notion of civilization depends on our group determination that not one among us, even the most solitary and least loved, be left untended.” The words, for their prescience, make you shiver; they also leave you feeling a little more loved, a sensation that holds through much of Gurganus’s writing. Rhetorical devices are cleverly scaffolded with electric sentences, making for a reading experience so absorbing that the sensation of being moved almost takes you by surprise. (“There is another world,” the book’s epigraph reads, “but it is in this one.”) In a roundabout way, the book’s final story, “My Heart Is a Snake Farm,” also feels weirdly true to the past year. It features Esther, a virginal spinster, who lives out her sunset years alone in a decrepit Florida hotel until a gregarious snake charm-

er, trailed by a harem of younger women, opens a neighboring tourist attraction. The setting evokes the weird, flash-in-the-pan popularity of Netflix’s Tiger King, from the pandemic’s early days. Certainly, Gurganus’s characters are every bit as colorful as Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin. But the story, published in The New Yorker in 2004, is vintage Gurganus. It’s as baroque and over-the-top—as Florida—as you can get. In some moments, it flirts with being too over the top. But then, it stops right at the brink and breaks your heart. A retired librarian, Esther is so convinced of her ugliness, so authoritative about her lot in life, that the reader feels her surprise keenly when, finally, she is noticed and given a lone moment of blinding sexual rapture— a moment that provokes “Snakefarmish sounds, only it was me,” from a tongue that becomes “a sizzling skillet, a little pen flashlight, now featherweight, now flapjack, then just a single birthday candle.” Gurganus likes to write about sex. A conversation about writing usually ends up also being about sex, and he jokes lightly about being a “dirty old man.” That label, though, doesn’t capture the profundity of his searching treatment of the erotic. What’s so wonderful about Esther and her rapture is how far-removed it is from a fantasy. If it’s dirty, it’s because it’s human, not Hollywood. “Even an erotic experience gone wrong can be incredibly amazing and more erotically charged than most pornography that I’ve found on the web,” Gurganus says. “There’s something about people reaching out to each other in that way that is always interesting on the page.” Since the late 1970s, Gurganus has been working on his swan song, An Erotic History of a Southern Baptist Church, which charts the hundred-year history of a church in the fictional town of Falls, North Carolina, where many of his books are set. I haven’t read this book; Gurganus is still in the process of editing it, he says, and the pages are stored in several heavy boxes that he’s slowly hacking his way through. But from his telling, more than anything he’s written, the book gets at the mysterious, essential blur between spiritual and sexual life. Most of his characters live in that blur. Maybe most of us do, as well. “The experience of being the young man writing the book and the old man finishing the book is important,” Gurganus says. “It’s very much about the confusion between spiritual life and sexual life, which are two stripes that I find fascinating and not competitive—in fact, they’re synchronous, often, and therefore very confusing. And wherever there’s confusion, there’s fiction.” W

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Buy the Book The local releases we’re looking forward to in 2021 BY SARAH EDWARDS AND EMMA KENFIELD arts@indyweek.com

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ith people stuck indoors, publishing was one of the industries to get a weird 2020 boost. There’s still a long road (and winter) ahead until vaccines are fully distributed, so perhaps our literary devotion will keep pace. But beyond the year’s most anticipated blockbusters—including new novels by Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen—our local presses have a full holster of releases you won’t want to miss. Here are a few to bookmark. EDNA LEWIS: AT THE TABLE WITH AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL Edited by Sara B. Franklin | UNC Press; Feb. 2021 Originally published in 2018 and reissued this February in paperback form, this celebration of the legendary Edna Lewis deserves all the attention it can get. Lewis, a trailblazing activist and chef and the author of A Taste of Country Cooking, championed Black Southern cooking and the farm-to-table movement until her death in 2006. This elegant collection includes essays from Kim Severson, John T. Edge, Alice Waters, and numerous others. —Sarah Edwards MILLENNIALS KILLED THE VIDEO STAR: MTV’S TRANSITION TO REALITY PROGRAMMING By Amanda Ann Klein | Duke University Press; Feb. 2021 My mother used to tell me that Jersey Shore would rot my brain; with Millennials Killed the Video Star, Amanda Ann Klein would seem to agree. In this release, the East Carolina University film professor helps make sense of the noise, walking readers through MTV’s evolution from music videos to scripted reality TV—maximizing stereotypes about race, gender, and class along the way, and shaping how an entire generation would come to understand identity. —Emma Kenfield SPINNING THE VAST FANTASTIC By Britton Shurley | Bull City Press; Feb. 2021 The past year was flooded with “big things,” causing many of us to forget life’s simple joys. This pocket-sized collection by the Kentucky poet Britton Shurley calls for a revival of wonder, reminding its readers of the beauty of small things and the natural world. Spinning the Vast Fantastic, out via Durham’s Bull City Press, is a poetic remedy for uncertain times. —EK RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW: LIFE STORIES FROM AMERICA’S DEATH ROW Edited by Lynden Harris | Duke Press; Apr. 2021 This powerful collection contains true stories from the dozens of men living on death row across the country. Some remembrances stretch back to childhood experiences of poverty and police misconduct, while other accounts pertain to life inside the carceral system, as the writers fight to hold on to their connections to the outside world. The events of 2020 underscored systematic inequality and the injustices of the justice system; here, these firsthand accounts form a moving, personal call to action. —SE

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TO DRINK FROM THE WELL: THE STRUGGLE FOR RACIAL EQUALITY AT THE NATION’S OLDEST PUBLIC UNIVERSITY By Geeta Kapur | Blair Publishing; May 2021 UNC-Chapel Hill has had a banner year for scandals, though the ones of the past months only scratch the surface of the oldest public university’s deep ties to white supremacy and institutional racism. In this must-read from Geeta Kapur, a civil rights activist and criminal defense lawyer (notably, she also represented the NAACP’s Moral Mondays protests pro bono), unpacks the “uncomfortable truths” behind many of the university’s storied sights. Think of it as a campus tour, except honest. —SE W


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