Slow hand | Local Color

Slow hand

Pittsboro is a town out of time.

The vintage Coca-Cola clock hanging on the wall at 79 Hillsboro St. has stopped at 2:06. At a.m. or p.m., is unclear, but that's the hour when someone pulled the plug in the abandoned antique store.

Judging from the businesses that line the town's main drag, you'd think the 3,888 inhabitants of Pittsboro while away their days painting with watercolors, playing the fiddle, shining antiques, sipping coffee at the Blue Dot, Phoenix Bakery, Cafe Diem or Chatham Marketplace; and swigging beer at the Pittsboro Road House or City Tap, the latter of which serves lunch and "supper." Supper being a word people from the country use.

And they get their hair cut, at least the men, at the barbershop, which has a pole outside that reads "Look Better Feel Better." The shop opens at 7:10 a.m. four days a week; on the fifth day, it opens at 7. Its clock still works.

Pittsboro is a town out of time.

A wind-chapped trio gathers outside Beggars & Choosers, a vintage shop that specializes in the past.

"You played with Leroy Savage?" a woman asks, referring to renowned newgrass player, now in his 60s. "I used to bartend where he came in every day."

Up the street, Circle City Books carries used hardbacks and paperbacks. I spy a book by Tracy Kidder. Published just 15 years ago, House chronicled the nail-by-nail construction of Kidder's house—his American Dream.

And this is why Pittsboro is a town out of time. About 22,000 homes, 22,000 American Dreams, are slated to be built on 7,000 acres east of town in a development called Chatham Park. That translates to another 55,000 people over the next 20 years.

Maybe there will be more people to buy antiques and lattes and toys. And maybe those people will jam the Roadhouse on Friday nights. But it could also mean that there won't be time to paint with watercolors or play the fiddle. That the barbershop will have to open an extra days a week, at 7 sharp, with no room for error. That supper will become dinner. Dinner being a word people from the city use.

The thought drives me to drink my lunch, so I duck into the S&T Soda Shoppe for a chocolate malt, half of which is served in a Styrofoam cup with a straw, the other half in a Stainless steel canister with a spoon.

Songs by The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, more than 50 years old, play overhead.

"How's that taste to you?" asks the waiter.

"Just the way I remember it," I reply.

Near the roundabout in the center of town, I climb the stairs of the Blair Hotel, built in 1917, and see two men in white long-sleeved shirts and ties stride across the crosswalk.

One man looks at his watch.

It's 11:15, give or take a few minutes, Pittsboro time.

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