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Pleasant trip to the Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.  It being my last business trip for this job, I felt the need to make it as typical as possible.  For better (and for worse), it was.

–Starting with a memorable rental car.  I was given a Ford F-150.  It is a beast of a truck, difficult to maneuver and impossible to park, but very easy to find yourself speeding in.  Every time I caught myself going 85, I imagined telling the policeman, “Yes, I’ve lied every time I’ve said it before today, but I honest to God did not know how fast I was going today.  Here, drive this and tell me what you think.”  If there is one advantage to an F-150, it’s that if you’re driving alone on back-country roads, everyone lets you pass, including smaller, more inferior trucks.  I could kind of understand why the stereotype of men who drive huge trucks are compensating for physical insufficiency.  It feels sooo manly to be behind the wheel.  I grew a chest hair by the end of the trip!

The trip continued to be typical with a 3.5 hour drive in the rain, in the night, in the middle of nowhere.  I hit my first safe restroom stop (which is to say, a gas station with the lights on, part of a recognizable national chain) 2.5 hours in.  I arrived to the Millennium Hotel Durham at 9:30 pm to crowds around both of the bar TVs watching the Presidential debate.  Taken with the way politics had brought strangers together at this highway hotel off Duke’s campus, I decided to eat dinner at the bar.  The meal was satisfactory, but I’d misread the crowd.  It was impossible to hear the debate through a fellow diner’s distasteful, loud jabs at Obama.  You can take North Carolina, jerk, but I have faith in Virginia!

After my work event in Durham, I drove half an hour east to Raleigh to explore downtown and have my dream evening (it was).  I had trouble finding a parking space because it was the Ray Price Capital City Bike Fest, and thousands of motorcycles were parked up and down the main streets.  I curtailed my explorations, realizing downtown was not that big, and prepared to see U2-3D a second time (this time, in IMAX) by drinking two glasses of impeccably fresh red wine at Raleigh Times.  And typically, based on my first experience, I was an emotional mess at the end of the movie.

I then returned to the west side of the Triangle to eat at Lantern in Chapel Hill.  My meal:
– Lantern pork and chive dumplings
– Flash fried shishito peppers with sea salt
– Chaat with chickpeas, yellow tomato, cilantro…
– Crispy fried garlic and black pepper NC softshell crab with homemade red curry
And it was all quite perfect.  Apparently, John Grisham shares my good taste.

Better judgment might have suggested I wait before enjoying another huge, organic, locally produced meal, but it was my last business trip, and “better judgment” would be out of character.  Durham’s Piedmont was voted best new restaurant in the Triangle.  Hurrying to check out of the hotel and find a suitable brunch location nearby before going over to my uncle’s, it seemed it would be perfect.  Again, typically, it was.  I had the creamiest butternut squash soup–the ratio of starch to sugar was nailed–followed by a brunch dish of grilled foccacia with two poached eggs, sauteed greens, and tomato hollandaise piled on top (and fries, with garlic aoli to dip in).  My uncle and fam humored the foodie, and we spent the late afternoon at the area’s famous farmer’s market–which is being featured in Bon Appetit’s October edition.

All in all, a good last trip.  I made it to my 10th Whole Foods in the country and eventually learned how to park my carbon footprint of a rental. My only regret is that I didn’t U-turn to get a photo of a billboard with a beautiful woman with the caption, “My dentist does IV sedation!” Civilization creeps in.

The F-150 at (of course) a Whole Foods parking lot… I had to sneak out the passenger side!

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Bike rally in Raleigh.

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Duke has a designated graffiti area, too!

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Local flavor in downtown Durham.

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Downtown Durham.

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Breakfast at Piedmont–see the musicians?

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Proof that organic can still be horrible for you.  Well worthwhile.

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Farmer’s Market.

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The small pumpkin is there for perspective–these were HUGE pumpkins.

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JR’s County Line Danceland!

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