INDY Week 3.10.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill March 10, 2021


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March 10, 2021

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Raleigh 2 Durham 2 Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 8

A menu item at Cheeni, p. 17 PHOTO BY PREETHI RANJIT

CONTENTS NEWS 6

A look at Durham's Baha'i community 40 years after the Iranian revolution. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

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Leaders grapple with how to bring broadband to parts of rural Orange County. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

10 Community gardens can now sell produce on-site, with the goal of tackling food deserts in Raleigh. BY LEIGH TAUSS FEATURE 12

The year from hell: a COVID-19 timeline.

BY LEIGH TAUSS

ARTS & CULTURE 14

The second life of local pinball culture. BY EMMA KENFIELD

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A new Cheeni location comes to Raleigh. BY SARAH EDWARDS

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Even after the close of The Maywood, Raleigh's resilient metal scene lives on. BY BRYAN C. REED

19 In The Father, Anthony Hopkins delivers a chilling portrayal of a man struck by dementia. BY LEIGH TAUSS

W E M A D E T H IS PUBLISHER Susan Harper E D I TO RI A L Editor in Chief Jane Porter

20 It's a dog's life in new documentary Stray.

BY GLENN MCDONALD

Interim Managing Editor Leigh Tauss

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BY THOMASI MCDONALD

Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards

The Opera Game makes the right moves.

Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill

THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes

Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

5 Op-Ed

16 PHOTOVOICE

COVER Illustration by Jon Fuller

Contributors Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Nick Williams

Interns Emma Lee Kenfield

C R E AT I V E Creative Director

Annie Maynard

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BACKTALK

This week on our website, Thomasi McDonald wrote about a Durham minister who is working to include Black history instruction in

a Holocaust education bill. “Unfortunately, instead of trying to heal the division he describes, I fear the Minister has chosen instead to drive an even bigger wedge where one need not exist,” commented Facebook user DAVID RUBIN. “He could champion this issue while still, rightly and loudly, fighting for his own, particularly because they are, in fact, nearly one in the same if he would take a moment to realize it. Obviously, a dispute over tactics, but it would ultimately be a shame for neither issue to get the recognition it deserves.” We also wrote online about the mayors of Raleigh and Durham signing on to support President Joe Biden’s 30 By 30 initiative, with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the country’s land and waters by the year 2030. That did not go over well with some Facebook commenters. “...as they allow often out-of-town developers to clear cut home sites for building and business here in Raleigh,” wrote Facebook commenter DIANE L. MEYER. “The $165 million light rail fiasco that got pissed in the wind sure could have bought up a ton of carbon reducing tree canopy,” wrote commenter JENCY MARKHAM. “But alas, let’s blame Dook and the legislature for our willful shortsightedness!” Finally, we wrote about Snoopy’s Hot Dogs and More closing its longtime location on Hillsborough Street near Glenwood Avenue due to COVID and development pressures. “Downtown Raleigh has become a soulless wasteland of Charlotte-lite developer excess and Soviet style architecture,” wrote Facebook commenter DANIEL WILLIAMS. “If I was ever in Raleigh I could not come back to Durham without first stopping at Snoopy’s,” said commenter MICHAEL STEWART. “I will be wearing most of it by the time I got back to Durham because I couldn’t wait to eat it.”

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Chapel Hill

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15 MINUTES

PHOTO BY CHASE COFIELD

Daniel Toben, 32 Environmental advocate, founder of The Earth Steward, and “Triangle Trash Guy”

On any given day, Chapel Hill’s Daniel Toben can be seen collecting trash along the highways, in parks, or waist-deep (and waste-deep) in a stream. In 2020, he collected 2,300 bags of trash and has already collected 343 bags in 2021.

Sometimes I’ll do it for like an hour at a time. Yesterday, I had two work shifts, but they were separated by two hours. So I went and cleaned up near Southpoint Mall, Highway 751. I put in my earbuds, and I have a good time. I make jokes to myself about how ridiculous I am on the side of the road and how dirty I look. I laugh about the things that people throw away. And then I put it into bags and call it a day.

Can you tell me about the stream by your dorm at N.C. State?

Why does cleaning up litter mean so much to you?

I found this stream on campus that was filled with plastic bottles, and it was depressing. It was such a disrespect to the environment.

I think that for us to be as successful as possible, it requires us to try to strive for a standard of excellence. And I think that when people choose to litter, it’s just a sign of them compromising—that we are less than what we are actually worth, and the environment is less than what it’s actually worth.

BY EMMA KENFIELD backtalk@indyweek.com

I cleaned it up in secret and kept it from people, and it was kind of my sanctuary. It was the place where I had got my peace on campus. And then I did it so much that it became part of my personality. You know, there’s the soccer players and the basketball players; everybody who does something enough, it becomes part of them. So that’s what happened to me.

In an average week, what does your cleanup process look like? And how many bags do you try to collect each week? In an average week, it’s usually two cleanups. I’ve been doing it for long enough that people email me, or text, or message me on Facebook, and tell me where I need to go and clean up. For instance, the [North Carolina Department of Transportation] has been emailing me the places that I should clean up, when it’s really their job.

Plastic takes over 500 years to decompose, because it’s very inert. And we have created half of all the plastic ever produced in the last 15 years. Dealing with trash and plastic is an inevitable part of our future because we are only producing more and more of it every year. I think of it as, people can either be apathetic and choose to join that club, or they can choose to join the club of people who care and who are motivated to make the planet a better place. 2


OP-ED Raleigh's Community Bookstore

Listen to the latest podcasts on Bookin’ Beginning

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Still Fighting

Beginning

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Immigrants are risking everything to keep our communities running— we need $15 an hour and a union BY ONYS SIERRA backtalk@indyweek.com

Beginning

3.15

From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Machinehood Nick Greene, How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius: What Game Designers, Economists, Ballet Choreographers, and Theoretical Astrophysicists Reveal About the Greatest Game on Earth Sam Cohen, Sarahland: Stories Virtual Event

Cade Metz, Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World

TUES

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ost North Carolinians, no matter our race, occupation, or country of origin, work hard for our families. But we don’t all get paid enough to make ends meet, no matter how hard we work. I came to this country from Honduras over 20 years ago after Hurricane Mitch devastated my home country. Thanks to the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which allows people like me to live and work legally in the U.S., I’ve been able to contribute to this country and provide for my family. But with the wages I make, it has never been easy. I am an essential worker. I have two jobs, working six days a week. During the day, I work at an industrial laundromat, making sure that hospital linens and medical scrubs are washed and disinfected properly. In the evening hours, I work as a janitor, disinfecting offices to make sure that working families in Durham stay safe and healthy. Despite being deemed “essential” by the U.S. government, I am also deportable because of our broken and inhumane immigration system. I’m not alone. More than 131,000 TPS recipients are essential workers like me, risking their lives in service to their communities. Nearly one in five essential workers in America is an immigrant, including many Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members and leaders with the Fight for $15 and a Union. We are of every race and background living in every state, keeping America fed, clean, and safe. We are doctors, nurses, child care, and home care workers. We are essential to America.

