Joe's Road Trip 2012

Road Trip 2012, Day 2: A Man Who Speaks His Mind

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Andrew Hinderaker for TIME

Jim Goodmon speaks with Joe Klein at the American Tobacco District, on his annual road trip in Durham, N.C., June 2, 2012.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

HELLLLLLLP! I’m a victim of my own excesses. Andrew Hinderaker–our ace young photographer–and I have been going all day. We’ve done 4 different town meetings. It used to be that Katy Steinmetz would overschedule me, but she learned I’m an old guy–and now I’ve started overscheduling myself. So it’s 10:23 as I start to write this–and I haven’t begun to assimilate all that I’ve learned today. But let me give you a quick taste–a visit with the most interesting guy I met all day (and the competition was stiff).

Jim Goodmon is a broadcasting executive, and a developer in Durham. And a recovering Republican. I wouldn’t call him a liberal, and he won’t call himself a Democrat, but he was a pretty classic business Republican…until the last 10 years, when he began to develop the old tobacco factories in downtown Durham where Bull Durham tobacco and Lucky Strike cigarettes used to be made. He has renovated 1 million square feet of classic brick factory buildings, and some pretty impressive (and fun) tenants have moved in. In the basement–Durham Underground, it’s called–there’s a high-tech business incubator (or accelerator, which seems to be the emerging term of art) with all sorts of exciting start-ups. There’s also a major advertising agency, restaurants, a Duke University facility and the offices of Capitol Broadcasting, which Goodmon’s family owns. There’s a jauntiness and an optimism to the place, very much at variance with the despair I often encounter on the road. It’s your classic public-private partnership. It couldn’t have been done without government cooperation. “You hear Republicans saying, government is the problem. That’s why I left the party, or the party left me,” Jim says. “We had a vision for these old buildings. The city shared our vision. And it’s because of the city’s diversity that people who have vision are welcomed here.”

Diversity is something of a no-no code word among many Republicans these days, especially down south. “You’ve got a bunch of old white guys who took over the state legislature in 2010 and they ain’t giving up,” Goodmon went on. “They went ahead with the Amendment One referendum [which successfully banned gay marriage]. They just passed a law allowing people to carry guns into church. That’s just crazy. Old white guys like me, we’re going to be in the minority soon. This is their last gasp, but they don’t know it.”

Old white guys like Jim Goodmon, who lets it rip no matter the consequences, have never been and will never be in the majority. He’s too brutally candid. He goes on about the state legislature: “When they took over after 2010, their slogan was the adults were back in charge. Adults! I’d argue that virtually everything they’re in favor of will hinder our state’s economic growth in the future. I mean, if you’re not into diversity, you might as well pack it in. My business can’t be successful unless this whole community is successful. It is amazing that some people simply don’t understand that.”

Jim showed me around and then we had lunch, with a bunch of his tenants, in the sports bar that sits in the outfield of the Durham Bulls’ new ballpark. These were all young businessmen. Most of them pretty successful. They talked about opening up offices overseas, especially in Europe, which was much harder than opening up businesses in North Carolina. “People talk about the difficulty of doing business in this country–the hoops you have to jump through,” said Chaz Felix who runs a company that provides services for social networking sights. “They should try to open a office in London. When I hear Republicans talking about government regulation, they’re talking about something that doesn’t affect me at all.”

This is interesting. I’ve talked to small bankers who are up a tree over the regulations included in the Dodd-Frank bill. I’ve talked to farmers who are tearing their hair out over EPA regulations. But the high-tech people seem to exist on another planet, a decidedly blue one. “The Republicans keep bringing up issues that shouldn’t be issues in this state. We should be talking about building the economy, creating jobs, not gay marriage,” said Adam Covati, originally from Massachusetts, who runs a small high-tech company. “When that Amendment One passed, it really made me wonder about my company’s future in North Carolina.”

We talked a bit about how isolated they were from those who supported the Amendment. North Carolina is a state that is very blue in some places, like the Research Triangle, and crimson red in others. A constant theme all day today, from Democrats and Republicans alike, had to do with a political segregation that seems as daunting and intense as racial segregation used to be. “This is the south. People want to be polite. So we don’t talk about these things in mixed company,” a Republican investment banker told me. But people, on both sides of these social issues, are seething. During the course of the day, I found myself asking them questions like: “Are there any policy positions where you think the other party has a better idea than your party does?” And, “What can be done to get people who have vastly different political views into the same room and finding some common ground?”

My interlocutors were flummoxed by these questions at first, but then began to have some interesting thoughts–which I”ll not divulge now because it is 11:02 pm and I’ve got brunch in Roanoke, Virginia, tomorrow morning.

But it’s always fun to meet outspoken people like Jim Goodmon. We sat talking in the shadow of a smokestack that said “Lucky Strike.” And he said, “You know, at a certain point Bull Durham Tobacco got into advertising and they’d put up big signs of the Durham Bull all over the place, but especially in the outfields of baseball stadiums…and that’s where they’d send the pitchers to warm up, underneath the sign of the bull, which is how they came to be known as bullpens.”

That may or may not be true–informed readers and fact-checkers can chime in here (Katy?) But Jim Goodmon had me sold.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, bullpen dates back to at least 1809, in reference to a pen or enclosure made for bulls. This likely predates any reference to American tobacco and seems a reasonable source for the meaning we use while enjoying America’s favorite pastime. – Katy