Instagram restaurant brings spice to late-night food

By Lauren Tarpley

Ian Burris has always loved being in the kitchen. When he was a child, he would cook with his mom and ask to help with dinner.  As a teenager, he went to parties and when people would get hungry, Burris would start cooking. Now, at 20 years old, Burris has turned his passion of cooking into his own business.

“I’ve put my whole life into this, so it’s kind of all or nothing,” Burris said.

Burris created the Dankery in Wilmington in 2015 after waiting for the perfect time to pursue his passion, but brought the business to Durham in the summer of 2016. He and his friends were tired of waiting in long lines at Cook Out or Waffle House late at night. Plus, there just weren’t many restaurants that offered quality food after dark.

Burris saw this as an opportunity and began the Dankery, offering “dank food at a great price” from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. From his kitchen at home, Burris prepares wings, chicken tenders, shrimp, and fries with over 20 flavor options ranging from Cheerwine Barbeque to Thai Chili and delivers his homemade trays to hungry customers throughout Durham.

“These foods were the easiest to start out with,” Burris said. “I knew how to do it and I knew a lot of people would like it.”

Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant in 2015, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Spreading the word

Business has been booming for the Dankery even though the restaurant hasn’t opened a physical location. Burris has instead managed to gain a loyal following through social media.

Burris essentially built his business using Instagram and Snapchat. While many businesses struggle with promoting their brand on social media, Burris has been able to use this marketing tool to his advantage. Since customers can’t go into the restaurant to look at the food, Burris posts photos and videos of the delicious food he prepares — bringing in new fans, new customers and new orders.

“It’s all ‘bout earned media and people spreading the word,” Burris said. “They get a tray, they like it, and they tell someone about it.”

Joshua Bumgardner, owner of Chef J’s Trays in Houston, Texas, helped Burris in the beginning stages of developing the Dankery.

“It was his own thing and he had his own hustle, but I helped with the development,” Bumgardner said. “I saw all the work and all the pay off.”

Bumgardner opened Chef J’s Trays in March and has adopted a similar business strategy to Burris, with plans to use earned media and word-of-mouth to gain a following. Although Bumgardner is still developing the social media pages for his business, he has gained a following since opening and now serves around 20 people nightly.

Albert Segars, a distinguished professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said social media is vital to small businesses because of its ability to reach a large number of people at little to no cost. However, in order for social media to be effective without being intrusive, it must be managed properly and businesses must find a balance with their social media use.

While Burris has been successful in working from his kitchen, his goal is to someday have multiple food trucks. For now, Burris is  in the process of getting the proper permits to open his food truck and will be looking to hire a staff to help run the Dankery. He hopes to have the mobile location open to the public by the end of the year.

From startup to success

Burris’ journey has not been without obstacles. He handles everything on his own, from marketing to cooking and delivery, meaning he often has to turn business away when demand is too high. Burris is solely responsible for financially backing his business, from raising the initial capital to savings funds for expansion.

“There are many challenges to starting a business,” Segars said. “The primary one is money. This means sacrifice, in most cases, entrepreneurs have to invest their own money which can be a risky proposition.”

Burris believes his dedication combined with his delicious food will help make the Dankery successful.

“I have a really good work ethic and when I want to do something, I make sure I get it done,” Burris said. “I’m kind of a perfectionist. When I’m making trays, I want everything to be perfect.”

As a young and talented entrepreneur, Burris has the qualities that can set apart a successful business from a failing one.

“Successful entrepreneurs tend to be very social, positive, and ambitious,” Segars said. “Entrepreneurs are wired differently and their passion is the business they start. Make sure that your service and product are always the best. Never accept less than perfect delivery on customers’ expectations.”

Burris’ passion and drive for his business have helped his business stand out. He has been dedicated to the Dankery and its customers, putting in years of work to build the brand. Segars said time is another challenge young businesses face.

“It requires a lot of time to get a business started,” Segars said. “You must create a product or service, market its value, and devote many hours to managing the business. You have to be willing to wait for success.”

Burris has done just that and as a result, the Dankery continues to profit and grow. But the Dankery is still in the early phases of becoming a full-fledged and well-established business. The Cousins Maine Lobster food truck is a perfect example of a food truck success story. In May of 2015, Deb Keller launched the Cousins Maine food truck in Raleigh, branching from the Cousins Maine brand, which was created in 2012. The truck is wildly popular and serves Maine lobster rolls.

“I went into this with zero restaurant knowledge other than I love eating food at restaurants,” Keller said. “Now, I’m providing the best lobster you can find and we have a beautiful following. That makes it all worth while.”

Like Burris, Cousins Maine Lobster was able to build a loyal following using quality food and superior customer service. By entering the food truck market with a unique product, the Cousins Maine Lobster truck was able to distinguish itself from competitors, which is what Burris intends to do once he is able to expand.

While the food truck market in Raleigh is relatively saturated, that is not the case in Durham. According to Jaseth Fike, a student at Durham Technical Community College, there aren’t many food trucks in the area that cater to students.

“I don’t see a lot of food trucks around campus,” Fike said. “I think if there were more options, more students would go.”

The Dankery has a unique product and high demand. Keller said she loves the concept and believes the brand could separate itself from the masses of taco and burger trucks.

“I personally believe it would be welcomed,” said Keller. “You have to have your signature.”

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Advice from the locals on transitioning to the “Big Apple”

By Lanie Phillips

Every year, approximately 250,000 people move to New York City. A different road leads each person to the “Big Apple”, but those who stumble across a life in Manhattan say that there is something special about the city that always leaves you wanting more. As I approach college graduation with a move to New York City on the horizon, I began to ask myself dozens of questions that I couldn’t easily find the answer to, and all of them came with a different answer depending on the source. This article will explore six perspectives on transitioning to and maintaining a life in New York City. I asked six people in various walks of life what led them and what kept them in the city that never sleeps, whether it’s the bright lights, trendy nightclubs, delicious restaurants or limitless opportunities for adventure.

The Commuter 

Katrine Reddin is 22 years old and graduated in December from Texas Christian University with a degree in marketing. Shortly after, she returned to her home in Stamford, Connecticut where she would live and complete the hour and a half commute each way for six months before moving into an apartment in Manhattan. Katrine’s dad has worked in New York City for years, so for her, finding a career in the city was almost a rite of passage. She discussed how she has grown up wanting to switch her walking shoes for heels before entering the building she works in, something that all women working in New York City seem to be very familiar with. She vividly remembers stepping off the train into Grand Central Station and being forced to run to keep up with the crowd. “That was the moment I knew I was not in Texas anymore,” she laughs. “[It was] also the moment I understood why you wear flats until you get to the door of your office.”

Katrine discussed in-depth how the transition period of living with her parents has made moving to and working in New York City so much more attainable. “I have a huge financial buffer, now, that has allowed me to search for an apartment with substantially less stress,” she said. “It also helps knowing that I’ll be able to explore and adventure in the city without having to worry about paying the electricity bill.” She agrees that while living with her parents for these six months has been beneficial, there is just something exciting about renting your own apartment in New York City. “I think the hardest part has been the commute. I wake up at 4:30 and catch a train and then do it all over again,” she said. “Knowing there is an end in sight definitely helps because my sleep schedule couldn’t handle this situation long-term.”

The Apartment Hunter

For Emma Griffin, the biggest adjustment to living in New York City was the process of getting an apartment. Emma, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia, is a graphic designer for a small company. On the side, she does freelance work to make extra money. She laughs as she remembers trying to look for an apartment six months before she was planning on moving in. “I had just gotten my job offer and was so excited to figure out where I would be living,” she said. “The brokers I contacted politely told me to come back one month before I needed to move in and to make sure I had the necessary funds.” The process to qualify for an apartment does make it easier to ensure you will be able to pay your rent. The usual requirement is your salary equaling 40 times the amount of your monthly rent. She recalls downloading several apps that would help her search for an apartment and getting hundreds of notifications of places that would satisfy her criteria.

In a city that supposedly has a shortage of housing, there didn’t seem to be a lack of apartments coming on and off the market that were possible places to rent. “I think for everyone, the first shock of living in New York is how expensive your rent is going to be,” said Emma. “It’s awful spending a third of what I’m making on the place I sleep.” But Emma wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even though she has only been there for a year, she has zero plans on moving anytime soon. “There’s something priceless about living in a place where you meet someone from a completely different walk of life every single day.”

The Father

Zach Richards has lived in Upper West Side for the last three years. He moved there after graduating from Duke University. However, in the past three years, Zach has not only gotten married, but he and his wife recently had a baby. “There is nothing that can prepare you for living in New York with a newborn child,” he confessed. “Everything becomes more complicated.” Whether it’s a screaming baby who is sweaty from the hot subway in July, a stroller that gets caught on a sidewalk bump and almost tips over or finding a place for the baby to sleep in astronomically priced apartments, Zach walked me through some tips of the trade. “Honestly, we converted our pantry into a bedroom for the baby,” he says as he ironically trips over a stack of groceries sitting in the hall with no place to go. “It has no window and absolutely does not adhere to building codes, but it is so worth not sharing a bedroom with a newborn.”

He talks about how no one ever mentioned this transition to him. Everyone stuck to giving advice on first moving there and then adjusting to living with a spouse. “I think most people don’t want to scare you out of having a baby,” Zach said. “If I had known what I do now, I probably would’ve waited just a little bit longer.” Zach has no plans on moving to the suburbs just yet, a practice common with people who have families but still work in New York City. He said that too much of his identity has become wrapped up in living in Manhattan. “My wife and this baby have taken my sleep and my money and even my pantry,” he jokes. “They’re not taking my zip code.”

