Sigmund Freud and his friends had their decadent Viennese cafes. The Beats had Greenwich Village. We have Weaver Street Market.
Down the main (only) drag in Carrboro, the grocery store co-op with multicolored metal chairs and silver tables is the main attraction. It’s Carrboro, so you might see people slacklining or playing hacky sacks in the grass beside the store, but it’s also normie Carrboro, so you will surely see lots of Patagonia.
Ostensibly, this place is a grocery store, but the kind where one might buy vegan lavender soap or multigrain flaxseed flatbread. Past the aisles, though, is a hot bar. This is where the real Weaver Street starts.
Seasoned professionals grab a box and head straight for the macaroni and cheese, quinoa salad, rotisserie chicken and green beans. Newcomers circle the buffet looking for the favorites. If something is almost gone, it’s good. You fill up your cardstock to-go box and check out at the counter. And when the cashier asks, you round up. Walking through the sliding door into the cool sun with your to-go box warming your palm is a particular joy.
Outside, on the plaza the size of a city block, one gets a feel of the character of the place. The vibe here is as if Nancy Meyers lived in a hut in the woods.
Women flaunt their natural gray hair and stay-at-home dads with toddlers roll around in the artificial grass play area, flaunting their stay-at-homeness. Sometimes these groups meet. A little guy in a knit sweater, a future democratic socialist, teeters around on a boulder and wanders over to a gray-haired couple with a gray-haired dog, all in sweaters, too.
There is a man here in brown pants and a green shirt and a fly-fishing hat who seems to know everyone. He sidles up to table after table, greeting people with the same “What’s up, doc?” At any other grocery store in any other town, I’d assume he was doing a bit.
A group of women behind me, all in flannels, cackle about their new apartments and old husbands. “Marriage is not for me,” one says, “...full time.”
A young man in khaki pants and a Carolina blue polo walks through the space. He is a pariah. There are only a few of us students here, and we’re each alone.
This town is sagging with the weight of our own self-importance. People like me, troubled by the absence of trouble in our lives, wander through four years here, looking for ways to get riled up on our own terms. Recently it seems clear that, thank God, trouble comes for us all. I had suspected as much, but I had assumed it would be a troublesome dullness, a gradual turning inward.
While I was sitting at Weaver Street, an acquaintance asked me where I hope to be in 20 years. After my usual smartassery, he asked, “What else?” Grasping at straws, I told him I hoped I still had friends.
I thought that one of the gray-haired ladies behind me was sitting, like me, reading quietly in the morning. "This is us," I thought, "and we don’t have to speak, but I know that you’re here to escape." But a few moments later, a gaggle of women joined her there, and they all sat on the same side of the table so the sun would warm their faces.
Old people have an uncanny ability to deliver the most devastating judgments on their own lives with unflinching flatness. I wonder if I should aspire to that.
A man next to me, one of the “docs,” told his friend, “20 years ago, I turned down a job offer in Washington, D.C., that I shouldn’t have. I came here instead. And sometimes I wish I just worked at Weaver Street. But here we are.”
Here we all are.
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