But not only do many of us working immigrant families lack permanent protection from deportation, we are also underpaid. I am paid $12.10 an hour, which is barely enough to get by, and don’t get hazard pay for the essential work that I do. I live with constant fears: first, of contracting the virus at work; second, of being unable to keep providing for my family; and third, of being separated from them after so many years spent making this country our home. As we fight to pass important laws like the American Dream and Promise Act and the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 that would bring justice to immigrant families like mine, we must also fight for policy that recognizes the invaluable contributions and sacrifices of all essential workers—immigrants included. We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. For years, workers with the Fight for $15 and a Union have gone on strike, organized countless actions, and devoted our precious time to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to come together in a union to help build a better future. We cannot wait any longer. For me, $15 an hour would be a gift of life. It would mean that I could spend more time with my two beautiful grandchildren who love sleepovers. I dream about taking a vacation with my family. In all my years in the U.S., I have only ever taken one vacation—and it was only for two days— because I cannot afford to take the time off from work. If I fall one step behind, it would be devastating for my family. And I know that $15 an hour would make a difference not just in my life,

but also in the lives of millions of workers. Experts estimate that a $15 an hour wage would boost the incomes of nearly one third of Black workers and one quarter of Latino workers, which would finally give us a chance to tackle generations of racial income gaps. Raising the minimum wage will have far-reaching benefits, tackling food insecurity, lowering rates of depression and suicide, and reducing child abuse—without leading to job loss. In my fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, I’ve seen the impact of coming together and demanding justice right before my own eyes. A $15 an hour minimum wage isn’t just morally right—it’s also good economics and good politics. We need everyone in Congress—Democrats and Republicans—to stand with us in our fight for a $15 an hour wage. I recently came across some words that were spoken by U.S. Representative John Lewis at an early Fight for $15 and a Union strike in Atlanta: “Sometimes you have to make a little noise. Sometimes you have to find a way to make a way out of no way. Sometimes you have to find a way to get in the way.” We will not rest until our way is found. Senators must recognize the work our entire country has agreed is essential by passing a $15-an-hour minimum wage. It’s time that all essential workers—no matter our race, our job, where we live, or our country of origin—are respected, protected, paid a living wage, and granted the right to join a union.

3.16

All events are online. Register for Quail Ridge Books Virtual Events Series at www.quailridgebooks.com. www.quailridgebooks.com • 919.828.1588 • North Hills 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh, NC 27609 Offering FREE Media Mail shipping and contactless pickup!

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March 10, 2021

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NEWS

Durham

A Leap of Faith Forty years after the revolution, Baha’is in Iran still live with religious persecution; Durham has a small Baha’i expatriate community BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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hirty-six years ago, sisters Zhila and Parvaneh Mostaghimi, adherents to the Baha’i faith, walked across the Lut Desert to escape imprisonment and, possibly, death at the hands of the Iranian government. “During the day, our path through the desert was very hot,” Zhila tells the INDY. NASA identifies the salt desert, a World Heritage Site, as the hottest place on Earth. “And at night, it would be very cold. The only thing we were allowed to keep was our clothes that we wore in layers.” “We were thinking, ‘How were we going to survive?’” Parvaneh says. The Mostaghimi sisters arrived in Durham in 1991. This year, they celebrate their 30th anniversary as intensive care unit nurses at Duke Hospital. Their parents, younger sister, and brothers all now live in the United States but back home in Iran, Baha’i worshippers are still persecuted. Nearly 200 years before the Mostaghimis fled, the Baha’i faith—which teaches that humanity’s great religions all come from one common source—was born in Iran. The faith traces its beginnings to 1844, when a merchant, Sayyed `Alí Muhammad Shírází, who became known as The Báb, preached that he was the bearer of a new revelation from God and taught that God would send humanity a messenger, known as Baha’u’llah. Among the chief tenets of the faith is the belief that a loving God has been called different names throughout the ages. The Baha’i celebrate equality between men and women, condemn racism, and champion the elimination of extreme wealth and poverty. Today, there are five million followers from every racial, ethnic, and religious background. Parvaneh says that before the Iranian monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in 1979, the ultra-conservative country’s three million Baha’i followers could gather for prayer and Sunday school. “It was freer, it was okay,” Parvaneh says. “It was not very liberal, but it was all right.” 6

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Parvaneh Mostaghimi

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

But the new Islamic Republic and its authoritarian leader, the Grand Ayatollah, targeted Baha’i members with systematic persecution, accusing them of practicing a “perverse sect” of Islam. The Mostaghimis say that thousands of Baha’is were killed, their homes burned and looted, and the large Baha’i center in their hometown, Shiraz, was confiscated and turned into a government building. The persecution, Zhila says, was a reaction to the Baha’i belief that God will send another messenger. In Islam, Muhammad is the final prophet. In January, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement condemning “the alarming escalation of government measures targeting Baha’is in Iran on the basis of their faith.” These measures include a court ruling in December that it is illegal for Baha’i members to own property in the town of Ivel. Another court banned eight Baha’is from participating in religious gatherings and forcing them to attend five sectarian counselling sessions at the Andisheh Sajjadieh Institute in Bandar Abbas. In December, the U.S. House, for the 20th time since 1982, passed a bipartisan bill, House Resolution 823, condemning Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of Baha’i citizens, and the country’s continued violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Kathleen Heady is one of around 200 members of the Baha’i faith living in Durham. She says that the community is mindful of the persecution Baha’i members in Iran are again enduring.

“When you compare [the Baha’i faith] to the major religions, we’re a small religion,” Heady tells the INDY. “So what happens to a few affects all of us.” Heady says there’s not much the local Baha’i community can do to alleviate the state-sanctioned repression of their fellow worshippers in Iran. “Anything we may do might put Baha’is there in more danger,” she says. But some Baha’i members living in the Bull City volunteer to teach college classes to Baha’i students through an online university staffed by instructors from all over the world. Zhila and Parvaneh were college students when the government forbade Baha’i members to attend school. “They started coming to houses, knocking on doors and asking about identification,” Zhila recalls. Baha’is soon realized the government used their identification to determine who was attending religious gatherings at their worship center. Once people were identified as participating in Baha’i services, the revolutionary security forces arrived at their homes and detained them, Zhila says. A pattern developed with the arrest and jailing of Baha’i worshippers. “They would go to your house at night,” Zhila says. “During the day, they would pretend everything was normal.” The Mostaghimi family found a temporary solution to help Zhila and Parvaneh avoid the authorities, sending them at night to the home of non-Baha’i relatives. Each night, guards would arrive at homes and read the names from a list of Baha’i members they had identified.


Zhila Mostaghimi PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

“They didn’t know who you were, so they would read the list,” Zhila says. “At first, it was the youth[s] they were going after.” Zhila says several friends told her, “Hey, they called your name in my house,” or, “They were calling your name.” The sisters’ parents were worried. Their sons were already in America, and their youngest daughter, Fariva, a middle-schooler at the time, was too young for arrest. Zhila remembers when several Baha’i worshippers were arrested. “They were in jail one year,” she says. “They executed them. The only reason is, you are Baha’i. You don’t have any rights. You are not allowed even to breathe in this country. The air that you breathe is not for you. It is for the Muslims.” Several months passed and the two sisters continued staying in different relatives’ homes at night. It wasn’t easy for them to leave as the government had confiscated Baha’i members’ passports under the guise of renewing them. “They took our passports and never gave [them] back to us,” Zhila says. For nearly two years, the sisters made monthly visits to the passport office but were told their applications were not complete. A guard at the office told Zhila she was wasting her time, she says, because they were not going to return her passport. He told her not to come back. The persecution continued. Baha’i students were barred from school. Baha’i teachers were fired. Businesses and professional licenses were confiscated. Government work-