The Budgeter

Kim Emmert has lived in the city for five years and recently moved across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She moved to New York City after completing her undergraduate degree at Boston College, which gave her a leg up in handling the cold weather. She gave great advice on budgeting for living in a city as expensive as New York City and practical tips that she has picked up along the way. Her self-proclaimed best advice for anyone moving to the “Big Apple”? Make a spreadsheet with every expense you can think of and stick to it. Leave room for unexpected expenses that you can’t prepare for. “I can’t express how important it is to stick to the budget you have,” she stressed. “There is no worse feeling that seeing your credit card bill pile up and know that you won’t be able to pay it at the end of the month.” Kim has personal experience with this. Her first two years in New York City were a financial whirlwind of overspending and she is still paying off the silly expenses she justified in order to keep up with her roommates who were making significantly more money than her.

“I also would tell you to live with people in similar financial situations,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to stay in and cook breakfast together than sit at home while everyone else goes out for bottomless mimosas and brunch.” Her last piece of advice for transitioning to life in Manhattan was simple. “Prepare to not drive a car,” she said. For her, it felt like a loss of freedom and she felt trapped. Kim said it took her close to a year to adjust to relying on public transportation. She did acknowledge that the presence of Uber does make getting around significantly easier. “But don’t forget to factor that into your budget” she said.

The Southerner

Julie Fendler is 36 years old and is contemplating leaving New York City after being there since attending undergraduate school at Columbia University. “New York is absolutely a way of life,” she explained when I asked her why she had been there for so long. “It gets in your blood and convinces you that nothing will be as exciting as the life you have here.” She said her best advice for anyone moving to the city is to just jump in 100 percent. If you don’t commit to enjoying the life you have in New York City, you’ll constantly be thinking if it would be better to just live somewhere cheaper. Julie, who grew up in a small suburban town outside of Atlanta, thinks that living in New York City has opened her eyes to different ways of life and broadened her horizons more than she could’ve dreamed. “Maybe that’s why I’m so biased about this city,” she admitted. “I think that a life in New York is out of a lot of people’s comfort zones, but I can’t begin to convey how important it is to expose yourself to different types of people.”

For those moving from the south, Julie warned of the complete absence of southern hospitality and the cold weather. She laughed at a story she remembered of bumping into someone getting out of an elevator and then apologizing and asking them how their day was going. “That man looked at me like I had killed his first-born child,” Julie said. “I realized that New Yorkers don’t care why you’re in their way, they just want to be at their destination 15 minutes ago.” Her final words were to warn me as well as other people who consider a 55-degree day to be cold that I had no idea what was ahead. “There’s nothing that can prepare a southern girl from stepping out into her first snowstorm,” she said. “The way the cold hits you in the face the second you step outside is something I would not miss at all.”

The Explorer

For the final perspective on transitioning to life in New York City, I talked with Miles Garrison, a man who has lived in countless apartments across Manhattan for the last 20 years. Out of everyone I interviewed for this story, he spoke of New York City with the most fondness. “New York is absolutely more than a place for people in their 20s to figure out how to be an adult,” he said. Miles admitted that there is a huge adjustment period though. In a somewhat crass manner, he detailed an early career in finance that allowed him to have financial flexibility, which might not have been a good thing. “I had more money but not nearly enough time to explore this place,” he admitted. “Maybe that’s why I’m still here. I’m finally getting to experience what everyone talks about.”

His advice to me was simple: Don’t look at New York City as a stop on the way to a final destination. Give it a chance to be everything it can be. If you do, maybe it could end up being your home, just like it is for Miles. His parting words: “I’ve raised three kids and had two marriages in this city and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Several people have told me that New York City is a place that you can still feel lonely in, even though 8 million people surround you. It is my hope that the accounts given in this story by six very different people living very different lives in the city will make life in Manhattan a little more attainable for those who encounter it. It’s expensive, it’s loud, it’s bright, but as you read in this story, there’s something just a little more special about the years you spend in the “Big Apple”.

Edited by Avery Williams

Cody Abell’s path to tattoo

By Kenzie Cook

The sound of metal music reverberates through the small shop and mixes with the steady vibrating sounds of the tattoo gun. Conversation flows easily between the tattoo artist and his client.

The first customer I observe is one of Cody’s regulars, Logan. They are working on the almost-completed sleeve on Logan’s right arm. Logan’s girlfriend watches Cody work as he repeatedly pokes needles into her boyfriend’s skin. Prior to Logan’s arrival, Cody has spent close to two hours perfecting the stencils he created for the two new additions to the sleeve and cleaning up his area of the shop to health code standards.

“Do you watch combat movies?” Cody asks as he starts the needlework for a dagger that appears to be stabbing through Logan’s bicep. A discussion of Deadpool versus Spider-Man ensues, seeming to distract Logan from the pain.

Cody’s Path

Every tattoo artist has a different path he or she has taken into the profession, and Cody’s is by far the most interesting story I have heard. The main reason I find his story so intriguing is that he fell into the tattooing profession entirely by accident.

Cody did not have a normal childhood. By the time he reached the sixth grade, he had already been to 12 schools. His mother suffered from undiagnosed and untreated clinical issues, which led to her constantly lying, hurting people and running away from her problems. Once Cody was old enough to see her for who she truly was, problems began to arise between the two of them. The situation worsened when he interjected in a fight between her and her husband, which led to the state of Virginia filing assault charges against her.

By the time Cody had turned 18 and was preparing to graduate high school, his mother had given up on raising him. She and her husband moved away, leaving him alone in their home with only two months remaining on the lease. Luckily, the University of Virginia granted him a scholarship in theatrical arts, and friends’ families allowed him to bounce around their houses until he could move into the campus dorms.

While on campus, Cody had to find a job to pay for food and other necessities, so he became a receptionist for a local tattoo shop. Over the summer, the tattoo artists who worked there quit due to the questionable nature of the shop. The owner of the shop took it upon himself to teach Cody how to tattoo so the shop could stay in business. After his first few clients, he soon realized that the owner did not really know what he was doing when it came to teaching the art of tattooing, so he left to learn properly. He eventually dropped out of college, where he was studying marketing, to begin tattooing full time.

Now, nearly nine years later, he takes pride in his work and is not satisfied unless his customers are. He traces and retraces his artwork until it is practically flawless before putting it on his customers’ skin. He does not care how large or small each tattoo is. He wants each customer to love his work.

The walk

It is a long, chilly walk through the drizzling rain from Glenn’s Tattoo Service Inc. to Weaver Street Market. Cody takes this trip every day that he works, though the weather is not always this dreary.

“You’ve never been to the co-op?” he asks, incredulous. “I go here every day for a coffee and a water.”

Along the way, he recounts his first trip to the market last summer.

“My wife and I came down from Virginia to check out Glenn’s and decided to take a walk here. It was insanely hot and felt like the longest walk ever.”

Although he hated the heat, he does not seem to appreciate the cool rain either.

“If it’s raining when we head back, I’m not walking through it,” he said with a laugh. “I am not above ordering an Uber just to take me up a block.”

The Strongman

Aside from tattooing, Cody has a few side hobbies. He likes that the tattoo profession pays well enough for him to live his life exactly the way he wants to live it.

He has a personal coach and a dietician so he can train and build muscle for Strongman competitions. He won his first competition in October and qualified for the Nationals, which will take place in Las Vegas in November. He also is training for the North Carolina’s Strongest Man competition in May. These competitions do not pay whether you win or lose, and Cody recognizes that he would not be able to uphold his hobby if not for his successful job as a tattoo artist.

He also enjoys doing extreme activities, as long as he does not have to take a class or have a certification in order to do them. This fall, he plans to take his wife to Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is a large, steep rock formation that people hike with only a chain to keep them from plummeting to the ground 5,700 feet below.

The Ph.D. and the tattoo artist

Cody lights up when talking about his wife, who seems like his complete opposite. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and works as a data analyst for the state.

“I just thought of her as a friend because she is way too good for me. I mean, she’s got a Ph.D., what would she want with a guy with face tattoos?” He continues explaining that the two of them never actually dated. They just went straight from being friends to a short engagement and then got married in a courthouse after they moved to Durham.

Walk-ins welcome

People can request a tattoo on any part of the body. One of Cody’s walk-ins happened to want a tattoo of the UNC logo on his right butt cheek. His friend came for a much more reasonable location: his left foot. The two engaged in playful banter while the first tattoo was completed.

“How are you doing there, mate?” Eoin Buttanshall, the one waiting to have his foot tattoo done, asked.

“Not too bad,” Sam Sinclair replied with a red face.

“Can’t wait to see you with your ass out later.”

Eoin later explained that the two had made bets about tattoos surrounding the NCAA March Madness Championship game. They had bet that Carolina would lose, and since they lost the bet, they had to either get the symbol or “the ceiling is the roof” tattooed on themselves.

When getting a tattoo, I strongly suggest bringing a friend, even if it is just for moral support. Having a conversation with a person you are comfortable with serves as a solid distraction from the pain of needles constantly sticking into your skin.

Another set of friends came into the shop for a walk-in and had an entire conversation consisting of inside jokes that neither Cody nor I understood. Nevertheless, it did its job of distracting Maria Alvarez while she got a quote in French along her collarbone. Her friend Emily MacKillop’s tattoo idea was too intricate for a walk-in, so she had to make an appointment and leave a deposit.

When she came back the next day, Maria came with her and the same kind of conversation took place while she got her image of a moon inside a sun on her shoulder. Both girls were pleased with Cody’s work on their new ink.

“I love how it looks. He did a great job!” Emily said once her tattoo was finished.

