Getting on a plane in early September 2015, I had no idea that my life would be forever changed. All I knew at that point was that I was escaping the 120 degree weather that had plagued the city of Phoenix for 3 weeks, with the reprieve offered by evening temperatures dipping down to 110 degrees. Even the most avid heat enthusiast would be miserable in those temperatures!
I’d like to say that I felt the winds of change coming sitting in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, but it was the air conditioning on full blast, much to the pure bliss and enjoyment of the melted city goers.
Quiet, smiling and looking anywhere but out the window to avoid seeing the heat waves dancing across the blacktop, I tried to read my book, but I was too excited. I was headed to see a lifelong friend in Raleigh, North Carolina by way of several connecting flights, each layover cooler than the last.
Perhaps it was the fact I had literally flown from the desert to a lush green environment flush with enough water there was extra to spare in the air as humidity that had me feeling as though I had found an oasis. Then again, it could very well have been the effect of 18 miserable months in Phoenix, a hellacious 3 week heat wave and the rare treat of first class cocktails.
It was late when I arrived. Tired, infused with vodka and having only 10% battery power left on my phone, I grabbed my carry on as quickly and gracefully as I could at that moment. I found my way out the doors to meet my ride and was met by a wall of humidity. It. Was. Fabulous. I could feel my desert dried skin start to rehydrate and my hair take on a wild character of its own that was more congruent with my current state.
Going from west coast to east coast and sleeping off my travel adventures, I woke late the next day. I had a pounding in my head and a legit need for coffee. In search of my morning elixir, I made my way down the stairs, only to discover I had no idea where to even begin looking in my friend’s kitchen. Throwing my long hair in a messy top bun and salvaging my appearance as best I could, I set out to find coffee.
Determined, I dashed out to the garage and jumped in the car. As I pulled out of the garage my brain froze. What was all this green?! Everything, everywhere was green! A true, rich, vibrant green that couldn’t be missed. It was September and North Carolina was still green! My Wyoming native, Phoenician transplant brain had no idea what to make of this. My caffeine withdrawal headache demanded I stop cooing over the lush foliage and get to getting on Operation Coffee Now.
Fortunately, this rocky morning start was only one of two brutal moments in the entire trip. Not to spoil the story, but the rest was filled with incredible time with my friend, food that was on a whole other level of delicious and discovering the true meaning of Southern hospitality. It’s real ya’ll!
However, the majority of our time wasn’t spent in Raleigh. Nearly none of it was. The city served as home base, a place to end and begin our days. But the hours in between were whiled away in the western neighboring city — a city called Durham.
It didn’t take long, maybe 10 minutes, maybe, for me to become awestruck. I was unable to open my eyes enough to see every last bit of the city. I fully came to the understanding of the one and only word that can describe my reaction to the bull city — I was completely captivated.
I was enamored with the sights, the eats, the glorious humidity, the beautiful weather and mostly the genuine people of Durham. I found the days of my vacation flew by. As I took it all in, it seemed in a way as though time had stopped, but that was the spell of Durham’s captivation on me… and the tasty beer from Full Steam Brewery, Tyler’s and unexpectedly at Rock’s Bar and Barber on Main Street. Yes: this city has a bar/barber shop combo with a beer selection that would knock off any connoisseur’s socks. Not that they would need socks 9 months out of the year here it’s so warm!
Taking in the sights, I noticed that the city seemed to have a strange hang up with bulls. Bull city this and bull city that. Bull signs, bull statues, bull paintings, bull puns and THE Durham Bulls. Even my friend, another Wyoming native who had long since transplanted into the Raleigh-Durham area, seemed to be on the bull-wagon. She kept pointing out one bull after another. In fact, our first day in Durham HAD to end with meeting THE bull of Durham.
Daughter of an avid Kevin Costner fan, I had seen Bull Durham a time or two, but I was very young when that movie came out. Before being shown the new Durham Bull’s stadium, it was VERY important to my friend that I see the original. We parked the car and got out to look at an empty baseball field. Ooh. Ah. What is going on with this city?!
