How Chapel Hill has changed, on the surface…and below

A few weeks ago, when I was in Chapel Hill, N.C., someone asked me what the town and university was like when I was a student at UNC (before and after my year in France). Was it very different? The answer is yes, and no.

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The Old Well on UNC campus

Back then, life was simpler, more private, and much more dependent on serendipity. On the other hand, some things are much simpler now, like “typing” a paper and doing research. It’s easier to arrange a rendez-vous (“date?”) now, but even easier to renege on one. *

Very few students studied abroad when I was at UNC, and those who did applied for the (young) program through the Romance Languages Department in Dey Hall. Now, there’s a Study Abroad Office and a wealth of information available on the UNC Global website. And when I was a student, college debt was much less, even in “real dollars,” and few students signed up for it – college tuition was much more affordable, and so was a year abroad.

The UNC campus hasn’t changed much, except for many new buildings and, of course, fewer parking lots. The town has changed a bit, though. The Franklin Hotel stands close to the spot where the Greyhound Bus Station used to be. Lots of restaurants have come and gone (see below). Now, you go to the Dean Dome for basketball games (if you can get tickets) instead of Carmicheal Arena.

But the Post Office on Franklin Street remains where it was, and so do the Carolina Inn and Granville Towers. The Graduate Library, Wilson, still stands of course, and so do Morehead Planetarium, Playmakers Theatre and the Paul Green Theatre. If you want to live near campus, you can still find rentals on McCauley Street and West Cameron Avenue. And it’s still a short walk to Carrboro.

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The house on West Cameron Avenue where I lived during my last year at UNC

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When I was a student, I worked during the year to help pay expenses. I was a waitress at Spanky’s, the Carolina Coffee Shop, and at the Country Squire, a steakhouse located on the bus line between Chapel Hill and Durham (important, because I didn’t have a car). Spanky’s and CCS are still in business, but the Country Squire was torn down after I graduated, to make room for I-40.

Like any college town, many establishments have disappeared:

 – Papagayo’s (new when I was a student)
 – the Rathskeller (I only went there once)
– Krissa, a favorite Greek place 
– the Yacht Club (fancy, but in a basement)
– Hector’s
– Sadlack’s (where my husband worked as a student)
– Roy Roger’s
– Harrison’s (another bar is there now, I think)
– the Mad Hatter
– the Shack 
– Troll’s 
– the Porthole, a restaurant in the alley next to CCS

But some remain:

– Four Corners
– La Residence
– Squid’s (in a different location now, I think)
– He’s Not Here
 – the Station in Carrboro
– Aurora (moved)
– Breadman’s (also moved, but only across the street, and a bit different now)
– Crook’s Corner (way different, and in a different place)
– Pyewacket (used to be vegetarian)
– Ye Olde Waffle Shop, a CCS competior
– and of course, Sutton’s Drug Store.

Below the surface changes, I’m sure that life as a UNC student is different now, but still the same in many, many ways. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Which is a very good thing.

* See my post of Sept. 19, 2012: Call me maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un

La séduction et l’élégance: summing it up

Just after my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX was released* last week, a friend sent me this recent feature in the (UK) Telegraph Travel  titled

“36 Hours in…Montpellier” France. Its first line:

“Montpellier, the most seductive city in the French south at any time, is elegant and cultured, with an autumn sun warm enough to sit out on its squares.”

And, long ago, I did that with friends…


Just over three months ago, I returned to Montpellier for the first time in many years. I spent 36 hours in the city and at the closest beach (in nearby Palavas-les-flots) with mon mari during our vacation. We walked by Le Riche – the café in the above photo in Place de la Comédie — but didn’t stop, because we found it crowded with summer touristes. We chose instead a quieter spot to have a drink, nearer to the city’s own Arc de Triomphe and close to Place de la Canourgue. Later, we had dinner at a tiny, elegant restaurant in the area. For so many reasons, it was the perfect place to relax and celebrate a milestone anniversary.

MAKE THAT DEUX is set in Montpellier and Palavas, and the girls in MAKE THAT DEUX explore the Montpellier of an earlier time.

Has very much changed over the years? I think this sums it up:

Oui, et non.

In their époque, unlike today, studying abroad for a year or semester was not something that many people did. A university degree was (relatively) expensive, but not ridiculous. Moving back in with your parents after college was uncommon. College kids age 18 and over could drink legally in the U.S., not just in Europe. Cigarette smoking wasn’t restricted, nor was it even unacceptable. People — including lovers — wrote letters to each other on paper, and sent them through the mail.

What hasn’t changed? Back then, like today, terrorism was a major issue, and events gripped the world stage. A democrat was in the White House. College graduates had a very hard time finding a job. But while IN college, in addition to studying, students went to parties, met new people and went out on dates. Sometimes they even fell in love.

And — like today — they didn’t tell their parents anything everything about what they were doing, especially when it involved la séduction…


* See my HOME page for how to order MAKE THAT DEUX! Merci!



L’université: College costs

I just read the recent Wall Street Journal article New Course in College Costs and was struck by how much things have changed.

With college costs increasing so much since 1990 (150%) and federal aid rising even more (242%), it’s hard to believe there’s no connection. Whether costs have skyrocketed due to market demand only (as some say), or whether it’s because the government has gotten so deeply involved, one thing is sure: college debt has risen dramatically.

When my husband and I attended the university where we met, he was from in-state and I was from out-of-state. Compared to today, the price of tuition was a bargain for both of us, but to help pay for our expenses, we had to work during the school year and of course the summer. We got no federal aid — grants or loans. He was a sandwich maker at Sadlack’s Deli, located near Hector’s Restaurant on the corner of Henderson St. and Franklin St. I worked at Spanky’s, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia, and at the Carolina Coffee Shop, a Chapel Hill landmark and institution. Both restaurants are still open and neither have changed that much.

I was a waitress at the CCS in the late seventies while Byron Freeman owned it, and I’ve read that writer David Sedaris was also one of his employees a few years earlier. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as classical music played in the background, the Carolina Coffee Shop was a coffee shop before coffee shops were cool. Graduate students hung out there in groups or alone; couples went there on dates, and all kinds of students and families waited in line for a table on weekend mornings. I worked twenty hours or so a week and once served Chapel Hill visitor Alan Alda and some of his friends.

For a time, I juggled shifts at the CCS and Spanky’s to make as much money as I could while a full-time student at the university. Before we graduated, both my husband and I also worked (at different times) at another restaurant, the Country Squire, a steakhouse located between Chapel Hill and Durham; it was closed and torn down when I-40 was built where it stood.

I was able to go to France for my junior year and attend Université Paul Valéry because I was charged North Carolina, in-state tuition. Though I traveled throughout that year, I did it cheaply and watched my expenses. I never even considered going into debt to go to college, and I didn’t know many students who did.

Now, graduating with a college loan to pay off is almost ordinaire. I find that very troubling and wonder how people deal with it. When my husband and I graduated in the early 80s, we had little money but no debt. We got jobs, lived on a shoestring, and got married young, happy to be together and independent. With college costs so high today, who can work through college, pay for most of it themselves and graduate in four years with no debt? There just doesn’t seem to be a good raison why things have to be the way they are.*

When I was a student, few UNC dorms had air conditioning, not everyone owned a typewriter (I didn’t), and Michael Jordan played in Carmichael Auditorium. Professors were paid less and worked more, and fewer administrators filled offices. I suppose things have really changed.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though: you still have to pay back what you owe.

*Earlier this year, I read Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker. The author examines the system and makes some very good recommendations. I hope things change.

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