The process

Wednesdays are generally slow days in the tattoo shop, so it is usually just Cody by himself or with one other tattoo artist. On both of the Wednesdays that I sat in on, Cody only had two appointments scheduled, with few walk-ins. In his free time, he works on sketches for upcoming tattoos and eats to fuel for his weight lifting.

Before each customer sits down for their new ink, Cody sets out the needles he will need and assembles his tattoo gun. He then sets out the required inks, covers everything at his station in plastic, sanitizes the chair that the customer will sit on and puts on his gloves. That is when the real fun begins.

Once the customer has signed the release form to allow Cody to tattoo them, they sit in the chair or lay on the table, depending on the placement of the tattoo. Cody asks if they are ready, the gun starts and there is no going back.

During the tattooing process, Cody continuously rubs petroleum jelly across the affected skin to keep it from tearing and scarring. He wipes away excess blood as he goes, completely unaffected by the bodily fluid.

Once the tattoo is finished, Cody covers it with more jelly and a wrap, takes the payment and sends them off with a card explaining how to properly take care of a new tattoo. The healing process takes up to four weeks and requires lots of care and protection from the sun and certain chemicals.


Although I did not receive my first tattoo from Cody, I did receive my favorite from him. All of the customers I spoke to shared my sentiment that Cody has amazing talent in the art of tattooing, despite that line of work not being his original career path. Cody has a special love for his work that leads to perfectionism, which results in near-perfect tattoos loved by all who receive them.

Edited by Samantha Miner

Dancing through life at any age

By Cinnamon Moore

I’ve never exactly been the graceful kind of girl.

Blessed with almost zero hand-eye coordination and a tendency for tripping on thin air, I preferred to stay away from most physical activities, including dancing. Instead, I opted for books and classwork.

But just because I wasn’t born with the natural instinct for dance didn’t stop me from envying dancers and their stunning grace.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are watching “Dirty Dancing” and drooling over Baby and Johnny’s final dance scene.

As I got older, my penchant for dance never faded, and finally, at 22, I decided to take my first dance lesson.

It takes a lot to make me nervous, but as someone whose physical activity consists of going to the gym or hiking, braving something as elegant and beautiful as ballroom dance for the first time was intimidating.

After looking around at dance studios in the area for a few days and reading reviews online, I decided to take my chances with Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham. The reviews raved about the dance instructors and it was only a short 20-minute drive from my apartment. Not to mention, they had a deal for two beginning dance classes.

I thought if I completely flopped, at least I wouldn’t pour a lot of money into it.

A few days later, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot cursing my parents for not having forced me to take dance lessons as a kid.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Total humiliation, stepping on toes, slipping … I shook my head. Bad thoughts wouldn’t help the situation.

Before my brain could catch up with me, I grabbed my backpack, got out of my car and walked inside. I was greeted by the smiles of two other students, both at least 70 years old.

After waiting a few moments, I could hear the dance instructors approaching from the back and took up a position near the front desk.

“Cinnamon, right?” Alyona Karchanova, one of the instructors, asked.

I smiled and nodded.

“Great,” she said. “You’ll be with Vitaliy today.”

At the sound of his name, a young man appeared to greet me, and before I knew it, I was holding his hand and being whisked away to a spot on the main dance floor.

With the main floor directly across from the entrance and in view of anyone passing by, my hopes of passing under the radar vanished. If I was terrible, it seems everyone would have a front-row seat to watch.

Oy vesmir.

“Have you ever danced before?” Vitaliy Starikov asked.

“No, this is my first day,” I replied meekly.

“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “This will be much fun.”

Moving to the United States less than year prior, Starikov’s thick Ukrainian accent, aided by his quick smile and joking personality, lent him an infectious ambiance.

With his tailored, black dress shirt complete with tie and polished shoes, he was the picture-perfect ballroom dance partner.

“OK, today we will learn a few basic dances and you can show me what you’ve got,” he said. “Do not worry, all you must do is follow my lead.”

I looked into his green eyes, put my slightly shaky hand in his and gave myself up to the music.

A few blinks later, I had learned the basics of tango, cha-cha, rumba and salsa.

And I was hooked.

The intoxication of dance

Dance, I learned, was addictive. While people begin dancing for various reasons, many who start find that they cannot and will not stop. Whether a hobby or life-long career, they’ve fallen in love with moving to the music.

Starikov began dancing at the age of 7. After hating his first dance class, his mother gave it one last attempt at convincing her son to dance by taking him to a local ballroom dance competition near their hometown.

“When I saw the yellow feathered skirts and the black suits on the men … I knew I wanted to do that,” he said. “They were so elegant and beautiful.”

Over the years, Starikov competed all over Ukraine in the standard five dances: waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. He admitted to almost quitting a few times, but after encouragement from his father, he pursued a master’s degree in cultural arts and choreography.

After teaching for a few years in Ukraine, Yuriy Simakov, the owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham, offered Starikov a position as a dance instructor. At the age of 28, Starikov found himself in America.

The changing Fred Astaire

In 1998, two Ukrainian national champions became the franchisees of a Fred Astaire Dance studio on Long Island.

Since then Sasha and Olga Bylim have encouraged fellow competitors and friends to join them in the U.S.

“This franchised company presents incomparable career growth opportunities for owners and employees,” the pair told Entrepreneur Magazine in an interview in 2014.

When “Dancing with the Stars” and similar television series hit the air, demand for ballroom classes skyrocketed, leading to an increased need for dance instructors.

To meet rising demand for professionally taught instructors with degrees, many, including Kostyantyn Karchanov, an instructor at the Durham studio, heeded the Bylims’ call.

Soon, whole franchises, like the one in Durham, were operated with a full staff of professionally taught Ukrainian instructors.

It’s a lifestyle

In the world of dance, age really is just a number. Those that learn often find themselves drawn back to the dance floor or simply never leave, Starikov said.

“You see Anne, that beautiful woman in the red dress over there,” Starikov gestured. “She’s 92 years old this year. She’s been coming here for about 25 years now.”

While some of the students come simply to learn their wedding dance, most are in it for the long haul. Whether hooked by the beauty of the dance, the social scene or the atmosphere of constant learning, students of Fred Astaire are dedicated to their studio.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Barbara Goodman. “You don’t have to worry about it, but us old folk have to do everything we can to keep our memory sharp. Dancing is wonderful for that. They keep me on my toes here.”

Studies suggest that Goodman is right — dancing does have a positive affect on the brain.

In a 21-year study of senior citizens, led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers found that the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Because dancing incorporates different brain functions at once, it helps increase neural connectivity. Basically, as we age, brain pathways die. The more pathways we create when we’re younger, the less likely we are to forget things when we’re older. It keeps our brains ever-improving.

Not to mention, it’s a way to exercise while having fun, which is also great for the body.

“Dance is just good for you,” Karchanov said. “It’s good for your body, your mind and your heart. When people come here, they are happy. Dance lifts your spirit.”

Not just a pretty dance

Dance is something special. It’s beautiful and elegant — but it’s more than just pretty movement.

Those who have discovered dancing have formed a community. They’ve learned to laugh through a quick slide to the right with a glance over the shoulder. They’ve learned another language.

“Dance allows you to tell a story without ever having to say a word,” Karchanov said.

A manager at the dance studio, Alyona Karchanova also came from Ukraine and graduated from Poltava University with a major in dance. While small in stature, her bright red hair and commanding presence makes her a spotlight on the dance floor.

Since coming to the U.S. in 2005, she has shared her passion and experience with her students, earning her the North Carolina Region Top Teacher Award.

She instructs her students not only in the intricacies of the dance, but also in conveying emotion through movement and the mastery of telling a story without opening their mouths.

“That is always my first lesson,” she said. “Making my students storytellers.”

So how do people get into this

The beauty of dance is that you’re never too old to start dancing. Everyone begins his or her yellow brick road a little differently.

Some, like Starikov begin at 7 with the image of elegance in their mind. Others, like Goodman, begin later in life as a hobby.

Jack Wolf had to take a couple of detours along the way.

Wolf began dancing at the age of 10 after attending a folk dance summer camp. As rock and roll and modern dance overtook the country, he fell out of the dancing arena and opted for a career in medicine.

Thirty years later, Wolf continued to feel the pull from the dancing world.

“Dancing does that to you,” he said. “It has a way of drawing you back in.”

He began his lessons anew. Wolf is now retired from medicine and instructs lessons in latin, swing, country and zydeco dancing.

“Dancing in the Triangle (area) has always been steady, but over the past 10 years or so, more and more people have been coming to learn how to dance,” he said.

Realizing the desire for a community of dance, many instructors, including Wolf and those at Fred Astaire began organizing social hours after dance lessons to introduce fellow dancers and encourage newcomers to experience a taste of the dancing world.

It’s a social thing

“I grew up in Orlando, Florida so I learned how to salsa dance in the club,” said Ruth Chen.

After moving to Chapel Hill, Chen began seeking out venues for salsa dancing. While difficult at first, over the years, more places have started hosting salsa night for those in the community, she said.

After opening their doors in 2015, Roots Bakery Bistro & Bar decided to add to their theme of Central American cultural “roots” and host a weekly salsa night. Attendees pay $5 for lessons taught by Jack Wolf, followed by social dancing where they can dance with fellow dancers from around the area.

“People who come here — obviously, they know what they’re doing, but they come here to just do what they love — salsa dance,” Chen said. “Many have the lessons before and then practice what they’ve learned with those of us who have been doing this for a while.”

The result is a community of dancers coming together to discuss dance, whether that be with words or strictly movement.

I think they’re on to something

What started out as simply a personal curiosity turned into revelation. I realized that dance really is something incredible. It’s not just good for you — it’s fun.

