writing

Round 1: The Poster Child of Chapel Hill

Lee Wray of The Poster Guys places a fresh batch of posters on a bulletin board outside the old post office in Chapel Hill, NC, in September 2019. Photo by Elizabeth Moore

The sound of the staple gun punctuates the rush of Franklin Street traffic. The blinding midday sun highlights the neon posters overflowing from the messenger bag on the ground. It’s Sunday, and Lee Wray is hard at work.

Wray’s slim frame moves meticulously, without a single stray movement. Beneath gray hair, his gaze fixates on his work. Reach, place, staple. Wray arranges posters advertising concerts and community theater and climate change rallies, until there’s one of each on the bulletin board. He’s all efficiency, which makes sense for someone who has been hanging flyers daily in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for over five years.

Though he operates solo, Wray belongs to The Poster Guys, a company of four men who offer services across the Triangle area. Wray takes the route adjacent to UNC, where he got his master’s degree in literature.

Matt Barrett, founder of The Poster Guys, says Wray is a brilliant writer. That isn’t what calls Wray to bulletin boards outside bars, churches and classrooms, though.

“In fact he lives for posting,” Barrett said. “If you have seen the way he posts and keeps the boards so neat and organized you realize that he has found his calling in life.”

The business is straightforward: Clients leave their posters and payment at the dropoff location. The Poster Guys pick them up and hang them. Wray starts his route on Sunday morning, but some people miss the Saturday night deadline. Just in case, he doubles back, hanging new posters and making sure the others aren’t covered. 

Their website, which is—eccentric, to say the least—boasts they “are in touch with a nation of posterguys” and can get flyers posted on any college campus in America. As of March 18, though, they have shut down non-essential services.

“Because of the Corona-virus we are currently not posting in Durham or Raleigh,” the website states. “If you are in Chapel Hill and you have a ‘poster emergency’ (I don’t even know what that means but maybe a lost pet or person or something) Lee will still be posting outdoor locations.”

Round two: At My Parents’ Kitchen, You Get What You Pay For

Three neat sections of food greet me from the pristine white plate. Each amount to some variation of orange mush.

For his turn making dinner, Dad prepared red lentils, sautéed squash and onions and sweet potatoes.

“This is good,” I tell him. “A plate full of sunshine.”

It’s not the worst thing to eat on a weeknight. Quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic is about getting by. Some people are taking the time to experiment in the kitchen; we’re figuring out what to eat before it spoils.

The lentils are a creamy, dal-like texture that still resist slightly to bite, not too unlike baby food. I credit Dad for the simplicity: Those little legumes have a surprising amount of flavor for something cooked with vegetable broth and “no other seasoning!” as Dad boasted.

The verbal jousting around the dinner table—Dad’s false modesty, Mom’s false praise—lends some much-needed levity to our night. We all know Mom’s the best cook, but during corona, all bets are off.

The extra step of caramelizing onions before adding coins of squash gives that depth you want when eating something that came out of the ground, but Dad fell flat with the timing. The slight crunch is unpalatable to Mom, who expected more from the dish considering she handed him a recipe that, when she makes it, yields a more tender result.

The luscious sweet potatoes, roasted whole in a hot oven with olive oil, were the star of the meal, with a soft inside and browned skin good enough to eat all together. I cooked the sweet potatoes.

To his credit, Dad had to juggle more than he bargained for when preparing this meal. Mom tasked him with the squash, and I tasked him with the lentils. I quickly told him to follow the package directions while the two of us dashed out for a walk before the sun went down.

As we walked back toward the house, Mom told me we had to lavish Dad with compliments, even if dinner wasn’t delicious.

“The male ego is very fragile,” she said.

Round 3: Stylists Split on Coronavirus Struggles

The straight-edge razor marks the divide between barber shops and salons. The coronavirus sharpens the disparity.

 

A few days before Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order that closed all non-essential businesses, Christina Pelech, owner and stylist at Fuss and Bother in Durham, N.C., closed her salon. She said she felt justified when she heard the news.

 

“It was really a relief,” she said. “It was really anxiety-provoking to me to have to make the call on my own.”

 

Thirty miles southeast, at Hair Masterz Barber School in Raleigh, owner Eric West thinks differently. West, a barber and teacher, said he wishes Cooper had consulted industry professionals before closing their businesses.

 

Cooper’s order expires May 8, when North Carolina moves to Phase One of reopening. If the number of coronavirus cases doesn’t spike for two weeks, Cooper will move the state to Phase Two, and salons and barber shops could start seeing clients.

 

Both businesses have lost income, and both owners say they don’t think hair is essential during coronavirus. West, though, also has students to think of.

 

“The tears that I shed during this have been for my students,” he said. “A person not being able to get their hair cut, get a nice fade or whatever, that has not really been important to me.”

 

West brought up the racial disparity the coronavirus exposes. He said out of 100 students, he would have maybe three who were white, and the rest were African American. North Carolina is roughly 20 percent African American, according to U.S. Census estimates from last July.

 

A traditionally African American space, barber shops appear across the Triangle area in about 20 places. West said his school feeds students to that network. The coronavirus has interrupted the hiring process and, he said, put students’ dreams on hold.

 

West said many private entities, like his barber school, can’t afford to continue instruction while they’ve lost the income generated from their clients. On top of that, his barber school uses a clock-hour program, meaning progress is now suspended for students working toward certification.

 

 

Close Menu