ers were dismissed. The sisters’ father lost his job as an accountant. Nurses were let go. “They never stopped,’’ Zhila says. “[When] we left, there were 200 Baha’is in jail. They had hung 180 Baha’is. The government decided the only way you could get out of jail was to put your house up as collateral. Anything you do, they come and get your house and you go back to jail.” The government also started pressuring the sisters’ Islamic family members, warning them not to help their Baha’i relatives. “They start distancing themselves from you,” Zhila says. Seven years passed. Finally, the sisters’ father hired people to smuggle them out of Iran. “You don’t know who they are, but you have to somehow trust them,” Zhila says of the smugglers who helped them flee. There were no guarantees of safe passage. Baha’i families were sending their children out of the country but the revolutionary guard captured many. Others who left were never heard from again. Baha’i members’ phones were tapped. Those who chose to flee couldn’t tell anyone they were leaving. “Even my grandmother,” Zhila says. “The day that I was leaving, I went to visit her to say goodbye. I told her I was taking a trip to the capital city.” In March 1985, Zhila and Parvaneh started their trek north on a flight to Tehran. They then caught another flight south to Zahedan, about 41 miles from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A truck driver met them at

the airport and drove them to the hilly desert that they traversed on foot with hardly any food or water. They walked for almost 40 hours, Zhila recalls, before another truck driver picked them up and trailed two motorcyclists tasked with ensuring the route was clear. The sisters arrived at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border near the city of Quetta. Before crossing the border, the driver instructed the sisters to pretend they were a family arriving in the country for a wedding. “The driver told us to pretend we were asleep, and cover our faces with our chadors,” Zhila says. “He told us if the guards see ladies, then they would not interfere with us.” The sisters were uneasy. “We didn’t know what was in front of us,’’ Parvaneh says. “We didn’t know if it was going to be worse or better.” The guard and driver exchanged words in Urdu. “We got through. He let us pass,” Zhila says. The sisters spent the night at a hotel. Once in the room, Zhila called her parents and spoke six words. “Mom, I’m okay. Dad, I’m safe,” she told them. “I felt a sense of freedom,” Parvaneh says. “But we didn’t know what to expect.” It turns out, they weren’t completely safe. Zhila heard “familiar voices” in the hotel lobby, someone speaking Farsi, their native language. “You better leave this city,” a man, who was Baha’i, told them. “You need to get out of this city as soon as you can. If they catch you, they will send you back.” The man told them to go to the United Nations office. There, they received identification and, two days later, the sisters flew to Islamabad. Their brothers, including one studying for a PhD at Virginia Tech University, agreed to sponsor them. Nearly two more years would pass before the sisters arrived in Blacksburg, Virginia. “The Lutheran Church introduced us to U.S. culture,” Zhila says, including registering them for classes in English, math, and science. The sisters both earned nursing degrees. Parvaneh interned at Duke Hospital, where she appreciated the research opportunities and thought she could advance. She decided to stay in Durham, and asked Zhila, who was working at a community hospital in Virginia, to join her. The sisters quickly found the local Baha’i community and attended worship services and activities at the Durham Baha’i Center on Revere Road, or at one another’s homes. Over the years, Zhila and Parvarneh volunteered following high-profile disasters, across the United States and abroad, including after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 with a team from Duke Hospital at Port-au-Prince; Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and at local homeless shelters once a month. The Mostaghimi sisters remain unmarried but, they say, not unfulfilled, as they are surrounded by family while freely following Baha’i principles. “We have dedicated our life to work and service,” Parvaneh says. Service to the community is just another tenet of the Baha’i faith. 2 INDYweek.com

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NEWS

Orange County Orange County Broadband Initiative Pilot Project (Phase 1)

Disconnected Broadband access isn’t just a problem in rural North Carolina; the issue persists in the Triangle, too BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

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arl McKee’s grandfather and his neighbors chopped down cedar trees to create the first utility poles for Person County. Those poles eventually fed the electric wires that illuminated his dairy farm. McKee, an Orange County Commissioner, is facing a different utility crisis almost a century later: getting internet access—good internet access—to the rural parts of Orange County. It’s something McKee struggles with. “I’ve tried a few of the committee meetings at home, but I do almost all of my virtual meetings in Hillsborough at the Whitted Center,” McKee says. “Because if I’m trying to attend a virtual meeting at home, it’s very problematic as to whether I’m actually going to be able to participate. I mean, I might be there, but you might not be able to hear me.” McKee lives in a part of the county that isn’t on broadband—a term used to describe internet service of a certain speed. Close to 5,000 county residences didn’t have broadband in 2018, and its availability varies widely by census tract. FCC data show that 100 percent of Chapel Hill and Carrboro residences are potentially able to meet the 25/3 threshold, meaning users can download at a speed of 25 or more megabits per second, or upload content at three megabits per second. By comparison, more than 95 percent of the state’s households have broadband access available. As you move north into the county, the number of residences that meet that threshold plummets as low as 41 percent and the speed is slower. “A family of four typically would need greater than the 25/3 to stream,” Jeff Sural, the director of the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, told the 8

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INDY. “If you have four users in the house and one is streaming a video, several are on emails, one may be gaming, you’re going to need greater than the minimum threshold.” Some may still consider high-speed internet a luxury, but the COVID-19 pandemic has proved that it’s a necessity. Some students can’t access classes or their homework. Adults could find it nearly impossible to work. Telehealth isn’t always an option, prompting many patients to brave doctor’s offices. Libraries are normally a solution to poor internet access in the home, but many have closed. Local school systems created their own remedies. Orange County Schools Superintendent Monique Felder says the school system had to provide around 1,400 students and 200 teachers and staff with hotspots to keep up with their school days; the numbers are similar at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, according to a representative. Hotspots are expensive solutions, and may work only in the short-term: Alamance County families told Elon News Network that their hotspots still didn’t provide enough bandwidth for the whole household. McKee petitioned the Board of Commissioners in November to create the Orange County Broadband Task Force to tackle the issue. The group includes McKee, Sural, Commissioner Sally Greene, representatives from the two school systems and Durham Tech, and others in the community. At the first meeting March 4, they asked the question: How does broadband expand to the rural parts of Orange County? This isn’t Orange County’s first time tackling broadband access. Greene became aware of the issue while serving on the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2011. “Chapel Hill on its own was hoping to be able to provide broadband service

Map shows plans for wireless service proposed in a contract between Open Broadband and Orange County ILLUSTRATION BY ANNIE MAYNARD

under the law as it had been, before it was changed,” she says. That same year, the General Assembly and its brand-new Republican majority passed Session Law 2011-84, or the “Level Playing Field” bill. The bill prohibits municipalities from creating internet cooperatives, like the ones that exist for electricity or water. Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum), CenturyLink, and other communications companies backed the bill. Legislators sold it as a means to preserve competition. “Let’s be clear about whose bill this is,” Representative Bill Faison (D-Orange) told WRAL at the time. “This is Time Warner’s bill. You need to know who you’re doing this for.” The 2011 bill is reminiscent of private efforts in the 20th century to dissuade the legislature from creating public electric cooperatives. As with electric compa-

nies, the state tried to incentivize communications companies to create rural broadband service. These incentives rarely apply to counties like Orange, with a mix of rural and urban areas. The state’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program applies only to counties with the most pressing needs. Orange County has one of the highest median household incomes and lowest unemployment rates statewide, despite its varying census tract data. The Level Playing Field Bill has forced Orange County officials to look for their own incentives over the last decade, including partnerships with private companies. In September 2018, Orange County government began a three-year partnership with the Waxhaw internet company Open Broadband with the hope of taking 2,700