“When you’re doing the cha-cha you have to shake your hips like this,” Starikov said, demonstrating with exaggerated concentration — complete with pursed lips and raised chin.

I giggled.

Dance offers the opportunity to constantly learn, whether new choreography, new technique or entirely new dances. There’s always something else waiting around the corner.

Such a learning experience has created a learning community with a niche for everyone. No matter the age, no matter the experience, everyone is welcome in the dancing world. All you have to do is put on a pair of dance shoes and gather the courage to walk onto the dance floor.

After that, the rest is history.

Edited by Sara Salinas. 

Quest for space race information offers more questions than answers

By Nicole Vandiford

Throughout human history, men have wanted to conquer, and conquer they have.

During World War II, the United States was desperate to find ways to improve their weapons, and while they were allies with the Soviet Union, tensions ran high between the two countries.

Flight had been conquered for the most part by this time, but there was one thing that man had not yet conquered – space.

Nazi Germans of the Third Reich were doing secret experiments on travel between time and space, which seems like something out of an H.G. Wells novel. However, this experimentation worried the Allies because it was something they knew nothing about.

By the 1950s, the United States was in a race with their former ally, the Soviet Union, to conquer the closest thing they could – the moon.

Timeline of the Space Race

The space race began in 1957 and ended in 1969 shortly after the Apollo 11 mission, which put a man on the moon in June 1969. The United States and the Soviet Union participated in the space race.

The space race launched after rough waters between the two countries brought on the Cold War. The Cold War was one of the key reasons the space race was so competitive.

The space race officially began in October 1957 with the launch of Sputnik by the USSR. In November 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 2 with a passenger – a dog named Laika that stayed in orbit but died within a few hours from overheating.

In January 1958, the Unites States launched its first successful satellite into orbit – Explorer 1, which helped scientists discover the Van Allen radiation belt.

In 1958, President Eisenhower created NASA.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, and he was an advocate for the country to put man on the moon before the Soviet Union did.

In April 1961, Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and became the first person in space, a massive win for the Soviet Union.

A month later in May 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space.

In September 1962, President Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University on the importance of the moon program:

“We choose to go to the Moon.”

In June 1963, Valentia Tereshkova became the first woman in space thanks to the Soviet Union.

In November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated before getting to see the moon program launch.

In June 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edward “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to step foot on the moon, making the United States the victors of the space race.

In the arms of the frontier

In order to understand the space race, it is important to know why it started, and that begins with the Cold War.

The United States and the Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, were allies in World War II against the Third Reich, but it was never a close friendship.

Once WWII ended, the United States and the Soviet Union became rivals with conflicting political views, and thus the Cold War was born from the ashes of WWII.

Before the space race gained momentum, there was another race that the between the United states and the Soviet Union – the “arms race.” During WWII, the United States hired Nazi Germans to help with the Manhattan Project, which led to the first production of nuclear weapons.

Bringing Germans to the United States during WWII was controversial since the American people were already worried that Nazis were infiltrating their country. But in “Operation Paperclip,” that is just what the United States government did. They hired Nazi Germans to travel to the United States to work on nuclear weapons for the U.S. government.

According to CIA documents, some of the most notorious Nazis to work under Operation Paperclip were Dr. Hubertus Strughold, who helped develop space suits, General Reinhard Gehlen, who was the former head of Nazi intelligence operations and Dr. Kurt Blome, a German biologist who was hired to defend against biological warfare.

The United States began testing atomic bombs only months prior to the bombings in Japan. In July 1945, at Alamogordo U.S. Army Air Force Base, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb. Codename: Trinity.

At the end of WWII, the atomic bomb became widely known because of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The space race was inevitable after the arms race. During WWII, Nazis in the Third Reich were actively doing research on space travel. Because of this, most of the researchers in the atomic and hydrogen bomb testing were Nazi Germans that the United States hired after the war.

In 1952, the United States successfully made the first hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, which was well-known for the mushroom-like cloud the explosion creates. Codename: Ivy Mike.

Morehead Planetarium astronaut training

One would think that trying to find information that involves a planetarium and government funding would be easy, but that does not seem to be true.

Morehead Planetarium is on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus, and because of this, the university archives are the quickest and easiest place to find information on the astronaut trainings that took place there.

In order to gain access to documents in the special archives, you have to register, provide general information such as address and contact information, and you have to have your picture taken. I met with one of Wilson Library’s staff, Bob. He had a gentle demeanor that was inviting, and he was more than willing to help me on the topic.

“Not many people come in for this topic,” Bob said. “It seems to be difficult to find information in the archives.”

We spent some time looking into the digital archives because Bob thought it would be the quickest way of figuring out what information is available.

We put in basic keywords: “astronauts,” “space race,” “morehead,” “planetarium,” “training,” and more. I was not prepared for how difficult it was going to be to find information on the topic until we had three search results that all said there was no information.

In order to find documents that you have to touch with fancy white gloves, you have to get special permission from Wilson Library, and that takes time to process.

Since I couldn’t find much in the archives other than some pictures of the astronauts who were involved, I decided I should go straight to the source: Morehead Planetarium.

When I entered the planetarium’s business center, the atmosphere was different than I expected for the planetarium. There was a girl at the front desk who asked if I needed help, so I took a leap of faith.

“I’m working on a written piece and was wondering if there is anyone I could talk to about the space race,” I said with the soft speech I use to help me get information that I need.

“Have you talked to Micky Jo?” the girl said.

The infamous “Micky Jo.” I have been told this name so many times while working on this piece that she seems to be a legend in my eyes.

Micky Jo Sorrell is an educator at the planetarium, and she would be a perfect person to gather information on the space race from. However, the day was not in my favor.

“I have been told to talk to her, is she available?” I asked.

“One second,” she said.

At this point, another girl walked into the room. The girl at the front desk asked if she had seen Micky Jo.

At this point, I’m sitting in a fancy leather chair watching two planetarium employees asking around for me.

A man came out from one of the back offices.

“Have you seen Micky Jo?” both the girls asked him.

“She’s in a meeting,” he said.

“Oh, when will she be out?” I asked.

“Not for a while,” he responded. “What do you need?”

I told him my shtick.

“Out of all the people in here, I probably know the most about the space race,” he said.

“Well could I get some information from you?” I asked, probably more exuberantly than I should have.

“I’m busy at the moment, but here’s my card.”

He handed me a business card with his name on it – Richard McColman, the Fulldome Theater director.

“Thank you, I’ll get in touch,” I said while leaving.

I emailed him later that night. I waited for what seemed like forever to only get an email saying he would not be able to give me the answers I needed without an appointment. I didn’t have time to make an appointment.

We both apologized to each other for the inconvenience, but I was determined to find something.

I looked into the planetarium’s website to see what they had for the public. The website actually gave me some helpful information.

Over 60 astronauts trained at Morehead Planetarium during the space race, including Neil Armstrong.

Many credit the training done at the planetarium for the astronauts saving lives during risky missions, including Apollo 13, which was the inspiration for the film with the same name.

The space race’s lasting impact

It feels like I am ending right where I started, with little available information on the space race, but that brings up an interesting question. Why?

In the 1950s, space travel was seen as the next chapter in American history, yet today, not many people even know the basic information.

“Other than the money aspect, we reached the pinnacle of what we learn from just putting humans in space with the current technology,” said Taylor Peele, a U.S. Army soldier. “We did what we set to do, which was beat the rest of the world to setting foot on extraterrestrial soil.”

Perhaps that is the answer. We came, we conquered, we leave. What was set out to happen has happened, so there is no dire need to talk about it anymore.

The effects of the space race are still alive in pop culture, primarily in movies such as Interstellar, Gravity and the Star Wars saga.

They would not have been made without what we have learned from the space race.


edited by Elise Clouser

Hemingway and the sea of uncertainty: tracing the steps of a Cuban-American classic

Ernest Hemingway’s boat, the Pilar, sits on display at the author’s estate in Havana. The boat helped inspire “The Old Man and the Sea.” (photo by: Blake Richardson)

By Blake Richardson

Ernest Hemingway is sitting in the middle of the Cuban sea, surrounded by cerulean waves with a fishing pole resting in his suntanned hands. He has an idea.

That old man sparked something — the way he fought an army of sharks that wanted to steal the fish off his line. He was completely isolated, but he still waved off Hemingway’s offer to help. And there was also something special about Hemingway’s companion: a Cuban fisherman named Gregorio Fuentes whom Hemingway considered like a brother. There was something about his eyes: blue like the sea and undefeated.

“There isn’t any symbolism,” Hemingway wrote in a letter to critic Bernard Berenson on Sept. 13, 1952. “The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

But was Hemingway telling the truth?

He also said Santiago was based on “nobody in particular,” but there’s no mistaking the similarities to Fuentes’ eyes or to the old man Hemingway witnessed fishing that day.

The Pilar, the boat that once cut through Caribbean waves, rests on a platform surrounded by a ring of wooden deck at the author’s Havana home, Finca Vigía. The Pilar is frozen in time, and I’m trying to freeze it in memory from all angles as I photograph the sanctuary of the man who mastered the English language. But I haven’t learned yet that this boat is where “The Old Man and the Sea” sprouted into fruition. That information comes later in the afternoon when I am conversing with Coralia Ortiz, an 80-year-old Cuban woman who taught literature and loves reading, too.

And so I embarked on a quest to trace the roots of one of my favorite novels. What I found was a collection of threads that tied back to Hemingway’s companions and experiences, to his mental health and to his very identity. My conclusion? Don’t believe everything writers say about their stories. Especially not Hemingway.

