Miss Lonelycarts

May 23, 2014

This column was posted in October for Walter Magazine, but it’s not available online.

[POST-SCRIPT] Shortly before Thanksgiving, I received a call from a lawyer I used to work with. He told me that his sister was Miss Lonelycarts, and that she had been fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer. She walked around the Harris Teeter for exercise, using the cart for support.  She was anything but lonely, I learned. A former model. Active in her church. Several days later, Miss Lonelycarts passed away. Here is a link to her obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsobserver/obituary.aspx?n=sarah-mckay-munford&pid=168509739&fhid=5774  Rest in peace, Sarah Munford. I wish I had spoken to you.]

I’ve been married for 21 years, but another woman has been preoccupying my mind of late. I don’t really know her, but I can’t stop thinking of her. I want to know to know more about her, to understand why she does what she does. But I’m afraid to talk to her.

And this is not what you think.

I do the weekly grocery shopping for my family every Sunday. I usually try to do it around 10 a.m., when the store is empty because most people are at church. Sometimes I don’t get around to this task until 2 in the afternoon, when things are busier.

But nearly every time I visit my local Harris Teeter, she is there: the woman who haunts me. I am guessing she is in her ’60s, and she is a reasonably attractive woman. The fact that she shops at the same time as I do is not all that unusual. The fact that I noticed her isn’t, either.

What is unusual is that I’ve never seen her buy a thing in the store. I’ve never seen her stop to look at an item on the shelves. In fact, I’ve never seen her put a single item in her grocery cart; the cart might have one item in it, two at the most. But she walks. And walks some more, always with a gentle saunter, and always with a pleasant smile on her face. She’s not there to buy groceries. She’s there for some other reason. Maybe this is her social outlet. Maybe it’s her exercise. I don’t know. But I want to.

Is she a lonely woman? I’ve never seen her stop and talk to a single person in the store, but I wonder if the employees have noticed her like I do. My younger kids have noticed her, too, and they feel sad for her. We initially called her “Miss Lonelyhearts,” after the character in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” but we renamed her Miss Lonelycarts.  I really don’t know if she is lonely at all, but I wonder about her nonetheless.


Occasionally, she is not there when I’m shopping, and then my imagination starts to run wild. Is she OK? Did something happen to her? I wonder: Does she do this at the Kroger on Tuesdays, the Food Lion on Thursdays? Then I laugh at myself, wondering why I’m worrying about a woman I’ve never uttered a word to, not even to say, “Excuse me.”

But that’s what makes Raleigh great. We care about each other, even if we don’t have a clue who someone is. I fist bump my favorite bagger at the store, talking about how many days before the NFL season begins. I ask my Whole Foods butcher if he’s seen any good bands lately – we once bumped into each other at a club. And I always make the same joke to the Harris Teeter cashier when the credit card machine asks me if my total amount due is OK. No, it’s not OK; it’s $289! How could that ever be OK? My kids grimace at the joke, but the cashiers laugh.

But it is this woman, this Miss Lonelycarts, of whom I think the most. She’s the one I want to approach and say hello. I am afraid to do that, however, not because I’m wary of engaging a total stranger, but because I don’t want to scare her off. If she actually stopped and looked at some produce, I could say, “Boy, the strawberries look great today.” And the next week I see her, I’d say, “Hey there, Strawberry Woman.” But I’ve never had that chance.

I’ve also thought about “accidentally” running into her cart, then apologizing profusely. That would certainly break the ice and give me a reason, next time we see each other, to say hello and feign embarrassment.

And now, as we approach Thanksgiving, I want to make sure that she has a place to go for my favorite holiday of the year, a place where she can relax, have a good meal, and be around some people who are thankful for what we have. I’m used to taking in the Thanksgiving “orphans,” people I hardly know who have no family nearby.

But I just can’t bring myself to do it. Just like when I was in high school and was horribly intimidated by the pretty girls, I find myself thinking not of the possible good of engaging Miss Lonelycarts, I only consider the bad, that I would scare her away. Or maybe she might be a bit, er, crazy.

In the end, she doesn’t need me to be her white knight, her social savior. She’s happy with her Sunday stroll, looking at the friendly faces at the Harris Teeter. She’s shopping for something, but I might never know what that is.


Chef Steven Greene — An Restaurant

May 23, 2014

Here’s a link to a profile piece I wrote about Steven Greene, easily one of the state’s most talented chefs.



Soo Cafe’ — Korean Fried Chicken

May 23, 2014

Here’s a link to my first column for Walter Magazine, about Korean Fried Chicken — right here in Raleigh!!




Food Writing Links

May 23, 2014

No, I’m not reviving this blog. At least, not yet. However, since I’ve started to do a bit of food writing for a local magazine, I thought I’d post links to the stories here. I may occasionally share some thoughts here from time to time, but it will be very sporadic at best.

