Off to North Carolina


My parents have been married for fifty years. That’s longer than I’ve been alive. And yes, I do realize the irony of that statement. I also realize that some people may not find it ironic at all.

Anyway, I ventured home for the big occasion. There was a lot on the agenda this trip, both scheduled events, training Mom on her new iMac, and my desire to talk with Mom and Dad about what my next home town should be, San Francisco no longer being an option. It was not a relaxing vacation.

I didn’t sleep at all the night before, probably because I was sacred I wouldn’t wake up in time for my obscenely early flight. Therefore, I was a little cranky and tired all day. Not being able to smoke on the cramped plane didn’t help either. And food? What food? I didn’t eat anything significant until I hit the Burger King in the Saint Louis airport for a week-old Whopper. Extra points, though, to Saint Louis for having convenient and plentiful smoking rooms.

Mom and Dad met me at the Raleigh airport (the one I imagine Andy and Opie used to fly to Hollwood). We took a shuttle to the next county where they had to park and headed for Greensboro by way of the Apple House Cafeteria in Burlington (in the mall formerly known as Holly Hill). I was in bed by 11.

The Annivesary

This was the actual anniversary day, but the celebration was scheduled for Sunday, so we really didn’t do much of anything except have lunch at an overpriced restaurant which was way too pretentious for Greensboro (or me). It was pretty, though.

Dinner at the K&W Cafeteria. They didn’t have chicken pie. I was disappointed.



Got up early. Went to yard sales with my Mom and Aunt Norma (who lives next door). We hit the grocery store later (Harris Teeter) and I bought provisions to bring back to California. My dad and I drove to Reidsville for the 50th anniversary celebration of a barbecue joint there, and I realized that my camera was dead. Late in the afternoon, my cousin’s wife dropped by with a loaner camera for me, God bless her.

Later in the evening, I popped into Border’s for a few last-minute anniversary presents. I usually don’t shop at this hotbed of union-busting, but there was noplace else open. The place was packed. Greensboro must be getting more literate.

The Party


The reception began at 3, and was held at my aunt’s house next door. All in all, over a hundred people showed up. This was particularly convenient for me, as it allowed me to see all the relatives at once, rather than spending hours and days driving around town.


My function was to take pictures and look dashing in a tie. I took lots of pictures. I wore a tie. “Dashing”, however, would be too much of a stretch.


Some cool touches: my mom’s wedding dress and veil were on display, as were lots of old photos. The guests signed the original guest book from the wedding (on a separate page, of course). Another aunt made those cool little miniature ham biscuits. And I knew at least half the people there.



Quick update. There are no new pictures. They will happen soon.

I’m just plugging along on Mom’s new iMac, writing in SimpleText (Windoze types think “Notepad”) just to see if I remember how (and because I have no other options until I can buy Mom a Zip drive).

The fiftieth anniversary is complete. About a hundred friends and family members appeared for the celebration. I wore a tie. People were shocked. I, of course, was just uncomfortable. But I consumed sufficient numbers of sausage balls to ease my pain.

Later this week, there will be quality time in Charlotte with Duncan and in Wilmington with relatives. There will be barbecue and grits and Cheerwine, and pictures of supermarkets where absolutely everthing is cheaper.

But for now, I’m going to sleep in my childhood bed.

Mom reserved me for a day of cleaning out the storage building behind the house, as about half its contents belong to me. I dug through old newspapers, toys, and other things I never had the energy to drag to California. It was dusty and smelly. When I got to the top shelf, I realized a lot of the stench had come from the piles of squirrel shit there. Apparently they sneak in through the eves.

It got even better a few shelves down when I saw this immobile furry thing. I jumped a little when I saw it, a little nauseous at the prospect of pulling out a dead squirrel. I jumped considerably more when it moved, and I saw that it was way too big to be a squirrel.

Turns out a full-grown raccoon was living inside that box of old Sears catalogs. Conveniently. my mom wouldn’t let me touch it, fearing rabies. I was comfortable with that, as I didn’t want to get near the damned thing anyway. Mom called animal control. The raccoon, cute as it may have been, went away to be euthanized (a polite term for “killed”). Mom was relieved and a little sad.

That night, I went to the library at UNCG to do a little research and to see if my old tearooms were still jumping. They were not, alas…

To Charlotte


Off to Charlotte to see Duncan. This meeting proved difficult at first, as I couldn’t catch Duncan on the phone, no matter how hard I tried. As it turns out, Duncan couldn’t get home to his phone. Seems there was a hostage situation in his complex. Unlike in San Francisco, though, it was not related to speed or crack in any way.

Eventually we met, though, and I also met Rick, Duncan’s new betrothed, and Caleb, who could easily become one of my favorite dogs on the planet.