Making a life in a ‘melting-pot world’ 

“Ladies and gentlemen, you just heard the Cuban National Anthem,” the speaker announced to a confused crowd.

Even though Hemingway was born in Illinois, it was Cuba’s anthem that rang throughout the room to celebrate the American writer winning the Nobel Prize for literature.

Hemingway identified as a “Cubano sato,” a Cuban expression that means a Cuban half-breed. He also identified the country as “mi pueblo,” meaning “my people.”

Hemingway first came to Cuba 1928 on vacation. He was looking for a new home after feeling fed up with France and then with the United States. His visits to the country grew more frequent until he permanently moved to Finca Vigía in 1939. He lived there until 1960.

The writer’s ties to Cuba are so profound that Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, a humanities professor at the University of Puerto Rico, questions whether we should consider Hemingway as American-Cuban in his essay “Cuba in Hemingway,” which is scheduled to publish in a month.

“Many of the most important events of Hemingway’s life occurred in Cuba (he lived there longer than any other place),” Herlihy-Mera said in an email.  “So it makes sense he would eventually feel at home on the island.”

Larry Grimes, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Bethany College, said Cuba reminded Hemingway of other places he loved: regions of Africa, Spain and the United States.

“He is a multi-cultural writer and chose to live in a melting-pot world,” Grimes said.

Even now, Hemingway’s legacy crops up in Havana. A long line has become a staple of his favorite bar, El Floridita. And his home — which you have to pay five CUC, or $5, to visit — is decked out with tour guides. A group of guitarists serenade tourists at an on-site bar, and a gift shop adjacent to the bar sells Cuba merchandise and Hemingway memorabilia. That’s where, for 2 CUC, I bought a print a little larger than a postcard — Santiago, his limbs as wiry as his fishing pole, holding his own in the duel with the massive swordfish lurking in the waters below.

The mysterious man and the eyes of inspiration 

Hemingway won one such battle during a fishing trip off the coast of Peru. But unlike his protagonist, Hemingway was not alone during the conquest of a 1,542-pound sailfish. Fuentes was by his side on the Pilar.

The first sign of overlap between Santiago and the man who shared a 20-year friendship with Hemingway is the piercing blue eyes. But it doesn’t stop there.

The old man was an immigrant from the Canary Islands, hence his affinity for lions. Fuentes, also from the Canary Islands, immigrated to Cuba when he was 22 after working on cargo ships. Hemingway would have seen a lot of immigrants from the Canary Islands in the country at the time; Cuba encouraged immigration of the islands’ poor white workers to provide cheap labor on sugar plantations.

While Fuentes’ characteristics parallel with the old man, he might not be Hemingway’s main source of inspiration. A 1936 article written by Hemingway in Esquire led Grimes to believe Carlos Gutierrez had greater influence.

Fuentes was with Hemingway when they saw an old man fighting sharks to fish. But  Gutierrez told Hemingway a similar story about  an old man rescued by fisherman after being pulled out on his skiff to sea for two days following a catch, Grimes said.

When the old man was rescued, sharks consumed more than half of his prize; only 800 pounds remained.  A similar story appeared in the magazine La Habana Elegante in 1891, but Grimes said it is probably even older than that.

Hemingway’s experience with a mysterious old man, Gutierrez’s story and other whispers of the Cuban tale could all have carried weight in triggering Hemingway’s imagination.

“It’s a fascinating story when you hear it the first time,” Grimes said. “It begs to be a novel.”

Crafting a tale to cope with the curse 

Mary Hemingway wouldn’t have wanted the Pilar to be burned into my memory. Or anyone’s memory, for that matter.

At first, she said his death was an accident: a bullet to the head while cleaning his rifle at his home in Ketchum, Indiana. But several months later, she said the writer committed suicide. He wasn’t the only one. His grandfather, father, sister, brother and granddaughter all killed themselves, leading Mariel Hemingway to tell CNN her family had a “horrible curse.”

Hemingway left the boat to Fuentes in his will, but Fuentes refused to use it without his friend. He and Mary were in agreement; she didn’t want anyone to set foot on the boat. Mary told The Atlantic that she wanted the Pilar sunk in the Cojimar fishing hole, but that area was closed off by the Cuban government. Instead, the boat is now displayed over the Finca Vigía dirt with the ocean out of sight.

Thoughts of suicide had plagued Hemingway for much of his life, and he’s received an abundance of psychological diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, traumatic brain injury and both borderline and narcissistic personality traits.

Despite Hemingway’s suffering, his story has become a source of healing. Dr. Saeed Momtazi of the Beheshti Medical Center in Iran wrote that he uses the book to provide therapy for people with depression. It can be a source of inspiration: the story of a man who refuses to abandon his hope.

But Grimes said the book might have been a way for Hemingway to cope with his age. Hemingway was 51 when he wrote the book; the U.S. life expectancy was 65 for a man at the time. With injuries from his time in the army and other accidents from his adventures, age was emphasizing the wear and tear of his body.

“He may have been thinking a bit about himself as an old man and how as an old man, you can demonstrate to yourself that you are still vital and alive,” Grimes said. “And while you’re alive, sharks are taking away pound after pound, day by day.”

The fantastic forge into the unknown 

The words on the page are blurring before my eyes, but I can’t quit crying. I can’t stop reading.

I finished “The Old Man and the Sea” in one day, and the story still sticks in my mind. The old man’s perseverance and boundless hope resonated with me.  And above all, I loved the notion that Santiago was the master of the seas, doing the thing he was born for — even if it took him 84 days to catch a fish.

I wasn’t the only one.

Tim Mahon, a former merchant seaman who lives in Hillsborough, worked on ships traversing oceans for about 10 years. During that time, he read passages of “The Old Man and the Sea” because he could relate to characters like Santiago, who forge into the unknown without any wisp of land on the horizon.

“If you don’t find something to do out there, like write or something, you can — it can be difficult,” he said. “You have to find something to keep your mind engaged other than just the job.”

Whether the experiences are relatable or not, Santiago’s character certainly is, and Hemingway’s writing transports us to his protagonist’s world.

“Hemingway’s writing allows us to experience Cuba and Havana and Cojímar in ways that are only available through literature,” Herlihy-Mera said.

My plans to travel to Havana inspired me to read what Hemingway considers his best novel. But the book went on to shape my journey from the moment I first saw the island emerging into view out of the airplane window.

Hemingway was right, I thought. The sea is a beautiful blending of blues.

Edited by Ryan Wilusz 






Squeezing in San Fran: Exploring the city in 48 hours

San Fransisco, one of the most famous cities in the world, has many prominent attractions as well as innumerable hidden gems. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
San Francisco, one of the most famous cities in the world, has many well-known attractions as well as a large number of local-favorite, hidden gems. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

San Francisco is a loved city.

You can find a whole collection of quotes online from a slew of celebrities about the greatness of the place.

Steinbeck called it “a golden handcuff with the key thrown away.” Paul Kanter referred to it as “49 square miles surrounded by reality.” Nikita Khrushchev said it was the most beautiful city out of all he had seen in the United States.

One quote in particular, though, by the late Herb Caen, captures the love of the place the best: “I hope I go to Heaven, and when I do, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does when he gets there. He looks around and says, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.'”

San Francisco natives like Caen get the pleasure of experiencing the wonder of the city every day, but then there’s the rest of us: the visitors and poor souls who probably don’t make enough money to survive living in the pricey city, now officially the ninth most expensive in the world, according to an International Housing Affordability Survey done in 2016.

We tried to capture the magic of the place in the short vacation time we had, but it’s nearly impossible.

Look up “Top Things to do in San Francisco” or “Best Restaurants in SF” and you’ll end up with way too many four- or five-star rated results to visit in one trip.

Locals have the chance to see and try it all, but when you’re only a visitor, how in the world can you fit it all in?

The better question is, how in the world can you fit it all in roughly 48 hours? This was my problem a few weeks ago.

My mom and I had booked a trip to visit my older brother, Joe, in San Francisco over spring break, but we would only be there from Thursday afternoon, April 16, to Saturday afternoon, April 18.

I hadn’t been to the city since I was seven, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to properly reacquaint myself in such a short amount of time. Somehow, though, we made it work and got the most out of our two-day trip, using recommendations from locals like my brother and my mom’s previous visits to the city as reference. Here’s how we did it:

Thursday, April 16


Transportation: Uber, Walking

Attractions: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach

Dinner: Elephant Sushi

Bars: The Big 4, Union Larder

My mom and I arrived at the San Francisco airport around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. We didn’t rent a car for our stay, because parking can get expensive in the city with prices reaching $75 a day in some garages.

We took an Uber to where we were staying, the Stanford Court Hotel located on California Street in Nob Hill. Our choice was based mainly on location—it was within walking distance of Joe’s apartment.

There are a number of great hotels in that area, including The Fairmont, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and The Scarlet Huntington, all located near the beautiful Grace Cathedral.

We paid $490 for two nights at the Stanford Court, and I’d say we got our money’s worth. The room was spacious and comfortable, there’s a 24-hour fitness center and the front desk was very accommodating.

Downsides? Breakfast isn’t included and there’s a $20 daily fee for Wi-Fi. However, with that $20 fee, you have access to the hotel’s complimentary bikes, which were useful for us on Friday.

After checking in, my mom and I walked to the nearby Union Square, a famous public plaza known for the surrounding shopping.

The landmark park in the center of the neighborhood is arguably the best part of the location; there’s often art on display and you can find ‘Hearts of San Francisco’ sculptures at every corner.

From there we headed to Chinatown, which is about a 10-minute walk from Union Square.

Walking through the Dragon’s Gate—Chinatown’s landmark entrance on Bush Street—and along Grant Avenue will give you a taste of the largest Chinese community outside Asia.

