Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Study Ranks States By Individual Freedom

Staying with Friends: On the Porch in Raleigh, North Carolina


One thing you won’t find in New York City, at least at my apartment, is a screened-in porch. But in the summer in the south, the porch is the living room, kitchen, dining room and bar, a focal point of a home to rival the greatest of fireplaces. I know because I had the pleasure of enjoying a porch for a couple of days recently in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Through my friend Rob, I’d met Tim and Susan, a couple that left New York City after about fifteen years to slow down and try their hands in the south. Like our friends in the Outer Banks, they were standard bearers for North Carolina’s wonderful brand of hospitality, immediately shuffling us out to the porch, plopping us down in chairs and handing us frosty beers plucked from an ice chest. One of the greatest things in North Carolina is the beer-filled cooler that holds a prime position on porches across the state.

We talked. Rob updated his friends on news from New York and I grilled the couple on life in Raleigh and how it compares to the north, particularly because Tim will soon open his own bar near the campus of UNC. “The bottom line is, with Research Triangle Park, there is this really well-educated community and an awfully diverse community here,” he says. “My thing is that there’s a phenomenal number of ‘classic American’ bars but there aren’t really a phenomenal number of bars that have been influenced by Europe. And it’s not that I want to create a ‘European bar’ but there are a lot of things that the Europeans get right with bars,” like lighting, music, ambiance and drink selection.

Tim’s new spot should be, like his porch, a great place for gathering. The idea of televisions in pubs is repellant to the long-time bartender, a pointless intrusion on the real reasons for going out: the people and the booze and sometimes the food. Construction at his place is still underway, but he’s already found that the business of building a restaurant in Chapel Hill is, in many ways, much easier here than in New York City. Rent is cheaper, of course, but so are construction costs, contracting fees and permits. Bureaucratic headaches are nothing compared to what restaurant owners confront up north. It’s the kind of place, says Tim, where he can actually open his own business; that wasn’t a certainty in his former hometown. (He also has more room in his house for power tools now.)

Critically for the area restaurant scene-if not his place-the local products are good, says Tim: “There is some very good beer being brewed in North Carolina. I was shocked to say so when I moved but there’s some fabulous beer being brewed down here.” Lonerider’s Shotgun Betty and Foothills Pilsner from Salem, North Carolina are a couple of his favorites. 3 Cups, a Chapel Hill gourmet shop, stocks plenty of international groceries and wines, but its event program is all about local chefs and farmers. “There is good food here,” Tim says. Much of it is on view at the Raleigh Farmers Market, which has so much to offer that it’s open daily.

While his future bar is across “The Triangle” from the capital, Raleigh’s downtown alliance is encouraging development in the heart of the city, where there’s already a healthy dining and nightlife scene. Poole’s Diner is a foodie favorite occupying a restored luncheonette, bustling until the wee hours as friends finish that last bottle of wine and linger over dessert. The chef there, Ashley Christensen, is embarking on a new triple-concept restaurant, adding to the offerings in downtown with Beasley’s, Chuck’s and an as-yet-unnamed bar. It’s not just eating and drinking: The Contemporary Art Museum opened earlier this year in a converted warehouse on West Martin Street.

The nerve center of it all is Morning Times, a killer coffee shop where friends bump into friends by coincidence and everyone seems to greet the baristas by name. Tables line the street, occupied by couples reading the paper and neighbors “visiting,” that southern form of chatting that makes a conversation much more than just small talk. There are salads and sandwiches and wraps to order, sure, but the egg and cheese biscuit is what you really want for breakfast (and probably lunch too).

For all the positives, development work continues, as The Raleigh Connoisseur blog, which tracks downtown news and notes, describes in its mission statement:

Transit, urban planning, and land use are new problems that we will face as the city grows. What will downtown’s role be in all of this? I am trying to follow Raleigh’s attempts at bringing back the urban center it once had in the early 1900s.

Indeed, in this growing city and metro region, sprawl could be public enemy number one, with engineers commuting to RTP, suburbanites driving downtown for a night out or an entrepreneurial bartender living in Raleigh opening his place in Chapel Hill. All the driving makes economic sense now, but will it still as the population continues to grow-and gas prices keep rising?

Blackbeard’s pirate ship gives up its anchor

pirate, pirates, Blackbeard
A pirate ship owned by the notorious Blackbeard is being investigated by archaeologists, who have just retrieved one of its anchors.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge, was grounded in 1718 while trying to enter Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. Blackbeard had just come from blockading Charleston until he received a ransom. Currently the wreck lies in only 20 feet of water, as easily accessible to archaeologists as Captain Kidd’s pirate ship, which will soon become an underwater museum.

The anchor, which is 11 feet long and weighs 2,200 lbs, is only one of thousands of artifacts recovered from the ship in recent years.

While Blackbeard transferred to another of his ships and continued pirating, he didn’t survive for long. He was hunted down and killed in a fierce fight in late 1718, shown here in a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Blackbeard was decapitated and his head hung from the bowsprit.

Blackbeard was one of the kinder pirates. There’s no record that he hurt his captives or his crew. He could be violent when opposed, though, and in reality no pirate fit the heroic adventurer stereotype of Hollywood and Johnny Depp. That’s just a romanticism. One wonders what tales people will spin about the Somali pirates 300 years from now.

