Friday, October 17, 2008


When I attended a small breakfast on the floor of the breathtaking new terminal at RDU International Airport, I was reminded of the above quote by Garrison Keillor in a 1997 essay in Time Magazine.

There were people at this event from both owner communities, Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties. It was great to see friends from Raleigh, many of whom are people who pitch in to help Durham when a faction tries to insist we don’t exist or that we should cease to exist and just be a “region,” code for “an adjunct of Raleigh.”

Durham is obviously very threatening to the latter group. One man took a look at my name tag and told me jovially (but not at all kiddingly) within earshot of many others that once I retire, Durham will finally become a part of Raleigh. Oh boy, is he in for a surprise!

My theory is he would ignore Durham if, if, if, if Duke, RTP and many other great assets weren’t based here. But given these assets, a unique cultural identity and rankings among the most desirable in the nation, he can’t ignore Durham.

His arrogance, as Keillor theorizes about another city, is born of “insecurity.” … “In St. Paul, America's 57th largest city, we're all right with that. Nobody who sits near me at the ballpark seems to feel personally diminished by living in a minor league city. We do not consider ourselves fundamentally so different from Duluthites or Sioux Fallsians or Fargo-Moorheaders. We all eat the same brand of corn flakes, and one size sock fits all. However, in Minneapolis, the 42nd largest American city, there are people who imagine it to be the Manhattan of the Midwest, the Paris of the Prairie. This is embarrassing to us St. Paulites, like knowing a small man with a bad toupee who thinks he is Tom Cruise. What can you say to him, other than "Stop that?”

To paraphrase Keillor, this gentleman sees Raleigh as the “Manhattan of the South,” the “Firenze of the Carolinas, the “Paris of Coastal Plain,” the Sydney of the Mid-Atlantic” while viewing Durham an inconvenient obstacle to over-reaching…as “an inexplicable growth on its western flank,” “their New Jersey,” “their Pasadena,” and “a place you don’t go if you’re hip." And make no mistake, these people are into “hipness.”

How fitting this insight occurred to me at the airport, whose name is a result of this same insecurity when a Raleigh developer hoodwinked the war department in the ‘40’s into believing Durham was okay with switching the order of the cities in the name of the airport (making it the only airport with its 3-letter code out of alpha order).

Maybe in my next life, I’ll mount a campaign to help Raleigh be more secure…and thus, to adapt Keillor’s turn of phrase, “less like a small man with bad toupee who thinks he is Tom Cruise and makes you want to say “just stop it.”

Hmmm, Keillor is reportedly coming to Durham next May. Maybe he can reprise that essay!

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