Strings of red lanterns hang overhead and the sidewalks are decorated with ornate turquoise streetlights; every shop features genuine Chinese trinkets or food.

Chinatown in San Fransisco is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Chinatown in San Francisco is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We got to the edge of North Beach before turning to walk back to the hotel.

After freshening up a bit, we headed down California Street to have drinks at The Big 4 at the Scarlet Huntington before meeting up with Joe for dinner.

The cocktails were expensive—my Hemingway Daiquiri was $14—but it was worth it to get a feel for the place. The green leather chairs, dark wood accents, dim lighting and live piano make you feel like you’ve been transported to the ‘50s.

We met up with Joe at his apartment in Nob Hill, a surprisingly clean and nice place for a 24 year old. My brother has a job in sales at a tech company, so he can afford it, but barely.

Joe was excited about dinner. We were going to a family-owned restaurant called Elephant Sushi on Hyde Street in Russian Hill.

It’s some of the best sushi he’s ever had, he told us, but there is almost always a wait because the place is so small. Thankfully, we lucked out and got a table right away.

We ordered Sake nigiri ($5 for two pieces), a White Out roll ($15), a Basil Salmon roll ($7) and a Spicy Hamachi roll ($9). Everything was delicious and entirely different than anything I’d had before, and I’ve eaten my fair share of sushi.

After dinner, we headed across the street to end the night with a drink at Union Larder, a particularly hip wine and cheese bar with a comfortable atmosphere and a strong dose of mood lighting.

While we sipped on our wine—I had a glass of El Libertador ($12)—Joe told us of another cool bar in San Francisco: a speakeasy disguised as a detective agency by the name of Wilson & Wilson.

You have to call to get a reservation and password, which you need in order to enter the speakeasy through a secret door at the back of the bar Bourbon and Branch.

Joe and his girlfriend chose to pay $35 for a three-drink special. “They put so much thought into every drink,” he said.

I was bummed we couldn’t go, but I put it on my list of places to try for next time.

Friday, April 17


Transportation: Biking, walking, Uber

Attractions: Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Union Street, Golden Gate Bridge

Lunch: Blue Barn

Dinner: Off The Grid food trucks

Bar: Tipsy Pig 

Friday was our only full day in San Francisco and my mom and I made the most of it.

How? Bikes.

I’d guess we biked a total of 20 miles that day. Biking is arguably the best way to see San Francisco, especially on a nice day, although I have to warn you about the hills.

You sometimes might be forced to walk your bike when you come across San Francisco’s famously steep streets, and speaking from personal experience, it’s definitely a workout.

We checked out the bikes from our hotel around 10 a.m. and headed to Coit Tower, a white concrete beacon located on the top of Telegraph Hill.

Pay $6 and you can take the elevator up to the observation deck, which gives awesome 360-degree views of the entire city and bay. Also, feel free to stop by Fisherman’s Wharf while you’re in the area.

From Coit Tower, we headed to Lombard Street. It’s famous for its eight hairpin turns, which are admittedly hard to capture on camera but cool to see in person, especially when cars make the trip down the sharply curved road.

Lombard Street takes San Fransisco's classic steep streets and raises the bar by including eight hairpin turns. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Lombard Street takes the classic, steep streets of San Francisco and raises the bar by including eight hairpin turns. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We stayed for a short time before hopping back on our bikes to find a spot for lunch.

A local had recommended we try Bar Bocce, a waterfront hangout across the bridge in Sausalito that has “awesome thin crust pizzas.”

We were too far from Sausalito to make the trip, so we found a place called Blue Barn on Polk Street instead. We split a spring salad and a sandwich called the Rooster ($13). Characteristic of San Francisco, both were expensive but worth it.

After lunch, we biked to Union Street, a charming shopping district lined with art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Two shops in particular—Itoya Topdrawer and Eurasian Interiors—are standouts, especially if you’re looking for unique gifts.

Topdrawer is an offshoot of a popular stationary company based in Japan and is the first of its kind in the U.S. The shop has all sorts of cool Japanese products, from bento boxes to erasable pens.

After recovering from an embarrassing tumble on my bike while trying to take a picture on our way out, we started our 3.5-mile journey to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

We got on the path near the water once we neared the national park Presidio, stopping a few times to take photos along the way. While the view was great, it was even better biking across the bridge. If you do one thing in San Francisco, make it this.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the number one must-see attraction in San Francisco. (Photo by Sofie DeWulf)
The Golden Gate Bridge is the number one must-see attraction in San Francisco. (Photo by Sofie DeWulf)

We returned to the waterfront that night for dinner, joining scores of San Franciscans at Off The Grid at Fort Mason Center.

The gathering of 31 food trucks and live music happens every Friday night from March 3 to Oct. 20 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Joe was even more excited about this dinner than the last because, to him, Off The Grid is authentically San Francisco.

Off the Grid is a unique, local-favorite festival that offers live music and food trucks. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Off the Grid is a unique, local-favorite festival that offers live music and a large number of food trucks. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

The energy was great and you had your choice of every type of food you could imagine. I got Korean barbeque, while Joe got a cheese steak. Plus, it’s about the cheapest meal you can eat in the city.

We ended the night at The Tipsy Pig, a gastropub in the Marina District on Chestnut Street that attracts a young crowd and serves beautiful drinks with names like Strawberry Fields ($11).

Saturday, April 18


Transportation: Walking, Uber

Brunch: Mymy


We only had time for one more meal on Saturday with Joe before we left San Francisco.

My mom picked Mymy, a small brunch place on California Street. She had eaten there on her last visit and insisted we go again.

It’s a popular place and they don’t take names, so I recommend you get there early. But if you have to wait, I promise you won’t mind once you try the Frisco Scramble ($13) or Zucchini Pancakes ($12), which sound questionable but taste great.

Brunch at Mymy is well-worth the possibility of having to wait. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

After saying goodbye to Joe, my mom and I started walking back to our hotel to check out.

Although the trip felt short, I was happy. We hadn’t seen everything, but we had gotten a great taste of the city in only 48 hours.

By the end of the trip, I had become one of the many lovers of San Francisco and wasn’t looking forward to heading back to reality.

To quote Rudyard Kipling, “San Francisco has only one drawback—’tis hard to leave.”

Edited by Molly Weybright

Weathering the cold during spring break: 5 days in a Georgia State Park

By Luke Bollinger

For many college students, spring break is an opportunity to visit and explore unfamiliar places. For those seeking new experiences in new places, weather is almost always a factor. However, the problem with having spring break in March is the unpredictability of the weather. What happens when the success of the trip is dependent on the weather because the trip will be almost entirely outdoors? This is a question I faced when I went camping in Georgia for spring break this year.

When my traveling companions (Evan Mozingo, Hunter Patterson, JP Patterson and Alex Lusk) booked a camping trip to Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Georgia, we knew we were taking a risk. Our reasoning was that, though it would be March, Georgia would have to be warm. Their assumptions of the weather were off by a week. The temperature didn’t rise above 50 F almost the whole week, the sun could not seem to find its way out from behind the clouds and the wind, at times, made things miserable. The forecast for the weeks before and after our trip was 70 degrees and sunny. Due to the cooler conditions during the time we were there, it was up to us to make the best out of our circumstances.

Day 1

Kayaking down the Chattahoochee River was not an option due to the weather.

After a six-hour drive from Concord, North Carolina, to the state park, we stopped at the visitor’s center to check in with the ranger on duty. She laid out the rules and what the park had to offer. To our dismay, she informed us that they would not be renting kayaks. Taking a trip down the Chattahoochee River was something we had all been looking forward to. Erin, the park ranger, told us because of the weather, they were going to wait until next week to offer kayaking trip. This was our first setback.

She wished us good camping and good luck. She seemed to understand that we were a bit upset about the kayaks, as well as the weather.

Our campsite was about one-half mile from the visitor’s center. However, it wasn’t what we were expecting, as it wasn’t as secluded as we had hoped. The road led right to our site, which made it convenient for unloading our supplies, but the aura of being surrounded by nature wasn’t exactly present.

For some reason, our reservation was made for a recreational vehicle campsite.

“Have you noticed we’re the only idiots without a camper?” Hunter said.

He was the one who made the reservation.

It began to rain lightly as we started unloading our gear. After donning rain jackets, we were kept adequately dry. There were no problems setting up the tents, and we unloaded our four coolers. Regardless of what happened that week, at the very least we were not short supplied, JP noted.

About 20 minutes after arriving at the campsite, we received our first visit from the campsite ranger on duty. The ranger never seemed too keen on making conversation so we never caught his name.

“I’m a grouchy old man,” were the first words out of his mouth. And he certainly looked the part, horned-rimmed glasses and all.

“I won’t tolerate any noise after 10 p.m.,” he said.  “The guy at the next site is a working man. He gets up early, and he’ll let me know if you all are loud.”


He then told us it would get below freezing that night and wished us good luck.

After our cordial welcome to the campsite, Evan and I set out to get a fire going while the rest of the crew headed off to the nearest gas station to get a couple more bags of ice. Lighting a fire proved to be a challenge, as it seemed it had been raining before we arrived at the park. Most of the wood we found was fairly wet.

Because of the weather, I knew starting and maintaining a fire was going to be essential to not being miserable. But despite our best efforts, the wood was too wet. All it would do was smolder.

Luckily, Hunter bought a couple bundles of wood from the visitor’s center for $5 a bundle, and we were able to start a blazing fire. By that point my fingers were numb, so I didn’t step away from the fire until dinner.