For more information about this amazing dig, check out The Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project’s website.

Delta airlines puts elderly woman on wrong flight due to boarding pass mix-up

Delta elderly womanIn a Top 10 of phone calls you probably don’t want to receive from an airport official: “Your grandmother was found in baggage claim.”

Eighty-year-old Nefissa Yesuf’s Sunday Atlanta to Dulles flight didn’t go quite as planned. CNN reports that airline and airport staff failed to notice that a Delta employee had allegedly given her someone else’s boarding pass by mistake. Yesuf, who is from Ethiopia and doesn’t speak English, instead ending up landing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Yusef’s granddaughter, Melika Adem, says she received a call from the airport telling her Yusef had been found in baggage claim, crying. According to Adem, Delta gave her grandmother someone else’s ticket, and an airline employee then wheeled her through security, where no one caught the snafu. Adem also states that the name on Yusef’s boarding pass wasn’t even “close” to her grandmother’s. Fortunately, the two women were reunited Sunday evening.

The incident is under investigation by both Delta and the TSA. TSA officers are required to match boarding passes with a passenger’s driver’s license, passport, or other photo identification. Says TSA representative Greg Soule,”Every day TSA screens nearly two million passengers and utilizes many layers of security to keep our nation’s transportation systems secure,” he said. “Every passenger passes through multiple layers of security to include thorough screening at the checkpoint.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user kappuru]

NHL All-Star Game travel advice: what to do in Raleigh, NC

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It’s shaping up to be a busy, busy weekend for sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to take place Sunday night, and a few hours prior, the NHL’s All-Star Game will kick off in North Carolina’s capital city. This weekend will be the first that Raleigh has hosted the All-Star Game, with the Carolina Hurricanes being the host team and their RBC Center being the host facility. Those living here (like me!) will be quick to point out that Raleigh brought home a major national championship before the more populated Charlotte, with the Stanley Cup coming to NC during the 2005 – 2006 season.

The city has been doing an awful lot of planning since it found out it would be this year’s host in April of 2010, including the finalization of RDU’s sophisticated Terminal 2 this past week. We’re still no closer to having a legitimate public transportation system (outside of a few sporadic bus routes), but there’s plenty of southern hospitality to go around for those coming to town. If you’re planning a trip down below the Mason–Dixon Line in order to attend this year’s NHL All-Star Game, read on to discover five can’t-miss places to visit (and eat at) while in Raleigh.

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The Pit. Yes, this is the same Pit featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and if you’re looking for a real taste of the south, you’ll need to grab a reservation here. The vibe is authentic, the “y’alls” are easy to come by, and the food is simply delicious. Don’t be scared to try a few local favorites: fried catfish, cheesy bacon grits, sweet potato fries and fried okra.

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Cook-Out. Don’t bother searching for an official website — there isn’t one. Cook-Out is a mysterious fast food eatery that only has stores in the state of North Carolina, and while the grub itself is delightful, it’s the expansive milkshake menu that’ll have you returning nightly. You’ll find well over 30 options, with each shake costing just $2.19. Feel free to mix and match flavors (Oreo Cheesecake is a popular custom flavor), and grab a “Huge” sweet tea if you want to really know what a southern beverage tastes like. Here’s a secret: order a Cook-Out tray at the Cook-Out on Western Blvd. near NC State’s campus, and you can take home a Cook-Out visor or t-shirt for just $1.99!

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Wolfpack vs. Tar Heels basketball. UNC alums will swear up and down that Duke is their only rival in The Triangle, but if NC State pulls the upset at the Dean Dome this weekend, you’ll never find a more sour group of fans. NC State vs. UNC games are always rowdy, and if you can score a ticket for this Saturday’s matchup (1/29) in Chapel Hill, it’s most certainly worth going to. Just getting inside of the Smith Center is a magical experience for devout college basketball fans.

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Velocity VeloCAB ride. Downtown Raleigh may not be the biggest downtown you’ve ever seen, but it’s still full of life, parks and history. It’ll be chilly in late January, but if you’ve got a beefy coat and a significant other to cuddle up with, a ride in a rickshaw (dubbed a VeloCAB) is a great way to learn about Raleigh from an expert that lives here. And hey, you may just pass by somewhere you’ll want to return to afterwards.

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Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern. If you leave Raleigh without dining here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This restaurant is a Four Diamond award winner, and their menu changes on a regular basis. They go out of their way to procure ingredients from right here in North Carolina, and every single dish is a winner. Head to the tavern if you aren’t looking to dress up, or reserve a table in the main dining room if you bring your formal wear to town.

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Raleigh — along with all of North Carolina — is a fine place to visit, and while there are quite a few hotels to choose from, the out-of-the-box travelers would do themselves a favor by heading up to Durham. There, you’ll find The Arrowhead B&B, a gorgeous inn (circa 1775) ran by two of the nicest, sweetest individuals (Phil and Gloria Teber) you’ll ever meet. The breakfasts you’ll find here are to die for, and if you’re into splurging, the Carolina Log Cabin or Garden Cottage are the ones to book.

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If you’re a local, feel free to add your own must-do suggestions in comments below. For the full schedule of events during the 2011 NHL All-Star weekend, click here. Enjoy NC, y’all!