residences online. Though the contract still has a few months, it’s clear that the goal was never realized. Jim Northrup, the county’s chief information officer, told the broadband task force that 10 percent of those residences—fewer than 300 homes—would have wireless internet by the contract’s expiration in October. The company was not prepared for the county’s lack of “vertical assets”—or tall things to put equipment on. Without towers, skyscrapers, or billboards, there’s no way to make fixed wireless work. Other solutions, like fiber, can be expensive to build. Internet service providers don’t fall under the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which regulates the quality of a service and determines local need for it. Without that regulation, the wealth in Chapel Hill and Carrboro can’t make the rural parts of the county more attractive to private companies—if companies can’t turn a big enough profit, then they won’t improve service. Even if municipalities could form cooperatives, they may run into their own issues. Sural says the municipal co-op model has worked well for some counties, but not others. “A lot of municipalities do not have the resources to build a network, a lot of them don’t have the know-how,” Sural says. He says Wilson, “the poster child for muni broadband” in the state, had an electric cooperative in place. City officials knew how to run a public utility, city employees knew how to hang the wires, and the city already owned the poles. In 1933, the state began laying the groundwork to electrify its farms with a government program. In April 1935, North Carolina Rural Electrification officially began. The federal program was created under the New Deal in May; President Roosevelt was communicating with the state during the program’s inception. Governor Roy Cooper calls rural broadband access a priority; so do House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. Nationally, the first two stimulus packages had money that could be used for broadband and more could be included in the third package currently moving through Congress. There’s a possibility this momentum could all change as COVID-19 fades away, and we slowly return to our normal, distracted lives. None of the people to whom the INDY spoke for this story think that’s likely: even after the pandemic, people will want to work, or shop, from home. Students will still need the internet for homework. “I’ve heard the tax issue, and the cost issue,” McKee says. “‘Can we afford to do this?’ My response is ‘Can we afford not to do it?’” 2 INDYweek.com

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STYLIZED PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

NEWS

Raleigh

Garden Variety Community gardens in Raleigh can now sell produce on-site, with the goal of addressing food deserts in the city BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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f you’ve ever ordered the locavore salad from The Fiction Kitchen, then you’ve probably nibbled on microgreens grown in Tami Purdue’s shipping container. The Raleigh urban agriculturist can grow up to three tons of microgreens a year out of the 325-square-foot container, and, at one point, she sold produce to about 160 local restaurants. In November 2019, her company, Sweet Pea Urban Gardens, joined forces with The Well Fed Community Gardens, a 1.5-acre operation on Athens Drive in southwest Raleigh owned by Irregardless Cafe founders Arthur and Anya Gordon. Having just sold the beloved cafe they founded in 1975, the Gordons hoped to spend their retirement ramping up production at the farm with Purdue’s assistance. The plan was to sell mostly to local businesses. Then came COVID, and overnight, their customer base disappeared as restaurants shuttered their doors and laid off staff. With nowhere to share their harvest, Purdue and the Gordons conceived a workaround: Why not sell directly to customers from a farm stand? So Purdue applied for a permit from the city that spring and filled out the necessary paperwork. But city staff told her no. City code, it turned out, prohibited community gardens from selling their bounty in residential neighborhoods. You’d have to take it elsewhere, to a booth at the farmer’s market or a welcoming shop, they said. “It was very clear the city wasn’t prepared for farming inside of the city,” Purdue says. 10

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Dissatisfied with that answer, Purdue took matters into her own hands. With the help of urban agriculture advocate Jenn Peele Truman, Purdue crafted a citizen petition requesting a text change that would alter the definition of a community garden to allow farm stands in residential zones, and brought her request before the council last August. It was the council’s first virtual meeting following a summer of unrest due to COVID-19 and ongoing protests downtown. Most of the speakers were signed up to talk about the city and police department’s mishandling of the protests. But Purdue was there to talk about a farm. “The sales of our organic produce to neighbors will support the health of the community and earn income for us to train new urban farmers,” Purdue matter-of-factly told the council. “Currently, the Raleigh UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) does not support the needs of our community garden or any community garden to open a produce stand.” Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who was wearing a bright blue Carolina Panthers jersey, nodded her head. She recalled working on the matter of farm stands years ago during her decade-long stint on the council. She asked then-city manager Ruffin Hall to prepare a staff report and draft a plan on how the council could update the city’s code. Last week, in record time for municipal government, the Raleigh City Council unanimously approved the change, which permits urban gardens throughout the city to sell on-site what they grow.

A community garden in Raleigh

PHOTO COURTESY OF WELL FED

The text change to the UDO removes the requirement for a special use permit in order to set up a farm stand at a community garden. Depending on the size of the garden, the stand can be up to 1,200 square feet and can’t operate past eight p.m., restrictions that seem reasonable in residential neighborhoods. “Being able to grow right here and having folks come up and buy right here—it’s like a dream,” Purdue says. “Can you imagine a better life?” The change won’t just help Sweet Pea and The Well Fed, but will also allow dozens of community gardens throughout the city to make their products available in neighborhoods that currently lack walkable access to fresh food. Have a backyard? You too could build a farm stand.

“Anything we can do to put goods and services closer to people where they are, that’s important,” says City Councilmember Jonathan Melton. “I want to build a city where we can promote small-scale neighborhood retail, so this is a step in that direction and it helps address food deserts—it makes sure there’s healthy food in more neighborhoods.” For Truman, who has long advocated for the expansion of urban agriculture throughout the city, the change is just the beginning. She plans to bring more requests to the council in the coming weeks. “We really see this produce stand effort in the UDO as a first step,” Truman says. “There’s a list of other things Raleigh could be doing to be more friendly toward urban agriculture we’d like to see. This isn’t the only thing that needs fixing but it is an exciting first step to be fixed.” 2


INDYweek.com

March 10, 2021

11


A Year of

COVID-19 A retrospective on how the coronavirus pandemic gripped North Carolina– and the world–in 2020 BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

A

year ago, COVID-19 had just started to change life as we know it. Within weeks of North Carolina’s first case of the deadly virus confirmed March 3, we found ourselves living in a radically different reality–one of state-mandated lockdowns, shuttered businesses, compulsory mask-wearing, and social isolation. In the beginning, few knew just how bad things would get. And then, they got much worse. Some followed the government’s rules and restrictions; others protested against them. More than 860,000 people contracted the virus–some without any symptoms–while others fought for their lives on ventilators. More than 11,500 North Carolinians have died from complications due to COVID-19 since March of last year. The pandemic also became a political power struggle. Then, as President Trump began his slow process of disappearing from the White House, the vaccines emerged, and the terrifying trends brought on by a rapid COVID surge slowly began to shift. We’re not out of the woods yet–not by a long shot–but we’re in a vastly different place than we were a year ago. This is how we got here. 2

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2019

2020

December 31, 2019: The World Health Organization is alerted to several cases of a highly contagious strain of pneumonia in Wuhan, China.

January 7, 2020: The infection is identified as a novel coronavirus and dubbed 2019-nCoV (later to be known as COVID-19).

January 21, 2020: The first case of COVID-19 is reported in the United States–in a man in his 30s who had recently returned from China.

February 1, 2020: Cases are reported in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Singapore, and Vietnam. Almost 12,000 people have contracted the virus and more than 250 people have died in China alone.

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April 13, 2020: With nearly 5,000 cases statewide and a wave of nursing home outbreaks, officials warn that the state could see 750,000 cases of the virus by June 1 without strict social distancing protocols.

April 7, 2020: Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s “moonshot” bond proposal, which could have invested millions in housing, parks, and greenways, is canceled. Bandwidth, a Raleigh voice-over IP company with soaring profits as business meetings shifts to platforms like Zoom, announces a $100 million expansion with a new 40-acre headquarters in Raleigh.

April 2, 2020: North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases jump 17 percent in one day, with 238 new cases reported. Nurses report a shortage of personal protective gear.

April 21, 2020: Hundreds of unmasked coronavirus “truthers” protest in downtown Raleigh, opposing the governor’s restrictions.

April 23, 2020: Gov. Cooper unveils a three-part plan to reopen the state.

May 18, 2020: North Carolina reports the pandemic’s largest single-day spike in cases yet, with 853 new cases reported.