The fire pit at our site was a circle of metal about six inches high that was dug into the gravel. We found that if we placed the gathered wood beside or on top of the pit, we could dry the logs out in a couple of hours, as we weren’t too fond of spending $20 a day on firewood.

By the end of the week, we would all be experts at starting fires.

For dinner that night, we heated up some spaghetti, a much-appreciated contribution from the parents of Hunter and JP that we cooked on one of our propane grills. At the end of our first day, that meal tasted better than any spaghetti dish I’ve had at a restaurant. I was already beginning to appreciate the smaller things in my life. That’s what camping is all about, right? Simplicity? That’s what I was telling myself.

After dinner we all set around the fire to unwind and enjoy a few beers. This was short-lived, however, as the wind picked up significantly. We moved inside to the five-person tent for a friendly game of poker.

Day 2

I woke up the next day feeling well rested. The REI tent Evan and I were staying in did a good job at retaining heat. Despite the cold weather, I’m not sure I had ever been warmer sleeping in a tent.

Leaving the tent, though, was disappointing. It was a bitter cold morning, and the day did not get much warmer. We kept track of the sun that day and saw it leave the cover of the clouds just twice.

Evan, Hunter and I decided to do a bit of hiking. Alex and JP, however, felt exploring the park was not worth leaving the comfort of the fire, which we had started immediately after we woke up.

We chose the riverside trail, which offered great views of the Chattahoochee River and the surrounding swamp area. The trail was well-maintained and not very challenging. After hiking about three miles, we decided Alex and JP were onto something when they stayed behind. We turned back, but a couple of wrong turns later and we were near the edge of the park, about another two miles from our site.

After eventually finding our way back to the campsite, we soon set out to make dinner. The abysmal weather had all of our spirits down. But a feast of marinated chicken cooked on one grill, along with macaroni and cheese and green beans cooked on the other, had us feeling much better about our situation.

We retired to the fire for a couple of hours before heading to bed. We were ready to be done with the cold.

Day 3

Our third day in the park was the coldest of the week, as the temperature hovered between 35 and 40 degrees for most of the day. But with the sun was finally shining, I felt warm enough to shed my third layer of clothing.

The itinerary for the morning was to head into Newnan to buy groceries for the rest of the week. Newnan is the closest town to the park and was a 40-minute drive.

While we were in town, Evan and Hunter bought fishing licenses at Walmart for $23 each. Despite park ranger Erin’s warning that fishing was practically impossible on the river because of the steep banks and overhanging trees, they were desperate for something to do other than standing around the fire.

Once we got back to the campsite, we headed to the river. Evan and Hunter settled on a spot fairly clear of trees to cast their lines. We descended the banks, which were still wet from the rain. Hunter lost his footing and came two feet from taking a dip in the frigid water. Evan also came close to taking a swim after losing his balance laughing at Hunter. It wasn’t the best start to their fishing endeavor. Evan subsequently got his line caught in a tree. Park ranger Erin’s warning was proving valid.

While the two fishermen waited patiently for the fish to bite, I found myself at a spot higher up on the bank where I could comfortably read the book I had brought on the trip. With the sun warming my body, I soon fell asleep – the first nap I had afforded myself all semester. I awoke 30 minutes later to learn that they had not even had a nibble.

Day 4

Evan and Hunter, still determined on catching some fish, found a large lake about 20 minutes from the park. Despite the rest of us not having fishing licenses, a day by the lake would be a nice change of scenery. We loaded up in the truck with a football and a cooler with our lunch and headed to West Point Lake.

It was another sunny day, but the fish still were not biting. I was a bit relieved they didn’t catch anything, though, because they had said they wanted to cook anything they caught for dinner, which was a task I knew would not be worth the trouble.

Day 5

We made it to the final day. The consensus of the group was that we had experienced about all the park had to offer, so we decided to head back into town to find a Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the first round of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

After spending a couple of hours watching the Tar Heels rout Texas Southern, we headed back to the campsite for the final night.

We cleaned up around the campsite and got everything ready to leave the next morning, then walked down to the river to catch the sunset. Afterward, we got the fire going. We had broken our two hatchets at this point, but we figured out we could split wood by hammering a metal wedge into the log by dropping a larger log on the wood.

Bedtime was early that night, as most of us were ready for the morning to come.

Final Thoughts

Though the weather significantly altered the experience we were expecting, it was nonetheless an experience. When it comes to camping, sometimes it’s trial and error. We now know not to book a spring break camping trip in January, as we won’t know what the weather is going to be like in March. I’ve also realized that the campsites in Georgia do not offer anything different than a campsite you might find near the base of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. You live and you learn.

Edited by Matt Wotus

How San Juan proved every day can be an adventure


The city of San Juan, Puerto Rico is filled with beautiful beaches and vibrant culture. From the food to the history, there is never a dull moment. (Photo by Lanie Phillips)


By Lanie Phillips


Stepping out of the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, you would have no idea that the territory is technically a part of the United States. A wave of humidity hit my face as I walked through the door and sounds of horns honking, taxi drivers yelling in Spanish and conversations of confused tourists immediately filled the air.

My group of 15 friends was herded down to a cab station past the crowds and piled into a 12-passenger van. The driver, Victor, asked several of us to “duck down” because the airport supervisor did not allow the drivers to cram so many people into a cab. We immediately complied, as he was saving the group a lot of money. The broken English that characterized the conversation that followed was foreshadowing the rest of the trip. As he took us to the house we had rented, he spoke about local tourist attractions. He said, “Be careful of the beach vendors, they will rip you off,” and told us “not to leave until we tried ‘tostones’ or garlic plantains.” We drove along the shore of the ocean and could see the sandy beach and palm trees along the way. As we pulled up to our house, Victor gave us his card and encouraged us to call him if we ever needed a ride.

The house we had rented was painted white with blue trim. It had gates that surrounded it, lined with barbed wire. Across the street stood a glass mansion accompanied with three around-the-clock guards that we would become friendly with as the week went on. Their presence also made our parents breathe a sigh of relief, especially after hearing of the barbed wire fence. We later found out from them that the family that lived in the house owned the grocery brand “Goya.”

We had decided to spend our first night in Puerto Rico at “La Placita” at the recommendation of a friend from home who is originally from the area. Immediately after climbing out of the Uber, which conveniently still worked throughout Puerto Rico, you were swept up into the vibrant amount of culture. Music traveled through the streets and the scent of Puerto Rican food filled the air, specifically the fried plantains that Victor had recommended. There were artists stationed on every corner with their work displayed that you could purchase for no more than five dollars. I bought several post cards with pictures of local landmarks to send home to my family. We ended the night venturing into a bar where La Placita proved it was even better than we had been told.

Venturing into the forest

The next morning, everyone woke up and booked Ubers to El Yunque, a national park in Puerto Rico famous for its waterfalls and rainforest. However, the research that had been done prior to the trip had fallen short and we were soon faced with the potential to end up either stranded or paying several hundred dollars. The language barrier created even more complications and the lack of Spanish spoken by the group, paired with the speed with which the driver spoke at, was not a good match. Jose, our driver, was finally able to inform us, via a translation app, that Ubers were not allowed into the National Park, risking a fine of $1,000 fine and jail time. However, one of Jose’s fellow Uber drivers, Alicia, spoke to Jose by screaming across the highway while driving and convinced him to take us into the rainforest in exchange for $120. We were more than happy to oblige, given that we would otherwise be stuck halfway between El Yunque and our temporary home. The group motto for the day became the song “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” which would be started again and again by the entire group throughout the adventure.

After what seemed like ages, we were dropped off at the entrance to our hike. Immediately after entering, the humid air was filled with laughter, birds chirping and water running. We decided to pass the large waterfall that hundreds of tourists were gathered around and ventured deeper into the rainforest to find a smaller waterfall with our own private pool below. The atmosphere of the group completely shifted as we sat around the base of the waterfall, telling stories and building rock structures. We spotted exotic animals, collected rocks as mementos and took professional-quality pictures. A tumultuous morning had finally turned out greater than our expectations.

Taste of city living 

The next afternoon, after an active and adventurous day behind us, we decided to venture into the city and visit Old San Juan. This time, our Uber driver spoke almost perfect English and had completed college at Boston University before returning home to Puerto Rico to raise her daughter alongside her family. We jokingly commented on how nice it would’ve been to be able to communicate with Jose as we could with Marisa during our excursion to El Yunque. I asked her about a famous bar, ranked in the famous list, “Top 50 Bars in the World,” called La Factoría and she giggled and told me to “put my lipstick on and smile pretty because the minimum age is 23 to get into the bar.”

Later on in the car ride, she drove us past the capitol building and through Old San Juan before dropping us off in the middle of the town to wander. The colorful buildings reminded the group of Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina. Surprisingly, the town was not too crowded and there was barely any car traffic, leaving it very easy to meander through the streets. Before leaving, we toured Castillo San Cristóbal, a famous fort. We saw the soldiers quarters and talked about the history of Puerto Rico. “It was amazing to see how well preserved the fort was after more than two centuries,” said Sarah Jane, who traveled in our group. “I got to learn about the way of life within the fort — they had celebrations in the courtyard, no animals were allowed and they slept in corridors of about 20 people.”

On the last day of the trip, we decided to stay in town near the house and absorb as much of the local culture as we could. We lounged on the beach, chatted with vendors who walked by with their dogs and dined at restaurants that did not require a car to get to. Pinky’s was the first stop for breakfast. Egg and bacon burritos, peanut butter and jelly smoothies and café con leche were on the menu for the group. The portion sizes were huge and prices extremely reasonable. Jenny, another member of the group, was the one who found the restaurant. “After existing on macaroni and cheese and hot dogs for the majority of the trip, I yelped ‘best breakfast near me’ and Pinky’s was the best ranked breakfast in the area,” said Jenny. “It also was less than a quarter of a mile which made it even better.” We got our fill of delicious rice, beans, lobster empanadas and fish tacos for dinner on the last day in San Juan.