We had dinner at Gus’ Sir Beef, where you come for the great name, but stay for the “fresh my farm” vegetables. Then Duncan and Rick took me on a vintage supermarket tour. One of the things love about Duncan is that he will (a) do something most people would find horribly boring and (b) actually be enthusiastic about it.


I went to sleep in my private guest room (with private guest bath) and wondered why my rent (which is probably more than their mortgage) doesn’t allow me to have an extra bedroom and bathroom (or God forbid a parking space). Sometime in the middle of the night, I decided it was time to move back to a saner place. Charlotte seems as likely as any right now.

Charlotte and Babylon

I woke up about 8. Duncan and Rick were at work, so I spent the morning getting some of the only rest and having some of the only down-time of the whole trip. I watched “The New Scooby Doo Movies” with special guest Speed Buggy. And when I stepped out on the patio for a cigarette, I remembered just how cold North Carolina can get in November.

Duncan and I went to lunch at McDonald’s Cafeteria (which does not serve hamburgers, thank you) and I had some stunning greens and peach cobbler. We popped by the TV station whose website I design long distance. And then we continued the Great Charlotte Supermarket Tour of 1999.

Dinner at a restaurant near Duncan and Rick’s and then they drove me back to Mom and Dad. Mom loves Duncan and was happy to see him.


I drove downtown to the Palms to see Jeff and Joel and there spent the only hour of my trip which involved a bar. And I feel guilty about not seeing more of Jeff, but our schedules just conflicted too much in this hectic trip.

Downtown Greensboro


Today was my day to drive around the city taking pictures, many of which will soon be featured elsewhere on the site. Today was also my day to realize I was getting a bad cold.


The pictures were great; I concentrated on downtown, the ghost mall, and old supermarkets. The cold, on the other hand, sucked and made life miserable for the next few days.

For those of you keeping score. My mom used to live in the building above.

The Ghost Mall

In 1976, Carolina Circle Mall opened in the northeast corner of Greensboro, North Carolina. At over 750,000 square feet, it qualified as a regional mall, with three major anchors — Belk, Montgomery Ward, and Ivey’s (now Dillard’s) — as well as theaters and an ice skating rink. It was designed to create a real estate boom in the northeast corner of the city.

Twenty-three years later, Belk is gone. Dillard’s is gone. The theaters are closed. Montgomery Ward has the same lime green and burnt orange carpet it had in 1976, which seem to give it a remarkable staying power. Most stores are vacant; many of them were never occupied at any time in the past two decades. The county is seriously considering converting the mall into offices and a community college campus.

This is the definition of a ghost mall. Maybe this is why I’m so fascinated with ghost malls. I grew up going to Carolina Circle Mall pretty regularly. And during my early 20’s, I spent a year working in this mall.


Some would say Carolina Circle was doomed from the start. Its design was so outlandishly “70s modern” that the whole place looked out of date within two years of its construction. The neighborhood was not great and got worse over time; Greensboro’s wealth and population have always clustered to the west. On top of that, the site was plagued by an intense stench for its first few years due to a nearby waste treatment plant.

When I worked in the mall in 1985, rumors of its demise were already at hand. Over a third of the space was vacant even then and the remaining stores were vacating at an alarming pace. No one was updating; most chain stores were museum pieces already. The store I managed made its retreat shortly after I left in early 1986.


It was already very troubled. The few customers who braved the mall were redneck mall rats who came mainly to play pinball and buy drugs, and project kids who hung out by the skating rink. Unlike the malls of today which are designed to discourage teenagers, Carolina Circle was designed to attract them. Maybe this was one of the biggest mistakes its developers made.


A complete internal renovation late in the 1980s slowed the pace, and some chain stores actually came back…briefly. Ward’s attempted to mask their screaming orange exterior tiles, but didn’t bother to replace some of the original 1970s lime green shag carpet inside. In keeping with the fashion of the time, the interior of the mall was very blue, and (once again) looked rather dated only a year or two later.

After a few years, the renovated mall was even more like a ghost town than before. There was just no one there and no stores for them to go to. It was just plain creepy…

Chronology of Carolina Circle Mall:

Greensboro News & Record
Sunday, July 28, 1996

1958: Developer Joe Koury starts talking about building a shopping center in southwest Greensboro. He expands his plans several times during the 1960s but doesn’t start the project. While he waits, other developers make plans of their own.

1972: Alpert Investment Corp. of Atlanta proposes building a mall off U.S. 29 in northeast Greensboro. Then, in October, Koury’s Imperial Corp. breaks ground on Four Seasons Mall.

April 1974: Alpert breaks ground on the Carolina Circle Mall in the city’s northeastern outskirts. The owners figure the location will attract shoppers from Reidsville,Eden, Burlington and even southern Virginia. The site is difficult to reach by car, but Mayor Jim Melvin and other city leaders push successfully for public money for street improvements.