October 3, 2020: Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) announces he’s contracted COVID-19 after attending the nomination ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

May 8, 2020: North Carolina enters the first wave of reopening but the stay-at-home order remains in effect.

October 2, 2020: North Carolina finally moves into Phase 3 of reopening after lingering in Phase 2 for several months.

November 3, 2020: Boosted by his adept handling of the pandemic, Gov. Cooper wins a second term in one of few key wins for N.C. Democrats that election. A winner in the presidential race is unclear.

March 10, 2021: A federal mass vaccination site capable of administering up to 3,000 vaccines per day opens in Greensboro.

September 3, 2020: Pfizer begins a massive trial for its vaccines and hopes for results by October.

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November 25, 2020: COVID-19 cases show steady rise in the week following Thanksgiving and health officials warn that traveling for Christmas could result in a brutal post-holiday surge.

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September 22, 2020: The United States surpasses 200,000 deaths from the virus. President Donald Trump calls it “a shame,” while insisting he’s done “a very good job.”

November 7, 2020: Joe Biden is declared the next U.S. president after surpassing the 270 electoral votes needed to secure victory.

March 3, 2021: Frontline essential workers, including grocery store staff, meatpacking employees, and postal workers are eligible for vaccination.

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February 26, 2021: Durham County reports its first case of a highly contagious COVID-19 variant first reported in the United Kingdom. Gov. Cooper vetoes a bill that would have forced schools to reopen.

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February 26, 2020: President Trump assures the country that “within a couple of days” the virus will be gone and gloats about the great job that he’s doing. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the first known case of community spread– contraction not related to travel.

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March 31, 2020: Gov. Cooper orders utility companies not to cut off service during the pandemic as many households struggle to pay bills due to mass layoffs.

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February 29, 2020: The United States reports the first death from COVID-19, a Seattle-area nursing home resident.

March 27, 2020: Wake County issues a stay-at-home order as Gov. Cooper orders residents statewide to stay home beginning March 30.

May 22, 2020: Restaurants reopen in a limited capacity as the state enters the second phase of reopening–but bars and nightclubs remain closed. The next day, the state reports a record-high number of new cases.

May 26, 2020: Eleven inmates at Butner Federal Prison sue for release after the prison reports eight COVID-19 deaths.

August 20, 2020: North Carolina State University moves classes online after 500 students are quarantined due to exposure of the virus. A week later, the school announces that dorms will close.

August 17, 2020: UNC-Chapel Hill moves to remote learning after a week of outbreaks on campus are reported.

March 3, 2020: North Carolina reports its first case of COVID-19—a Wake County man who had recently visited a Seattlearea nursing home.

March 10, 2020: With seven North Carolinians testing positive for COVID, Governor Roy Cooper declares a state of emergency. Telecommuting is encouraged. Test kits are already in short supply.

March 12, 2020: The Dow drops a record 10 percent. Seven new cases of COVID-19 are reported in North Carolina the same day as Billie Eilish plays to a crowd of 20,000 at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

March 19, 2020: News breaks that U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) sold $1.7 million in stocks right before the market crash, and warned his rich donors of the virus weeks ago.

March 24, 2020: A man in Cabarrus County becomes the first person in North Carolina to die from the virus, followed by a Virginia resident traveling through the state.

May 28, 2020: The United States reports 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.

March 18, 2020: Local restaurants lay off workers, including 75 tipped servers at Trophy Brewing. There are 152 COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina.

May 30-31, 2020: Downtown Raleigh erupts in protests over the death of George Floyd. Police unleash tear gas, and a destructive riot ensues downtown. Gov. Cooper calls in the National Guard. In the days ahead, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin institutes curfews and peaceful protests continue.

July 14, 2020: Gov. Cooper announces that the state will remain in Phase 2 of reopening, delaying the relaxation of restrictions for at least three more weeks.

July 10, 2020: The state breaks its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fifth day in a row. At least 900 patients battling COVID have been hospitalized since the end of June.

March 13, 2020: Wake County declares a state of emergency; Durham and Orange County close schools. Wake County will follow the next day.

March 17, 2020: Gov. Cooper orders all bars and restaurants to close for dine-in service.

June 2, 2020: President Trump and Gov. Cooper butt heads over whether to hold the Republican National Convention in Charlotte (it is eventually moved to Florida before being closed to the public).

July 7, 2020: Raleigh cancels all festivals, road races, and parades through October.

June 29, 2020: North Carolina reports more than 63,000 cases of the virus.

2021 December 11, 2020: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the Pfizer vaccine for widespread use.

December 14, 2020: The vaccine arrives in North Carolina: a Charlotte doctor is the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Healthcare workers become eligible for vaccinations in the state. So far, more than 300,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S.

February 24, 2021: North Carolina finally starts to see a downturn in virus cases, with the positive rate of daily tests down to about 6 percent. Gov. Cooper announces he will lift the curfew as a result.

February 9, 2021: North Carolina surpasses 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 as the country nears 500,000 deaths.

December 30, 2020: Gov. Cooper extends the eviction moratorium through January.

January 27, 2021: Gov. Cooper extends the state’s 10 p.m. curfew through February and continues the halt on evictions.

January 5, 2021: The INDY accompanies activists inside the state prison system’s “COVID Motel,” and reports on grim conditions there.

January 6, 2021: Residents 75 and older become eligible for vaccinations. Gov. Cooper extends 10 p.m. curfew for three weeks.

January 14, 2021: Vaccinations become available for everyone over the age of 65.

January 13, 2021: One week into the spring semester, UNC-Chapel Hill reports its first cluster.

January 7, 2021: The state’s COVID-19 map is almost entirely red–96 percent–indicating critical spread in almost every county. The Triangle, however, shows only significant community spread.

January 9, 2021: The pandemic peaks in North Carolina, with more than 11,000 new cases reported and a positive test rate of more than 18 percent.

INDYweek.com

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13


ETC. ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER

The Triangle’s Pinball Wizards For local pinheads, arcades are a time machine to the past—and a comforting way to illuminate the present BY EMMA KENFIELD arts@indyweek.com

I

t’s a Wednesday night in February at The Neighborhood Sports Bar and Arcade in Cary. It smells like beer and french fries, and neon lights from arcade games splash the walls with red and blue. Paul Sanders slides four quarters into a slot. Instantly, red, green, and yellow lights begin to flash, and the world around him fades away. Only he can save the universe from Martians in a flying saucer, using only silver balls and glowing flippers. Attack from Mars is his favorite pinball machine. His love of the game, Sanders says, is rooted in childhood memories. Somehow he’s never outgrown this particular machine. 14

