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GP 14 June 2006: Looking Backwards in Greensboro

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.  The Opinion page of the Greensboro News and Record for Sunday, June 11, 2006 instructs us that the “Full Council Should Discuss Truth Report.”  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has worked up a 400-plus page blunderbuss that is liable to put even the compassionate citizen to sleep.  What this is all about is a “violent confrontation” between “Ku Klux Klansmen and Nazis and a group of communist protesters” on November 3, 1979 that “left five people dead, 10 others injured, and thrust the city into a fog of distrust and denial.”  For better or worse, the Council, we hear, has agreed to read and discuss the executive summary. 

This charming city does have a checkered history, the memory of which will never disappear.  Many more Americans recall that the lunch counter civil rights sit-ins got underway here on February 1, 1960.  In fact, the famed lunch counter from Woolworth’s is now on display at the Smithsonian.  Most likely the town would rather be remembered for the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a contest in the War for Independence fought on March 15, 1781. 

Looking Back.  We suspect that this is a city that spends too much time looking back, because there are holes in the present, and it’s too taxing to get on with the future.  In fact, all these strains of violence that cloud its past should be left behind.  It is time to greet the future. 

Much of the furniture and textile industries have disappeared or fallen into bankruptcy.  We are acquainted with some of the well-heeled capitalists that headed them who have moved out of North Carolina to Florida or other jurisdictions where the tax laws are less onerous.  They talk about what once was but is now ever gone. 

Symbols of the 50s.  Little things that look back to the 50s dot the landscape in Greensboro and in its sister city Winston-Salem.  In hotels and boardrooms one will find wide swathes of dark wooden paneling, something of comfort to the leading lights of the New South who want to be assured that they have escaped its old poverty.  Food in the fancier restaurants is swaddled in sauces, no matter what, such that one is better served in Greensboro to eat at its string of very good, middle-brow eateries that offer abundant cheer, very good sandwiches, well-made pies, and rapid service not available in the uppercrust joints.  We encounter in these parts impressive amounts of avoirdupois, male and female, no matter where we go around town: there are vast numbers of over-30s with paunches, and a legion of lumpish denizens who are well over 200 pounds. 

However, this 50’s feeling has many, many upsides.  We encountered extraordinary good manners, as well as genuine, heartfelt, cheerful, and often expeditious helpfulness on a recent visit.  At least 15 people, young and old, expressed passionate admiration for the vintage Buick Roadmaster in which we got about, a zeal that sets Greensboro apart from the BMW world in which we now find ourselves.  GM put the Roadmaster to bed in 1996: it was at that point that Engine Charlie’s company lost its last claim on greatness.  Probably Greensboro is in the same boat. 

Grandover Resort.  On a recent business expedition to Greensboro, we found ourselves some new digs, since there was no room at our customary inn which displays no loyalty towards longstanding customers.  We notice that many of the companies that have loyalty programs expect allegiance from their customers but are themselves faithless hussies.  It was not particularly easy to find another tiptop hotel, since this old town has not figured out how to merchandise its best offerings.  But we lighted on Grandover on the Internet and it more than fills the bill. 

Its rooms are reasonably priced.  The help is more than willing: quick, polite, and to the point.  The rooms are largish and comfortable, though, true to form, their decor seems to bow to the past.  Missing are modern contrivances such as a CD player or DVD, something one will find in up-to-date hotels and resorts.  The food is not sublime, but good restaurants are not far away.  There are some tattered signs—the vending machine is not operative; the control button in the steam bath is on the fritz.  But the facility is considerably more relaxing than other resorts, even in the South.  Many have heard, for instance, of Pinehurst amidst the sandhills, which is way oversold, a bit too full of itself, and most compulsive about most anything.  In contrast, the pulse is right and the promotion is restrained at Grandover. 

Greensboro’s Elegant Spirit.  Greensboro, and Winston next door, have an elegant spirit about them.  We are reminded that at its best Greensboro hearkens back to the War of Independence and to General Nathaniel Greene, from whom it derives its name. Historical estates such as Blandwood symbolize a certain cordiality and gracefulness missing from fast-growing Raleigh and the Research Triangle to the East, both of which often turn a blind eye on civility, given the scramble to get ahead.  In fact, we notice that one tradesman has just moved over to High Point to get away from all the jive around Raleigh.  Now, if this city, North Carolina’s third most important, can just find its future. 

Its newspaper, The News and Record, is neither good nor bad.  By far, the sports section is best, certainly in the Sunday newspaper, much in line with the local state of mind.  Right now, the town is mostly seeking distraction, with sports and miscellaneous entertainments.  But we are hoping that it will figure out how to capitalize on its basic niceness and make a go of the times ahead.  If Greensboro can get reignited, so can North Carolina, a state tangled in its knitting where a good part of the air has gone out of the balloon.

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