Saying goodbye to San Juan

Early the next morning, the time had finally come to head back to America. Victor, our first driver, picked us up and drove us to the airport. At 5:15, the group was much less chatty, but Victor was excited to hear about the duration of the trip and all of the activities we had packed in. With tanner skin, a lot of sunburn and several priceless experiences under our belts, we happily recounted our week to him. One positive characteristic we noticed about the people of Puerto Rico, compared to other beach towns we had visited for spring break, was how friendly all of the locals were. They were constantly willing to stop and chat, offer recommendations or give directions. Although the language barrier was an obstacle, everyone agreed that the trip was absolutely worth it.

Edited by Avery Williams

Seeing a solitary spring break? Skip the trip to Asheville

By John-Paul Gemborys

In downtown Asheville, on the seedy edge of the boutique-laden Lexington Avenue, where quaint, little shops like Instant Karma and Cosmic Vision abound, you pretend like dancing at the club is still a fun time.

But let’s be real. You always end up listening to songs you hate, you try to ignore your friend making out with his girlfriend and you pretend like you’re there for reasons other than scoring a one-night stand, which, you might add, has never happened. But you keep on dancing, pretending like you’re having a good time at Tiger Mountain, a trendy bar/club hybrid that plays host to the flannel-coated college kids of Asheville on the weekend and reverts back to an almost empty bar brimming with too many neon lights on the weekdays.

Yeah, honestly, your first night in Asheville, N.C., wasn’t that great. But that didn’t matter; there was still time to find a silver lining in a unique and seemingly vibrant culture.

Asheville: the anomaly

Asheville is something of a paradox. Sure, it boasts plenty of galleries, more breweries per capita than any other place in the country and is home to a college that “graduated 700 yoga instructors last year,” Michael Terri, an Asheville Uber driver tells you. But it’s also a liberal pocket in the heart of conservative western North Carolina, a mountain town that draws tourists for its quaintness despite that tourism gentrifying its down-to-earth character — it’s touted by many locals as a very “diverse” city despite a white population of 79.3 percent being reported in 2010. Indeed, much like it’s slogan to “Keep Asheville Weird,” the city is something of an anomaly.

But it is precisely because of all the weird, paradoxical qualities that the beer in Asheville flows like water, the food is eclectic and the art isn’t half bad. So in spite of a shitty first night, you push through and try to find the pulse of this weirdly unique city.

A lukewarm toddy and an octopus appetizer

The morning after your great time at Tiger Mountain, you decide to get a little hair of the dog at Chestnut, a swanky establishment that serves brunch for around $10.

With you is your friend Joao, a tall, lanky Brazilian dude with a tattoo of a “Star Wars” stormtrooper on his leg, a love of drawing and a penchant for storytelling, which for him is a relish of hand gestures, expressive facial features and the occasional witticism. He has just moved to Asheville, so you’re staying with him, and he’s so excited the two of you will be exploring Asheville together as you spend all your money on food and drinks — for the both of you. Oh yeah, it’s good to have friends.

Having lost your voice the night before, Joao recommends ordering some hot toddies. A concoction of honey, whiskey and lemon served hot — sounds good. But actually, the toddies aren’t all that, and Joao asks the waitress to reheat his, putting on his most elegant asshole voice to say, “This hot toddy is kind of a lukewarm toddy.” After spending about 30 minutes in the bathroom due to a bloody nose that just won’t quit, you come back to the table to see that brunch has arrived — a lox bagel for you and moules frites for Joao. Joao’s garlic-and-white-wine simmered mussels over french fries are scrumptious, but your first time trying a lox bagel is underwhelming — it’s not that tasty, and your sinuses are vacuum sealed. When you pick up the $45 check, you leave feeling not too satisfied.

For dinner that night, the two of you head to Golden Fleece Slow Earth Kitchen, an upscale Mediterranean establishment situated on the lush, rolling hills of Grovewood Village, adjacent to the lavish Omni Grove Park Inn. The interior of the restaurant is warm. It’s not packed, but it isn’t empty either. Music plays, candles are lit and the smell of burnt seafood wafts through the air. The name of the game with this trip is getting drunk off your ass, so you both get Vespers: martinis composed of Gordon’s gin, Tito’s vodka, Lillet blanc and a touch of olive brine.

“I like a nice dirty gin martini that I can trade punches with, you know,” Joao quips over his cocktail.

While you wait, the chef is kind enough to bring out appetizers, on the house. The spread of caramelized onions, olives, grape tomatoes and tzatziki is set on a wooden board and holds you over until you receive the appetizer you actually paid for: wood-fired octopus.

“Let’s just go for it piece by piece,” Joao says as you look over the plate of fennel and charred octopus, “like a shark.” Despite it literally being a blackened tentacle, the octopus is fantastic, and even after the roasted half chicken with pistachio charmoula, burnt Brussels sprouts and slow-braised lamb shank, the octopus stands out as the most interesting and surprisingly delectable morsel of the night. The meal is pricey but good, so after paying the $160 check, you end up leaving the restaurant tipsy and satisfied.

In search of “the real Asheville”

The next morning you continue the lavish affair of alcoholic beverages and good eating with a trip to the Blue Ridge Artisanal Buffet for some Sunday brunch at the Omni Grove Park Inn. When you step into the foyer of the massive cobblestone lodge, you’re greeted by a doorman in a red jacket and top hat and then pointed to the buffet. The brunch is a decadent white tablecloth affair boasting crab legs, shrimp and grits, crab cakes Benedict and mountains of charcuterie. At the window you get a gorgeous panoramic view of the inn’s sprawling golf course and Asheville’s fading blue mountains in the distance.

“It’s all about the view, baby,” Joao proclaims as the hostess seats you. At $40 a head, you’re ready to dive into this Sunday champagne brunch.

“I’m actually quite nervous up here,” Joao reiterates, “I’m gonna get a mimosa.”

However, you soon discover, much to your companion’s and your own horror, that the only champagne to be had is a complimentary flute of mimosa, lest you pay for your drinks at the bar. Champagne brunch indeed.

The food is good, but the modus operandi is foiled, and after experiencing all the decadence of this self-enclosed aerie brimming with wrinkled, white faces, you wonder if this is the real Asheville.

A solitary spree

The next day Joao has to work, so you set off to explore Asheville on your own. You peruse the city, stopping to observe the flashing lights of the Asheville Pinball Museum, hear the five o’clock bell tower at the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and peep some paintings at Woolworth Walk, a store turned art gallery complete with a restored soda fountain. For lunch, White Duck Taco is an excellent choice. Putting their own funky twist on the humble taco, wild flavors like jerk chicken, banh mi tofu and lump crab constitute the menu. Order the Bangkok shrimp or pork belly taco, and you won’t be disappointed. But after eating, it’s definitely time to hit the bars.

At the Lab, otherwise known as the Lexington Avenue Brewery, you know what Asheville is about when you talk to some tourists from Tampa, Fla., who claim they’ve been coming there for six years to escape the heat. Over your pint of golden ale, simply called Bling, you listen as the husband complains about his wife being on her phone too much. After they leave, you soon open a dialogue with a man named Michael Morrison, a cook at the Lab with hair past his ears and a Patagonia snapback hat who claims to live out of his truck and who loses his train of thought constantly. Thank God, you think: a true Ashevillian.

“Dude, those people doing the rowing machine — that really, to me, that’s Asheville right now. Like they were just pushing it. They were just going it for it, man,” Michael says of the culture in Asheville. You ask him if that relates to the development going on, but he claims to know little, saying that he is a “naïve” laborer who mostly pays attention to art and music.

Walking alone in the city, you have the perfect excuse to get blitzed, so after the Lab you stop over at Sovereign Remedies, a pretentious hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar where you order a $12 cocktail called the Forks of Ivy. You almost stay, but the bartender ignores you, and with all the conversations drowning out your own thoughts, you get up and leave, searching for another bar, another buzz.

At the Thirsty Monk, you find a quieter, darker dive and settle in with a Thirsty Monk Abby Blonde. After polishing this beer off, you order the Thirsty Monk Easy Gose, tying on another one before retiring to your friend’s house for the night.

If the next bar you hit is the Skybar, you might be disappointed to find that you’re the only one there, and on a cold, drizzly afternoon, drinking a beer on a rooftop alone isn’t exactly a fun time. Yes, you do have a great view, but being alone on the top of the world is isolating to say the least. You see skyscrapers being erected in the distance, possibly one of the five new hotels you were told about. An American flag whips solemnly in the breeze on a distant building — a fluttering salute to burgeoning capitalism. You finish off your IPA and get the hell out of there.

For your last pit stop, you hit Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium and order a pint of the Rick’s Pilsner. As excited families chatter around you, you only get drunker and more disdainful. Damned if it isn’t true that you can feel most alone in a crowded room.

All in all, five days isn’t enough time to make a fair judgment of a city, but if this is your first solo trip, maybe skip Asheville. It can be cold and lonesome, and drinking doesn’t always help with that. The locals are nice, but from the bar stool you’re seated on, the culture looks as skin deep as the city’s much touted “diversity.” If you have a group of friends to travel with, it might be worth it, but on an unusually frigid spring break, you’re probably better off hitting the beach. If you’re in your mid to early 20s, you might just realize that food and beer isn’t enough for a good time anymore. Come back when it’s warmer so you can hit the trails, go kayaking or at least do some rock climbing.

Edited by Alison Krug