Southern Cities

Home to the 2012 Democratic National  Convention,  Charlotte, NC isn’t New York City, one of my artist friends reminded me the other day. We’re not Los Angeles or San Francisco, not London and we are certainly not Paris.

One extremely popular parlor game around these parts, enjoyed particularly by those from the above-referenced burghs or those even further afield, is the blood-sport of city relative comparison. The dissection of what exactly the Queen City is – or more fashionably, what it is NOT – seems to fuel endless discussion amongst those smarter, hipper and infinitely-more-urbane-than-us lowlies here in “Banktown.”

Sorry, I’ll sit this round out.

I’m not from here, as anyone who knows me will tell you. My hometown is actually quite hip and has a lot going for it. OK, so Minneapolis in February is definitely NOT the place to be, but it IS a very boffo place – and it definitely IS NOT Charlotte. Try finding a “winter-carnival” off Tryon in January and you’ll know what I mean.

Still, comparisons between the two do each a disservice. I love the Twin Cities and always will. They have a great park system, fine schools, a burgeoning artisan bakery scene and during the fall, the colors offer a vibrant palatte that rival Monet . It is a great city – all on its own. I don’t have to compare it to anywhere else to appreciate what it offers the tourists or residents. I used to be one, now I am the other.

New York City is one of the most energizing, stimulating culture-filled villes on the planet and my wife and I try like hell to get our NYC fix at least once per year. Miami has the beach and great salsa dancing, a club scene second to none and stone crab to die for. Los Angeles was home for us for 10 years, we have great friends there and often miss living on the hub of the Asia-Pacific rim.

But now I live in here in Charlotte, and you know what? I’m really glad I do. Because for all the things it doesn’t have, all the things it is lacking and all the things that can’t be found in it, there are boatloads of things that make the city unique and – I’ll say it while some snicker – desirable.

When my wife calls me from work at 4:30 p.m. and says she’s leaving for home, I hear the garage door open exactly 17 minutes later. When we lived in L.A., that same ritual would mean at least an hour between those two occurrences and the mileage was almost identical.

Charlotte is the ability to get to Uptown from SouthPark in 20 minutes and find a place to park for dinner and a show at the Blumenthal (not to mention a $5.00 parking prepay for every show). Charlotte is some 50 premium golf courses within an hour radius that I can play during the week for less than 50 bucks. Oh – and I can finish my round in less than six hours and even get a tee time the same day I call.

Charlotte is the farmer’s market loaded with South Carolina peaches and blueberries from the nearby mountains. It’s the McColl Center for Visual Art, where some of the most creative emerging and talented artists in the country are dying to come and show their chops. It’s the Panthers, the Bobcats and the Knights – struggling sports teams all, but teams with character, identity and accessibility for fans whose “main teams” may be in another state. Those fans are glad to cheer on their new-home-town teams.

No, Charlotte isn’t Chicago, and you can’t get great deep dish pizza anywhere close, but you can get some fine ‘cue at Midwood Smokehouse and some pretty fair thin crust at Luisa’s Brick Oven in Madison Park.

Broadway in Charlotte is the touring variety, but for anyone who saw Avenue Q at the Knight earlier this year, I challenge them to find a better performance. We don’t have the Guggenheim, MOMA, LACMA or the High Museum, but check out the Mint, the Bechtler, the Gantt or the Levine Museum of the New South. You might catch something at these institutions that is on its way to or from one of the biggies, or even more likely, is special and unique to the QC.

Charlotte is the PPL, Not Made In China, and Cheerwine.

Charlotte is where I live.  Home for me, is where my hat is.

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A similar version of this essay originally ran at Charlotte Viewpoint.. Photo by Willamor Media via Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.