Having just moved to the Triangle from rural northeast North Carolina, I didn’t know if a community could get much quirkier than the small-town weirdness of Elizabeth City, NC. Just to be clear, I mean “weirdness” in the best way possible, those “only in my town” things that make a community unique and serve as urban (or rural) legends among its residents. I work in the arts after all, and typically artsy and quirky go hand-in-hand; that “weirdness” is in fact what makes creative types stand out from the rest of us. Elizabeth City was incredibly rich in the arts and also incredible quirky. Moving to the BIG CITY, I figured, would eliminate that small town strangeness, and with it, possibly some uniqueness.
Then I met Alicia Stemper.
I met Alicia during the incredibly cool Handmade Parade in Hillsborough (case in point that quirkiness is alive and well in the region) where we both were part of the Visitor’s Center “Everyone Welcome” 1960’s VW bus float. Being new to the area, I didn’t know much about my fellow marchers or the artist that painted our awesome float. However, later that day I was tagged in a Facebook post discussing Michael Brown, the brilliant muralist who designed our float and is credited with many of the region’s murals, especially those in Chapel Hill. The short bio and featured photos were on a page called Vitamin O.
After reading through posts on the Vitamin O Facebook page, I realized I needed to meet the person behind this collection of stories and photos highlighting the people of Orange County. I was thrilled to learn the author and photographer was my fellow Handmade “Parader” Alicia, and asked for a meeting with her pronto. I learned that Vitamin O is what happens when a former social worker (deep fascination with people’s stories) with a gift for writing (English degree from UNC) turns pro-photographer (owns her own photo studio and has served as staff photographer for local media). As Vitamin O’s Facebook page states: “She loves the challenge of combining images and words into something greater than either vehicle could carry alone.” Match Alicia’s unusual skill set with a visionary tourism director (Laurie Paolicelli) who wanted a nontraditional way to showcase the personality of Orange County, and you have Vitamin O.
My meeting-turned-story time with Alicia completely changed my assumption of my new home, and put to bed any concerns that Orange County might lack weirdness. For two hours I sat mesmerized as Alicia shared story after story: a tree climber turned professional cat rescuer, an aerial ballet troupe for LGBTQ teens, and the resurgence of Polo (yes, the one with horses) here in Orange County. But not every story is one of the weird, the odd or quirky. They feature day-to-day folks working, living and playing in the OC, many who have whittled their own place in the history of the community. Each story is unique and sets a mood all of its own. The story of the “Crook” behind Crook’s Corner will be a somber thought I’ll have every time I pass by. The tale of a local community leader paying tribute to her slave descendants through a local theater production brought tears to my eyes.
Vitamin O has only been around a little over a year, but big plans are in the works to continue to offer the community their dose of local personality. You can follow the stories on the Facebook page and check out the photo exhibit currently on display at the Orange County campus of Durham Tech. I know I’m not alone when I say I hope Vitamin O continues for many years to come. For both newcomers like me and lifelong residents, Vitamin O is a regular dose of the character(s) that make this community wonderfully unique and, in my opinion, comfortably quirky.