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Green red-eyed Martians bounce up and down, mocking him as he shoots for the saucer. He hits the middle orbit, which locks a ball. If he gets two more, multiball mode can begin. In seconds, he’s done it. One ball turns to many, dancing under the glass like atoms in a molecule. His score keeps climbing, but soon he loses his grip. One by one, the balls slip away. Sanders has lost. He slides four more quarters into the machine. “It costs me a dollar,” he says, “but it’s cheaper than therapy.” Pinball machines once illuminated pizza parlors and arcades across the United States. Their flashing lights,

intricate designs, and trendy themes attracted children and adults alike. But, as consumer culture shifted toward video games like Super Mario and Mortal Kombat in the late 1990s, pinball began to be edged out. Most manufacturers went bankrupt altogether. In a dour 1999 New York Times story, amateur pinball historian Russ Jensen predicted that pinball “might not make it into the next millennium.” But pinball didn’t die. And in the last few years, riding a wave of nostalgia that finds parallels in the return of disco, rollerskating, and velvet couches, pinball has seen a resurgence in popularity—especially in the Triangle. The Triangle Pinball Players, which kicked off in 2016 and has more than 330 members on Facebook, is a closeknit group of pinball devotees who come together to play the game they love—religiously, even. “Going to church,” as some members call it, means meeting at the arcade every Sunday morning. When the work week is over, they show up, knowing they’ll never be the only one there. Some come more often. Kevin Lucht, known as “Kevin FL” in the pinball world, comes to The Neighborhood daily, despite living 30 minutes south, in Fuquay-Varina. Growing up in the eighties, he was surrounded by pinball machines in his neighborhood laundromats, pizza parlors, gas stations, and corner stores. They’ve always been a part of his life. “It’s an addiction,” he said. “I’d say I’m in here almost every day.” Because of the pandemic, many tournaments have been cancelled and arcades closed down, but the Triangle Pinball Players still host “selfie tournaments” at The Neighborhood. At any time, players can take a picture of their scores and upload them online to compete without overcrowding the bar. Ovid Dillard, a Cary resident and the creator of the selfie tournament, was ranked first in the state last year by the International Flipper Pinball Association and placed second in the pinball state championship. He returned to his childhood pastime after buying a machine at an auction six years ago and has since played competitively across the country. “I think the reason it appeals to people is because it is still a mechanical thing that will break,” Dillard said. “And it’s different every time. The spin on the ball happens in a certain way. You can’t really program that into a computer.” Pinball is feeling this resurgence all over. According to the IFPA, the number of ranked players worldwide has increased by almost 100 times in the last decade. Today, there are almost 80,000 people in the world who are ranked, and the United States claims more than 20,000 of them. North Carolina alone had 516 people play in tournaments in 2019. Before the 1970s, pinball was illegal in New York City on the grounds that it was a game of luck which could be associated with gambling. In 1976, however, Roger Sharp—also known as the “Hero of Pinball”—testified in court that the game was rooted in skill. He proved his claim on a machine chosen by the New York City Coun-


LAST CHANCE!

Paul Sanders plays pinball

PHOTO BY MATILDA MARSHALL

cil, correctly predicting the path of the ball, shot after shot. The ban was lifted on the grounds that pinball was a game that required skill, talent, and strategy. And this is something that the Triangle Pinball Players know well. Dillard’s signature move is to literally slap a machine at the last second, to tip the ball off the edge of the flipper. This creates a tip-pass, which gently tosses the ball to the other flipper for a better shot. Sanders, meanwhile, prefers to wing it, just hoping he doesn’t lose the ball. Frances Staelin, who lives in Raleigh, is known by the Triangle Pinball Players as the master of the skill shot, which is a special bonus rewarded when a player launches the ball in a certain way; each game has its own skill shot. She quickly learns the shot at the start of the game and racks up points against her competitors. Of the top 300 players in the world, according to the IFPA, only three are women. “It has traditionally been a man’s sport where it can be really intimidating,” Staelin said. “Some women are like, ‘I don’t want to get into competition,’ or they can feel embarrassed because they don’t know what’s going on. It might not be approachable; you walk in, and there’s just a bunch of guys there.” Staelin started the Women’s Triangle Players last year to create a safe space for women entering the traditionally male-dominated world of pinball. League members would come together, have a few drinks, and learn from each other without feeling nervous or intimidated by crowds of men.

“We only got to have our first meeting before everything shut down with COVID,” Staelin says. “So it never really got to take off. But in our first event, we had a couple of newbies and one person even saw our posts on Instagram and just showed up. Even having one person was super exciting.” One thing remains the same: people who play pinball don’t just love the game— they’re hooked on it. Pinball sticks with even its best players, with no game being the same as the last. “People want to touch something,” Kevin Lucht says. “You want to grab something and move it and be able to manipulate it.” It’s not a video game, it’s a machine; maybe even a time machine. It carries nostalgic reminders of a different time, children hunkered in front of the glowing metal box, digging for one last quarter before curfew calls them home. One that brings people together. “You can play, and you can play, and you’ll never master it,” Staelin says. “You can become amazing; you can become the best, but you’re still gonna have a bad day, and you can’t trump the game. Which is something that’s really attractive about it.” “It kind of takes your mind away from everything that’s going on, and you’re able to just sit there and just get angry at the pinball machine,” Sanders adds. It is closing time at The Neighborhood now, and the pinball players return home. The bartenders know, as they close up shop, that they’ll see them again tomorrow. Sanders hasn’t saved the universe yet—so they better have their quarters stocked. 2

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Contact your ad rep or advertising@indyweek.com to reserve your spot today! INDYweek.com

March 10, 2021

15


PHOTOVOICE

Give Me a Brake (Light) PHOTOGRAPHY + WORDS BY JADE WILSON

Four entities, Southerners On New Ground (SONG), Durham Beyond Policing, Bull City Mutual Aid, and the Durham branch of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), joined forces to address one of the many ways working class people are criminalized—through minor traffic violations. These could include anything from having a broken brake light to an expired tag. Traffic stops often end in financial setback, harassment, arrest, or even killings by police. On Sunday, volunteers fixed brake lights and topped off washer fluid for free at the Scrap Exchange parking lot in Durham. This group of socialists and abolitionists took a small but noteworthy step to protect community members from state-sanctioned violence. 2 16

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FOOD & DRINK

CHEENI

1603 Hillsborough Street and 227 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, NC | 919-421-1774

Cheeni menu items: Gluten-free lemon curd linzers (above) and Sweet potato and turmeric biscuits with a shirred egg (right) PHOTOS BY PREETHI RANJIT

Work Up an Appetite A second Cheeni location expands Preeti Waas’s mission of serving Indian-American snacks that educate and inspire BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

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n a Thursday afternoon at Cheeni in downtown Raleigh, Preeti Waas answers her phone, pausing briefly to greet a customer who has just walked in with a question. “I’m so glad you stopped by,” she can be heard saying cheerfully in the background. “We have a good menu.” Waas has only had her spot on the ground floor of the Poyner YMCA open for a little over a year—it opened in November 2019, just four months before COVID-19 brought the restaurant industry to a halt. Still, the little Indian-inspired tea shop persevered, and when opportunity came knocking, recently, to open a second location at the Alexander Family YMCA off of Hillsborough Street, Waas took it. This second Cheeni location opened on March 1 with an expanded kitchen that allows for a larger menu, which will include NaanZas, buttered brioche rolls Bun Maska, and a full menu of coffee beverages alongside Chai.

A touch of both serendipity and tenacity define Waas’s journey in the Raleigh food scene. A former adjunct culinary professor at Wake Tech, Waas’s two small-batch food companies, Sugar and Spice Kitchen and Jolly Good Jams, became gateways to Cheeni when the Poyner YMCA reached out to her, a couple years ago, to see if she wanted to take over the vacant cafe space. The location was a perfect match for her passions for nutrition and education: Three weeks after that first phone call, Cheeni was open for business. “My approach to food is—yes you’re coming to work out, play basketball, whatever,” she says. “But of course nutrition is a huge part of that. People tend to associate a healthy lifestyle with taking away things. You deprive yourself of such and such, or you don’t eat carbs. In India, it’s actually the opposite. Indian food is, by and large, very, very healthy. It’s meant to fit what your body needs during that particular season, several times a day.