Magnolia Grill to Close

May 2, 2012

I just received and email from Karen Barker of Durham’s legendary Magnolia Grill. She and her husband, Ben Barker, both Beard award winners, will be closing the restaurant at the end of the month.  Here’s the email:

Friends , Colleagues & Professional Associates –

Karen and I have had the extraordinary luxury of cooking together every day for the last 30+ years. There is no way to convey how rewarding it has been to share our pursuit of this craft, but…

it’s time to do something different.

We will close Magnolia Grill on May 31, 2012.

We are not sure what’s next but we are going to take a break and see.

We have all our parents, all 80 years old, or nearly. We want to see them more. We have two grandchildren we’ve barely spent any time with; we want to see them more. We have co-workers we’ve been around more than our sons – it’s time for that to change.

Thank you to every one who’s given us the opportunity to learn from you, to feed you and be fed by you, to share with you, to experience the exhilaration and conviviality that has been our life in food. We’ll always be indebted to each and every one of you.

Thank you,

b2 & Kay

I’m very sad that we will be losing this amazing restaurant. It’s the one place where I said, “I am simply not capable of cooking like that.”  But I am also happy that Ben and Karen will be moving on.  I wish them all the best, and I suspect we’ll hear more from them.

Help Ryan Go To Bolivia

April 29, 2012

This post is for my daughter Ryan, who is going to Bolivia this summer for a month to volunteer, teaching English and coaching soccer, and is trying to raise some money to do so. I apologize if you are a reader of VarmintBites thinking this was a new blog post about food.

For those of you coming here who know Ryan, thanks for considering helping her to go to Bolivia this summer. The “Donate” link below will allow you to make a credit card donation. We really appreciate it!

Please note that this PayPal link connects to my wife Marcella’s PayPal account, but all money received will go to Ryan for the trip. In order to use a credit card, you will need to register with PayPal, which is very easy to do and very safe.

Help Me Run Faster Than I’ve Ever Run Before

February 15, 2012

I’ve written before about my issues with my weight. Well, it all came to a head last month when my blood work showed that I was technically diabetic. Yup, Type 2 diabetes. The fat man’s disease.  Granted, I had just barely crossed over the threshold of glucose levels to merit that diagnosis, but I had indeed crossed it.  My weight was up to 238 pounds, as much as I’ve every weighed.

Typically, I’ve just said, “Fuck it.” Sometimes I made a 3 month effort to drop 10 pounds or so.

This time, I just said, “Fuck.” And then I started to take action. Real action.  I’m eating a lot differently. I’m drinking a LOT less. And like the guys from LMFAO, “I work out.”  I see a personal trainer two days a week. I “run” three days a week.

And believe it or not, in only a month, this is working.

A year ago, I “ran” a half marathon. Well, I used a run/walk approach where I would run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute.  Repeat until I finished the 13.1 miles. I’m by no means a fast runner, and last year, I ran the thing in 2 hours and 42 minutes.  That’s a glacially slow pace of 12 minutes and 22 seconds per mile. And the thing is, I was really pleased with that result, as the run-walk approach made this much more doable.

I’ve signed up for the same half marathon, which is on March 18th.  This time around, I’m walking even more. I’m running 2 minutes and walking 1 minute — and repeating that to the end.  Last year, I walked 25% of the time. this year, I’m walking 33% of the time. And I’m going to CRUSH my time from last year.  How do I know this? Well, let me give you some data.

A year ago at this time, I did a 4.96 mile training run in 1 hour and 5 minutes.  Ugh, that was slow.  Today, I ran 5.02 miles in a little bit more than 52 minutes.  That’s a 10:28 pace, my friends.  I ran 8.3 miles on Sunday at an 11 minute pace. This is really surprising to me.  My simple goal, of course, is to finish the damn thing. The real goal, however, is to finish under 2 hours and 30 minutes. For some people, that’s laughably slow. But for me — all 227 pounds of me (yes, I’ve lost 11 pounds) — this would be great. The fact that I’m going this quickly while walking 1/3 of the time is astounding to me. The personal training is obviously helping. I’m so much stronger than I was just a month ago. I’m eating better. I don’t get the post-prandial crashes anymore. Frankly, I’m feeling damn good right now, and I want to feel even better. My best time ever for a half marathon was at my first, in 2007, when I weighed 212 pounds and trained like a mad man.  I ran it in 2 hours and 29 minutes. Oh, I was so fast then!  I want to beat that time.

Now I need your help.  I’m really doing all of this for myself and for my family. But I also want to raise some money for the local charity that is near and dear to my heart, the Lucy Daniels Center. The Center is participating in the Great Human Race, a 5K, on March 24. I’m not doing that race; I’m doing the half marathon the week before. But I’m running for this charity, which is the Triangle’s leading provider of mental health services to children. I’m the board chair of the Center, and I’ve seen the amazing things this organization does.

So please, click on this link and sponsor me. Make it two dollars a mile (that would be $26.20). Or even better, 10 ($131.00 for the mathematically challenged). Heck, get creative — just email me with a pledge of X dollars per minute that I finish under 2 hours and 30 minutes — now that’s an incentive (and don’t worry, if I am even 1 minute under that time, I’ll be ecstatic).  But please do something. If not for me, for the kids.

And I’ll keep pushing harder.