February 1975: Koury’s Four Seasons Mall opens off High Point Road. The two-level mall features about 95 stores and 900,000 square feet of retail space. It’s the city’s first enclosed mall.

February 5, 1976: Belk opens at Carolina Circle. It’s the mall’s first store.

June 1976: The mall’s ice skating ring opens.

July 30, 1976: The mall sponsors a gala ball benefiting the Carolina Theatre. More than 1,200 people dance to Glenn Miller and other Big Band music. There’s talk of making the ball an annual event.

Aug. 4, 1976: The mall holds its grand opening. Mall manager Ray Brantley says the special features like the ice rink will appeal to children much as Ronald McDonald and McDonald’s playgrounds help sell hamburgers. “The housewife spends most of the disposable income in the family,” he says. “And who controls the housewife? The kids. It’s true. We want this to be a pleasant place for kids to be.” Twenty-two stores opened, with another 50 to follow within a few months. Visitors also notice the smell of the city’s nearby sewage treatment plant. Equipment is later added to the plant to reduce the smell.

November 1976: Piccadilly’s cafeteria and the mall’s six-screen cinema open.

December 4, 1977: At 10:30 on a Sunday morning, three deer,apparently startled by cleaning equipment churning through the mall parking lot, panic and run through two plate glass windows. The deer then fall 18 feet to the mall floor, near the ice rink. One doe breaks its neck and dies. The other two are captured and released. Deer are a common site near the mall, which is still on the outskirts of town at this time.

August 1986: An Australian firm buys Carolina Circle through its U.S. subsidiary, Sunshine Properties Inc. of Dallas. The new owner promises to renovate the mall to keep up with Four Seasons. At the time, Carolina Circle’s vacancy rate is 10 percent, compared to 1 percent at Four Seasons. Shopper traffic is sagging.

April 9, 1987: Four Seasons opens its new third floor after 18 months of construction. That brings the mall’s repertoire to 200 stores.

June 1988: A $6 million renovation project is completed and Strouse Greenberg unveils the new Carolina Circle Mall.Changes include a new logo, brighter lighting, and a $250,000 custom-built carousel. The owners eliminate the mall’s most distinctive feature: the ice rink. Merchants and skaters are incensed. It was the only ice rink in Greensboro.

Jan. 15, 1991: Robbers shoot and wound a 54-year-old man while he walks out of the mall’s Montgomery Ward store with his two daughters. The incident fuels a perception that the mall is dangerous.

Sept. 11, 1992: Greensboro police open a satellite station at the mall. The city pays $1 a year for the space. City leaders say they hope the station will make shoppers feel more secure. Some Carolina Circle merchants complain that having a police station is a bad thing because it gives visitors the impression that the mall needs a police station.

Sept. 30, 1993: George D. Zamias Developer, buys the mall for $16 million in cash and agrees to take over the $21.17 million mortgage. Company president George D. Zamias promises to market the mall aggressively.

February 1994: The U.S. Postal Service signs a 10-year lease to put a mail facility in the first floor of the Carolina Circle Belk’s department store. Belk keeps the top floor open as a store.

July 1996: Some of the mall’s bread-and-butter stores -Camelot records and Waldenbooks, for instance – already are gone as Piccadilly Cafeteria says it will close its doors at the end of the month. A few days later Radio Shack says it, too, will move soon. Remaining merchants worry about how they’ll survive.


1998: Belk and Dillard’s finally close their stores, leaving Montgomery Ward as the sole anchor.

Fall 1999: Guilford County has tentative plans to purchase the mall and convert in to offices and a community college campus.

January 2002: Carolina Circle Mall is now pretty much completely deserted. All the retailers have moved out, and the plan is that the center will eventually be converted into a new sports and retailing facility. I have my doubts…


July 2003: There is a sports center, of sorts. Several parking lots are now tennis courts and soccer field. Many of the surrouding banks and other buildings have been converted to storefront churches. The mall building is in a rather sad state of decay.

July 2004: Carolina Circle Mall is to be demolished and replaced with an entirely new retail development anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Fall 2006: All traces of the mall, except for one or two outbuildings, are gone. A new Wal-Mart Supercenter occupies the space, and other stores are under construction.

My Old Store:

“Texas Jeans” was the name given to mall locations of the “Cheap Joe’s Jean and T-shirt Stores” chain. Malls preferred not have stores with “cheap” in their names at this time. I think there were a total of five Texas Jeans stores (Greensboro, High Point, Columbia SC, and two others) among the fifty or so Cheap Joe’s units. Cheap Joes was a fairly well-known NC chain, selling cheap “youth” clothing, knock-off T-shirts, and its own brand of jeans (Texas Jeans) modelled after Levi’s.

In 1986, the Texas Jeans stores were remodeled and rebranded as “The Exchange” to associate them with the “Surfers Exchange” surf and skate shops the chain had opened in Myrtle Beach and Charlotte.