“Scenes from Bull Durham were actually filmed here,” my friend said beaming ear to ear.
I was too busy taking in a city unlike one I had ever seen before to even try to find a moment to be judgmental. You can feel the history of this city permeating the air. The character and architectural designs of the buildings, the smiling faces of the locals and, despite the bulls everywhere, the sweet smell of incredible food wafting out from great restaurants had my mind preoccupied.
Sitting on the patio of Juju Tapas on the last evening of my vacation, I found myself becoming emotional. I tried to chalk it up to the pressed North Carolinian watermelon salad, as its flavor knocked delicious out of the ballpark (baseball metaphors slipping in…), but that salad coming to an end didn’t explain the sense of sadness in my heart. Blinking away unwelcomed tears I took in the view of Vin Rouge to my left, Elmo’s down the way and empty store front on the corner of 9th and Markham Avenue.
We got back in the car to drive away from Durham and it hit me like an unexpected foul ball to the face! All these feels were because, for the first time in my life, I was home. I can now tell you that love at first sight is real, at least Bull City love is. I did not want to go back to the desert. Hell, I didn’t even want to go back to Raleigh for the night. I DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE DURHAM, EVER!
By the time my plane touched down the next day back at Sky Harbor airport, I was a certified hot mess. I was happy to see my dog who had been in a friend’s care for the week, as well as my friend and her family. Watching out the car windows on the way to my apartment I saw personality-less buildings, one after another. Walking up to my building I was greeted by grumpy, heat-whipped neighbors, who felt no need to say hello, let alone offer help to a woman with a dog, a large suitcase and a three story journey to her apartment door in 110 degree weather. I wasn’t in Durham anymore.
I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase, let alone unhooked my dog from his leash, before I text my friend in North Carolina.
“I probably ought to sleep on it…but I’m pretty sure I’m moving to Durham. Durham is home.”
A month and a 2,200 mile drive later, I did just that.
The feels of complete adoration and captivation for my city haven’t faded even slightly. If Durham wants a spokes-gal, I volunteer! I’ve spent countless hours telling anyone who will listen about the Bull City.
Always exploring and adventuring in the city and capturing as much as I can with pics on my phone, I have noticed a trend of bull pictures. Stopping by THE Durham bull the other day to snap a selfie with him (it’s a Durham thing) it came to me. An incrediBULL way to get to know this city and its rich history. Moreover, a way to showcase Durham to the rest of the world. The answer lies in the story of the bulls.
Enter The Bulls of Durham.
Over the next year, I’m going on a journey to discover each and every Durham bull the story, the people behind him. You can keep your Pokémon Go, as for me, big or small, I’m going to capture them all — the bulls that is. The story of this unBULLievably unique city and the remarkaBULL people that give vibrancy to the bricks, the cement and bronze statues will all be bound in a coffee table book.
I’m letting Durham tell its story. Each interview will lead to the next — from café owner to Bull City mechanics, bartenders and historians. It’s the people who make this city come alive. They’re real and they all have a great story to share. I want to show the world what it truly means to be Bull City strong.
If you’re a Durham local looking to be part of The Bulls of Durham project contact me at TheBullsofDurham at gmail.com. Follow the project as it goes on Instagram @TheBullsofDurham and Twitter @BullsOfDurham. Facebook and website coming soon!
Update: The website now exists. It's the very one you're looking at right now: TheBullsOfDurham.com.
To follow The Bulls of Durham book project email TheBullsOfDurham at gmail.com and say, “Yo Sheila. Please put me on the mailing list.” Also follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Oh! And now that this website is a thing, you can check back here. Make it your homepage. Tell all your friends. Write home to your mom about it. :::Flashes Bull City hand sign.:::
Oh and treat yourself, your mom and everyone you love to the best coffee mug of all time, which happens to support this here book project. No big deal. But very big deal. Click HERE.
Sheila Amir is a health & nutrition writer who fell in love with Durham, North Carolina and starting writing a book about it.