It’s a very comprehensive approach.” Over the past year, Waas says she has tried to stay relevant and resilient with a healthy, comforting menu of fresh-made masala chai, savory Indian-American snacks, smoothies, and baked goods packed with a wide range of grains, including buckwheat, einkorn, sorghum, and millet. (Waas’s gluten-free Indian millet cookies with lemon curd, for instance, are particularly eye-popping.) The opportunity to open a second location, she says, was also unexpected—but proves especially exciting because it gives her the chance to hire during a time when people so badly need employment. It will also allow her to expand her mission to educate, not just through eating food, but through teaching kids how to prepare and serve food. “As we get more settled, I’ll be teaching workforce development classes,” says Waas, who has been cooking since the age of nine. “Because the Y naturally has a big population of youth that are underserved and kids who are coming in for after-school activities and to play basketball and things like that, I’m going to be able to give them barista training and teach them ServSafe classes and customer service. That piece of it excites me so much.” And, as has been the case at her current Cheeni location, Waas says she expects the menu at the Alexander Family YMCA Cheeni to keep prompting conversations. “At first glance, it seems like a regular menu—there’s coffee and sandwiches, you know, the regular menu,” Waas says. “Then you see chili cheese toast, or you see a heading for tiffin and are like, ‘What the heck is a tiffin?’ It prompts those questions. We really get to have a lot of conversations—and I could talk about food all day long. Even in my sleep.” 2 INDYweek.com

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17


MUSIC

WITCHTIT: INTOXICATING LETHARGY

SUPPRESSIVE FIRE: INVASION

[Self-released; Mar. 12]

[Self-released; Mar. 15]

Back From the Dead New releases from WitchTit and Suppressive Fire promise a strong post-COVID future for Raleigh metal BY BRYAN C. REED music@indyweek.com

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his week marks a full year of silent stages. As the COVID-19 pandemic upended life worldwide, the live music industry was hit particularly hard. In the Triangle, as in many other parts of the country, the pandemic has caused venues to shutter permanently. When The Maywood announced its permanent closure in late January, the Raleigh venue became the latest casualty in a still-growing list of concert halls nationwide that shuttered due to the pandemic. The marquee that once regularly bore the names of hard rock and heavy metal bands bitterly bid adieu, proclaiming “COVID/Cooper Killed This Club.” The economic reality of a year without shows—and with scant relief—was too much to overcome, even with financial help from a GoFundMe campaign and a separate benefit compilation featuring 25 of the local bands who have called The Maywood and its adjacent practice spaces home. Indeed, the club had long been a linchpin for heavy music in the Triangle. While the rehearsal spaces remain in operation, the venue itself stands silent. But as much as live music has suffered, music itself has endured. And two thrilling new releases from thrash metal act Suppressive Fire and doom metal band WitchTit make the case that Raleigh’s perennially strong heavy metal scene is not just surviving, but thriving. Though disparate in sound, both WitchTit’s full-length debut Intoxicating Lethargy and Suppressive Fire’s Invasion EP show remarkable evolution in two of the area’s most active and reliable metal 18

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bands. And both were brought into being, in part, by the pandemic’s forced break from live performance. For WitchTit, the forced slowdown was the opportunity they needed to polish existing recordings, tracked two years ago at The Wicked Witch, and to give the album and the band a proper push. Though WitchTit has been an active presence live, it hadn’t released any recorded material since a previous incarnation of the band issued a split with the now-defunct band Etiolated in 2017. Now comprising guitarists Nate Stokes and Daniel Brown, bassist Justin Hill, drummer Patrick Cotter, and singer Reign, WitchTit has honed its sound for years without releasing new music. Their gigging schedule is largely the cause for that, Stokes says. “We get kind of distracted,” he says. “Everything else gets put on hold because we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to practice the set for this show in two weeks.’ This time, we had to focus on doing this to keep us busy and our name out there.” Even before its release, Intoxicating Lethargy has put WitchTit’s dynamic and emotive approach to traditional doom metal in front of a wide audience. The blog Doomed & Stoned praised the album’s “creepy, crunchy, and corrosive sounds with powerful, authoritative, and beautiful singing.” And, on the eve of its release, Intoxicating Lethargy is set to premiere on the website of Decibel, the long-running and authoritative heavy metal magazine. “We’re getting pretty excited about it,” Stokes admits.

ILLUSTRATION BY ANNIE MAYNARD

Even though the band hasn’t been able to perform live—save for a live-streamed set filmed at The Pour House in February—the album has given the band greater visibility beyond the local scene than even regular gigging might have. For Suppressive Fire, the new music offers a re-introduction. Over its seven years, Suppressive Fire has shifted lineups with guitarist and songwriter Joseph Bursey, the band’s only constant member. In that time, the band put out two full-length albums and a pair of EPs before coalescing into its current lineup of Bursey and Stokes on guitar, bassist Andrew Nye, drummer Scott Schopler, and singer Devin Kelley. After solidifying the roster, Bursey says, the band made the call to not play any more old songs. With their March 4, 2020, gig opening for Soulfly and Toxic Holocaust as a deadline, the band pulled together a fresh batch of songs. “We really had a crunch time to get an entire new set done before that show,” Bursey says. “It lit a fire under our asses to actually get the music worked out and ready to be performed live.” The next day, the band laid down basic tracks at Schopler’s home in Chapel Hill. Fusing the vicious thrash of bands like Sodom with elements of black metal abrasiveness and the heavy groove of Bolt Thrower’s barbaric death metal, Invasion offers a fittingly violent and compelling

soundtrack to its lyrical explorations of historic warfare. “We were aiming to do a demo and it started sounding better and better,” Bursey says. Knowing that the pandemic was looming, the band finished the EP apart, looking at the release as an opportunity to stay visible during the shutdown. “We were overdue, first off,” Bursey says. “But new music coming out during a pandemic would be excellent for people who don’t have access to music right now and can’t go to shows. It’s a slippery slope, though, because we can’t promote the music very well.” Like WitchTit, Suppressive Fire has still managed to score pre-release accolades from prominent genre blogs. No Clean Singing praised the band’s “hardcharging, adrenaline-fueled storm of sound,” and CVLT Nation raved, “Their blackened thrash barrels down at you like a host of missiles ready to decimate your existence!” Still, heavy metal is music that particularly thrives in front of a live audience. As restrictions begin to lift and vaccinations offer a glimpse of life post-COVID, this pair of strong releases offer hope that the music will be ready to reclaim rooms as soon as it’s safe to do so. “It’s going to happen,” Bursey says, matter-of-factly. “We’re going to be playing shows again at some point.” 2


SCREEN

THE FATHER | HHHH

Now Playing

A still from The Father PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURE CLASSICS

A Labyrinthian Mind The Father brings its audience inside the unreliable psyche of its protagonist with chilling results BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

A

painting hangs above the mantel. Then, it’s gone. A faint outline on the wall remains. Was it ever there? A man is in the kitchen. Then, he’s gone. Then, he’s a completely different man with the same name insisting that it’s been him all along. You are you. Then, you aren’t. That’s the mental game of cat and mouse that Florian Zeller expertly arranges in his new film, The Father, which follows an octogenarian Brit named Anthony, in a hauntingly brilliant performance by Anthony Hopkins, as he navigates the shifting corridors of his deteriorating mind. It’s a genre-bending, heartbreaking, and deeply human film that takes its audience deep into the unreliable psy-

che of its protagonist in what may be a career-best for a man perhaps best known for playing a monster. Films often depict dementia at an arm’s length, through the clouded mystery of glazed-over eyes. There’s a sense of detachment and pity, but rarely true empathy. Through masterful cinematography, Zeller succeeds in lending us those dimming eyes. The view is terrifying. The plot, if there is one, is so simple that describing it is almost an injustice. It takes place almost entirely within the walls of Anthony’s luxurious London flat. He goes about his day, puttering around in his pajamas, listening to music, and is often visited by his daughter Anne—played by a captivating Olivia Coleman—who is growing increasingly