The Carolina Circle branch was on the lower level next to Hardees and across from the food court and skating rink. The space had formerly been a resturant of some sort, and had a really large back room in what had apparently been the former restaurant’s kitchen. This extra space was used as storage for fixtures and other items for the whole chain.

I’m not sure when this branch opened. It was probably the early 1980s. It closed about 1987 or 1988. The whole company was gone by 1990. I was assistant manager here in 1985, and managed the store for several months in 1986 before moving to Myrtle Beach and then managing the Charlotte Surfer’s Exchange store from 1986 to 1989.

Photos are from 1985-1986:

080185 100185-06 100185-07
100185-08 100185-09 030186-1


Carolina Circle mall City: A tribute to the late mall.


I really didn’t want to go. I felt like crap, and I wanted to relax a bit and spend more time in Greensboro. But I didn’t say so, and we left early for Wilmington. My cousin and her husband had purchased a building downtown (the Masonic Temple no less) from Dennis Hopper. They were having a party celebrating the opening of the theatre and roof deck on the fifth floor.

Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Wilmington is hideously boring. I nodded off a few times. When we arrived in Wilmington and checked into the Hampton Inn, I really wanted to sleep. I was also a bit leery of sleeping in the same room with my parents for the first time in a good twelve or thirteen years. But there’s no polite way to say “I don’t want to stay in the same room with you so I’m getting one of my own. I’ll pay”


Wilmington was nice, if a bit of a traffic nightmare. The historic district downtown has not yet succumbed to the twin pressures of Starbuck’s and terminal cuteness, although a bar called “Dot-com” was a bit off-putting. I found a great dusty old used bookstore and actually spent a few bucks.


We had dinner in at the Front Street Brewery. These places aren’t known for their food in general, but this place was just plain awful. I got jerk pork. Ever eaten jerk pork with no spices at all? I don’t think they even used salt.

The party was fun. There was a play. There was music. There was beer, but I didn’t have any because I already felt rotten enough. Linda Lavin was there, although no one could quite pick her out. The view of the Cape Fear River from the roof deck was amazing. I know this because the roof deck was also the smoking area.

After the party, my Dad and I walked to the Waffle house by the motel and had real food.

Back to Greensboro


I slept as badly as I knew I would. On the way out of town, we visited Carolina Beach and stopped at a barbecue joint in Garner. I grabbed refrigerator magnets and cheap cigarettes at a huge outlet in Burlington. And we came home.

Dinner at the J&S Cafeteria (see a trend here?) and my Dad and I went back to Harris-Teeter so I could get more provisions. I washed clothes.

Bcak to SF

Lunch at the cafeteria in Burlington, and off to Raleigh and the airport. We said hurried goodbyes and I checked in at the front desk. At the metal detector, a guard (LIzzie Wright is her name, by the way) wouldn’t let me go through with my fake bullet necklace.

I wasn’t really so upset that she stopped me (even though she admitted she new it was nothing dangerous). I was upset that she was so rude and hateful about it, refusing to even let me sit it down while I went to get an envelope to mail it to myself. She obviously wasn’t concerned that it would explode or anything, otherwise she would have been worried when I threw it in the trash. Which I did, since I I didn’t have time to argue anymore.

This wasn’t a security risk and she knew it (she even said so). She just didn’t want to have her fat ass bothered by actually helping someone resolve a situation. Lizzie was nothing but a bitch and a control freak. Period. So I threw it away, thanked Lizzie for her southern hospitality, and got on the plane.

After paying $120 for long-term parking (cheaper than the tickets I would have gotten otherwise), I got on the freeway toward San Francisco. I flipped off two people on the way home, got tailgated three times, and got cut off twice. I suddenly had a strange longing to be back on Merritt Drive in Greensboro with its quaint little “aggressive driving enforcement area” signs.

Welcome home.

Trip Post-mortem

Home again. Bags unpacked. Clothes put away. Car stowed in a relatively legal parking space. Ears still popping from the flight.

Coming shortly, essays and photos related to:

  • Squirrel shit.
  • Raccoons.
  • Okra, collard greens, and sweet tea.
  • A party in Dennis Hopper’s place which Linda Lavin and I were at.
  • Sleeping in the same motel room with my parents.
  • Condos, apartments, and even houses I could afford.
  • Thoroughly adorable Bosnian young’uns.
  • The Raleigh-Durham airport and the evils of air travel.
  • A 50-year-old supermarket on Walker Avenue.
  • Mom and Dad’s anniversary party.
  • The iMac.
  • Tearooms (or lack thereof).
  • Cheap cigarettes.
  • How much I don’t want to live in San Francisco anymore.

But I’m tired, so all of this will have to wait. I wouldn’t count on a lot of email responses for a couple more days either, but I’ll be working on it. Soon…