KULP: The drive-through counties

Gerry Dincher—Flickr

I live in Carrboro, Chapel Hill’s more liberal neighbor. (Didn’t think that was possible, did you?) We’ve got more Priuses per capita than anywhere else on the planet, our main gathering place is a food co-op, and a surprising number of our residents see hula-hooping as their primary source of exercise.It’s easy for me to go about life in my little bubble. I’m surrounded by like-minded neighbors, many of them transplants from elsewhere in the country, like me.But get in the car and go for a drive and you’ll see how quickly things change.Those Priuses give way to pickup trucks, farmers markets are replaced by actual farms, Trump lawn signs proudly persist, and there’s a Dollar General in every town.I can’t help but think that I live in one North Carolina, while there’s a completely different version of this state just outside of the city limits.Trump’s 4 percent margin of victory in North Carolina was reasonably close. Despite our H.B. 2-tarnished reputation, we’re still a moderate, purple state, right? Yes and no.Despite the seemingly close presidential race, only 13 of the 100 counties in the state were won by margins of 10 percentage points or less.Put simply, our big purple state is actually a collection of tiny blue and red landslides.And this isn’t just a North Carolina trend: The website Five Thirty Eight recently reported that only 303 of 3,113 counties nationwide were won by single-digits.North Carolina is just a mini-America — big and red and speckled with blue bubbles.We use the term “fly-over states” to describe those red parts of the country that lie between the big clue cities. I’d like to introduce a new term into the lexicon: “drive-through counties.”In the 12 years I’ve been in North Carolina, I’ve driven all over this great state of ours. Yet, while I’ve passed through through most of its counties, I’ve only really spent quality time in 10 of them.Sure, I’ve stopped to take a leak in Duplin County on my way to the beach, but do I really know anything about the place? And was the hot dog I bought at a gas station in Wilkesboro the best food the area had to offer? No and (hopefully) no.Summer is almost here and a lot of us are going to hit the road on vacation. Whether you’re headed for higher altitudes or cooling-off at sea level, here are a few suggestions to help get to know the state a bit better:Take the scenic route Google Maps gives you the option to “skip highways.” It might add a little time to your trip, but the road less traveled is usually more interesting.Buy localThe next time you’re on a road trip, skip the McNuggets and find a local eatery. This state is full of good food, and a little research can help you find it.Talk to strangersWhen you stop along the way, strike up a conversation with the people you meet. Find a way to get to know something about the place you’re in.Embrace your discomfortThis is the hard part. For most us, there are two North Carolinas: The one you live in and the one that makes you a little uncomfortable. Just don’t let that discomfort get in the way of an otherwise meaningful experience.Find the best barbecue in Bertie County.Did you hear about the popcorn farm in Yadkinville?There’s a Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum in Littleton.What I’m trying to say is that instead of sitting here in my beloved blue bubble of Carrboro, it’s my responsibility to try to understand the other North Carolina.And if you live in your North Carolina, you should probably get to know mine. I promise to take you for a ride in my Prius, buy you a kale salad at the co-op, and teach you how to hula-hoop.Steve Kulp is a graphic designer 
and brand strategist in Carrboro.