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Like flies on, um, honey 

Smith draws a big happy crowd

How do you get hundreds of people to descend upon a bookstore on a weekday afternoon? Simple. Get a basketball coach to come sign autographs. Of course, Dean Smith isn't any basketball coach. He's the basketball coach, with 879 career victories, the most of any coach in NCAA basketball history.

And there he was at Park Road Books on Friday, signing copies of his book The Carolina Way. (There's no truth to the rumor that the book has tips on picking wine and cheese, milking Daddy's trust fund, or buying Polo shirts.) As you might imagine, all sorts of local media types were in attendance for the big event. There was John Kilgo, a Smith friend and radio and TV commentator. There was Mark Mathis from Fox News Edge, wearing a Dr. Dre-like plain white T-shirt and visor. There was a cameraman from WSOC. And, despite constant stares from both Smith and the policeman there to guard him, there was me.

The bookstore staff did a fine job of shuffling people up to and (quickly) away from Dean's table. The rules were: Dean would sign only the new book, and, due to time constraints, wouldn't sign any memorabilia or personalize anything. And don't even think of asking him for a loan. He would, however, pose for pictures, provided you told him to look up at the right time.

While waiting for Dean to arrive, a couple caught a glimpse of Mathis and walked over. The wife asked him for his autograph, and then brought her husband over so each could pose with the "weather personality." Mathis obliged, even personalizing the "graph for his excited fans (Take that, Deano!).

After the two left, Mathis picked up a copy of The Carolina Way, flipped through it from front to back and vice versa, and then set it back on the shelf before turning to his cameraman, somewhat puzzled. "It doesn't have any pictures in it."

The Comet Grill is located in a Dilworth-area strip mall, and they serve perhaps the best french fries in the city. At night, however, the place transforms itself like a chameleon, becoming something less like a sports bar and more like a roadhouse. On the night I went, David Childers and his band The Modern Don Juans were playing, and the place was stacked to the ceiling -- literally, in fact, thanks to the large balcony that hovers above and around the bar area. In fact, the place is often so tightly packed, you have to wait for the band to finish their song so you can squeeze in the front door. As I queued up at the front of the bar -- and thus, in front of the stage -- Childers, mid-song, joked that I was standing too close to the stage and stealing his face time. At this point, however, the band had been playing close to three hours. Ain't nobody's face worth seeing for that long.

The Charlotte Museum of History has an exhibit, "Soldier's Stories: War in the First Person," that's a must see. An interactive exhibit, "Soldier's Stories" shows us the human face of war through letters and correspondence from the Revolutionary War all the way up through Operation Iraqi Freedom. No matter your allegiances, it's an eye-opening experience. Whether handwritten, typed, v-mailed or e-mailed, war correspondence isn't something most folks normally get a chance to see unless they have a friend or loved one in the middle of it all.Through a deft mixing of letters, multimedia, and actual artifacts (check out the POW outfit from the infamous "Hanoi Hilton"), the exhibit strips away any preconceived notions you might have about the rigors of war and its effect on its human participants. The whole thing just works, often in new and surprising ways. ("The Ballad of the Green Berets," I noticed, sounds a wee bit more serious when you're reading a soldier's letter mailed from the jungles of Vietnam on a piece of scrap cardboard.)

At the end of the exhibit, visitors are given the opportunity to e-mail US soldiers in Iraq. In addition, there was a magnetic poetry board set up (the infamous "Patriotic Edition"). Most people left two- and three-word responses, along the lines of "Love not forgotten" or "I am history."

One patron, obviously moved by the horrors of war contained in the exhibit, took things a step further with his own State of the Union address: "I HOPE EVERYONE FIRES PRESIDENT FAST." (Learn more about the exhibit online at www.soldiersstories.org)

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