concerned that Anthony can no longer manage living alone. Slowly, and subtly, things start to change. Literally. At first, it’s unclear quite what–the placement of items in the kitchen, the furniture, a painting. Something is off, but you can’t put a finger on what and neither can Anthony as he travels from room to room, at times belligerently ranting that it’s not him whose grip on reality is unsound. He’s smug, in a way that men desperately grasping for control often are, and sometimes morphs seamlessly into a complete asshole. The claustrophobic design, with its ever-changing set-pieces always framed neatly within the same set of walls, creates a feeling of perpetual unease. It’s a visceral and chilling experience, like being on a sinking ship you can’t escape. Hopkins is quite used to playing scary characters—most notably Hannibal Lector. But as an audience, seeing the terror grow in his eyes is unnerving. He realizes, along with us, that he is what’s wrong, but he can’t do anything to stop it. Coleman also deserves kudos for a heartbreaking and empathic performance as she endures the wrenching passive-aggressive abuse from a delirious Hopkins while unshakably loving him, no matter how hard it may be. The Father began filming in 2019, many months before COVID arrived, but in some ways, it’s the perfect quarantine movie. Anthony is trapped within his labyrinthian mind, unable to discern his own reality or escape it. With few characters and a near-monolithic set, the film is prophetic of the less successful features filmed during COVID—notably the floppy heist movie Locked Down—that lacked the vision to transform their constraints into creative, genre-busting chemistry. Here, the prison of a fading mind blooms in agonizing detail. 2 INDYweek.com

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SCREEN

STRAY | HHHH

In theaters and on demand Friday, March 5

Underdogs Elizabeth Lo’s new documentary is an uplifting portrait of Istanbul street dogs BY GLENN MCDONALD arts@indyweek.com

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ogs are the best. Everyone knows this. From their natural playfulness to their ferocious loyalty to their advanced napping skills, dogs are a model of how to live life properly. The Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope thought so, too: Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog. So reads one of the introductory title cards to director Elizabeth Lo’s masterful new documentary, Stray, which tracks a trio of wild street dogs through the streets of Istanbul over the course of several months. Istanbul is unique among major world cities in that dogs are allowed to run wild throughout the metropolis. In fact, it’s illegal to euthanize or confine strays anywhere in Turkey. Using a low-to-the-ground, dog’s-eyeview camera, Lo follows these dogs as they go about their day, scavenging food from street vendors, dodging traffic, and stoically accepting the occasional ear scritch from passersby. Lo’s style is strictly old-school and observational. Nothing is framed for drama or cutesiness. Instead, we’re invited to marvel

at the calm self-reliance and amazing resourcefulness of the pups. The star of this remarkable film is Zeytin, a tawny-colored mutt with dark and expressive eyes. The camera often lingers in extreme close-up on Zeytin as she surveys her surroundings, and the effect is startling. You can see thoughts and feelings moving across her face and body as the city bustles all around. Packs of dogs form and disband throughout the day and the cameras occasionally split off to track Zeytin’s supporting cast—the affectionate doggo, Nazar, and shy puppy, Kartal. The dogs seem to have been named by their regular neighbors, the vendors and workers who treat the roaming packs as just another fact of urban life. Quite deliberately, the film regularly cuts to another trio: three teenage Syrian refugees who are also living on the streets of Istanbul. The boys and the dogs team up some nights, sharing makeshift beds in abandoned construction sites. By paralleling these two groups of survivors, the film offers a kind of oblique commentary

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A still from Stray

PHOTO COURTESY OF MAGNOLIA PICTURES

on Turkish society at street level. Mirrored sequences show how the city dwellers treat the dogs, and how they treat the refugees. The film passes no judgment on what it observes, and there are no cheap tableaus of manufactured outrage. This is just how it is. Actually, both the boys and the dogs are often treated with similar kindness, which is a complicated moral observation in itself. One powerful scene shows the boys racing off to queue up for free food handed out by a social service provider. The kids take the plates back to their sidewalk campsite and immediately scrape off half for the dogs. Animal lovers may be scared off by the premise of this documentary, or

Love the

worry that it’s some grim portrait of suffering. There’s nothing to fear, though. No animals are hurt or even particularly distressed over the course of the film. Well, a couple dogs get into a halfhearted fight over food at one point, and a cat gets chased up a tree. But the filmmakers are chasing a different kind of vibe, one in which we’re invited to admire the ragged nobility of these beautiful city animals. Stray is a positively uplifting film, in the end—a celebration of the canine spirit, you might say. (And, at only 72 minutes, it’s oddly short for a feature doc.) Be sure to stay for the end credits—the filmmakers saved their best shot for last. 2

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SCREEN

THE OPERA GAME

Available on demand on Amazon

A still from The Opera Game PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FILMMAKERS

Endgame A Triangle filmmaker trains his lens on the story of a chess prodigy and a career cut short BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

T

riangle native William “Ken” Mask is a bit of a renaissance man. The Hamlet native first moved to the Triangle for an undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, traveling down Tobacco Road, afterward, to the Duke University School of Medicine. But in the spirit of an artistic polymath cast in the mold of, say, Gordon Parks, Mask is also a novelist, children’s book author, musician, and filmmaker who has honed and nurtured an arts career that feels like an extension of his healing practices. This month I watched The Opera Game, which Mask produced and co-wrote with Simon Marsalis, who is the son of jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. The Opera Game reviews the short, brilliant, and ultimately tragic life of Paul Morphy, who, during the pre-Civil War period in the late 1850s, was recognized as a chess prodigy. Even though Morphy at the height of his fame turned his back on the game, he is still widely consid-

ered one of the greatest chess players to ever live. The film’s title is drawn from an 1858 chess match held at an opera house in Paris between Morphy and two talented amateurs, a German noble and French aristocrat. The Opera Game draws inevitable comparisons to Netflix’s runaway hit, The Queen’s Gambit. “With The Queen’s Gambit, the filmmakers are playing close attention to the chess,” Mask says. “We are playing close attention to [Morphy’s] life, instead of the next great chess move. We try to document what’s happening in someone’s life outside of what they’re known for.” In the film, a Black man (Jesse, played by Archie Sampier) serves as Morphy’s confidant and mentor, and two Black women (Karen Livers and Idella Johnson) also play main characters. It was imperative , Mask says, to show free men and women of color in roles other than that of “bowing down and saying ‘yas’um.’”

The 79-minute period piece is directed by Monty Ross, who co-founded, alongside Spike Lee, the production company 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. Ross also co-produced many of Lee’s early films, including Do The Right Thing, School Daze, and Malcolm X. He says that the film also relied on the consulting work of actor and friend Wendell Pierce, a veteran stage and film actor best known for his role as Bunk in the landmark television series, The Wire. Another veteran from the series, Clarke Peters, narrates The Opera Game. Mask, who often travels with the jazz giant’s orchestras and bands internationally, ostensibly for medical emergencies, says that he met Ross through one of Wynton’s percussionists, “They call me ‘the Country Doctor,’” Mask says jokingly. The beautifully filmed Opera Game is set in New Orleans, where Morphy was born to Alonzo Michael Morphy, who would serve as a Louisiana attorney general, and Louise Thérèse Félicité Thelcide Le Carpentier, who came from a prominent French Creole family. “Which means she had some Black blood,” Mask adds. “I don’t care how you shake it.” The Opera Game chronicles Morphy learning to play chess while watching his father and uncle play. He was only 10 when he soundly defeated a Hungarian chess master who was visiting New Orleans; later, he traveled to Europe, where he defeated all of the acknowledged masters willing to play him. Morphy was 20 when he first arrived in London in 1858. Upon returning to America and beginning an ill-fated law career a year later, he never played professional chess again, and 25 years later, died suddenly in his New Orleans home. His choice to leave the game that brought him such prominence resulted in his nickname: “The Pride and Sorrow of Chess.” 2 INDYweek.com

March 10, 2021

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