North Carolina’s warmth makes banquet memorable

Published 6:20 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

Because of what I do for a living, I’ve been to lots and lots of chamber of commerce banquets over the past 35 years or so, but I can’t think of one I’ve been to that was as comfortable or as much fun as the one in Murfreesboro Tuesday.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to tell you right quick that my wife, Sherry, is the executive director of the Murfreesboro chamber. But I honestly don’t think that was a factor. In fact, not only did we not sit together at the banquet, but I just barely saw her that night.

I probably also should tell you that this newspaper has long sponsored and presented an award at that banquet, and that last Tuesday I had the privilege of making that presentation. I don’t think was a factor in my enjoyment of the banquet, either. In fact, if you know me, you know that I’ll do just about anything I can think of to do to squirm my way out of standing up in front of a crowd and doing anything.

No, I think the reason I enjoyed the evening as much as I did was just simply that everybody around me was having as good a time as I was.

And, still wearing my “new guy” hat (I got here last June from Texas), I think that was attributable in very large part just simply to the culture of North Carolina – or at least of this part of North Carolina.

People here are friendly and accepting and they mean it. Nobody is nice just because somebody back down the line told them they’re supposed to be.

Tuesday night, I didn’t even get in the front door at John’s Seafood & Steaks, where the event was held, before Dell Aycock, who is both incoming and outgoing president of the chamber, greeted me effusively.

And then I was steered into the area where all the silent auction items were arrayed, totally bypassing the ticket table just inside the front door.

Less than a minute later, Hugh Vincent and I were in a bidding war for a pencil drawing of historic Murfreesboro structures, and then Joe Murray and I got into a similar skirmish over a handmade beach chair.

A few minutes later, I bumped into Earl Telliga, of the Murfreesboro radio station, and we spent a few minutes visiting. Earl’s wife got tired of the shop talk and went on without us.

Earl probably is the perfect illustration of what I’ve been trying to say about North Carolina’s culture of hospitality. We’re competitors. But I don’t think Earl knows that. When I first arrived in the area, I went to a meeting of the board of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce. Earl was there and he made a point of welcoming me, visiting for a while and then giving me his card and insisting that I call him if there was ever anything he could do to help me get settled in.

A few minutes after I left Earl, I found myself in a conversation with John Taylor (who owns John’s Seafood & Steaks) and Billy Theodorakis (who owns Walter’s Grill next door). In case you don’t already know it, they’re a hoot. One night a couple of weeks ago I found Billy tending bar at John’s. He wasn’t on the payroll; he’d just wandered in and decided to do that. They insult each other’s food and each other’s establishment constantly (John told me he walks through Billy’s kitchen to waterproof his shoes), but they’re obviously very, very good friends.

The whole evening was like that.

John’s banquet room upstairs was at capacity, so if you weren’t there, you probably couldn’t have gotten in anyway, but if you weren’t, you missed a really, really good time.

And that was even before you got to the speaker and the awards presentations.

Sherry and I will be at the Ahoskie chamber banquet next week. I’m kind of expecting it to be just as much fun. And if it is, I’m going to suggest that both those chambers make their banquets quarterly – rather than annual – events.

Jerry and Sherry, what do you think?

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.