Five things I saw when I was in back in Charlotte this weekend
1. My wife and I stayed at The Ballantyne Hotel this weekend. It was a work trip for me, because I’m writing a story about the resort for an upcoming issue of Our State Magazine. I also had to produce a live edition of the Carolina Panthers post-game show, which, because of Sunday Night Football, meant I wouldn’t be leaving the stadium until 1:30 in the morning. I needed a place to stay, so being able to crash at the Ballantyne and then get up the next morning and start my reporting was a win-win. I’m not usually that efficient, so the fact that I’d lined up something resembling a well thought-out plan made me feel like I could be, maybe, a powerful CEO, or maybe that CEO’s secretary.
When people in Charlotte find out I moved away, they ask “What’s Greensboro like?” in a way that implies that I’d somehow left the Garden of Eden to set up a colony on the moon.
This was the first time I’ve stayed the night in Charlotte as a visitor. I lived there for almost ten years before I moved to Greensboro in April. When I left the stadium and drove south down Interstate 77, my muscle memory almost veered the car off the Tyvola Road exit, but then I remembered, I don’t live here anymore. Every time I come back, just enough has changed to make me feel like Charlotte is this big freight train that’s now lumbering forward without me. The TV station where I worked has a totally new evening anchor team. There are apartments rising up as fast as the buildings in one of my son’s pop-up books. There’s a mayor’s race on, and I’m merely aware of it instead of knowing every exact detail. Also, when people in Charlotte find out I moved away, they ask “What’s Greensboro like?” in a way that implies that I’d somehow left the Garden of Eden to set up a colony on the moon. My standard answer: It’s great! I mean that! They have good restaurants and craft beer, but just not quite with the same variety or quantity as you’d find in Charlotte. The traffic’s much better. It’s good for kids. But at this point, I know it’s just going to get tougher to make the comparison, because I’m going to lose touch with Charlotte. It’s harder to connect when you start your day in a hotel room.
2. I asked Bob Costas for a picture, and he told me to make it snappy. This was about 4 p.m. Sunday, and Costas implied that I’d better not be pecking around with my smartphone to find the perfect Instagram filter or whatever, because the whole bus was waiting on him. This was true; We walked past a black van containing Hines Ward, Michele Tafoya, and Cris Collinsworth that was idling out front, and Costas had to wrap something up at the front desk before he could go to the stadium to host the pre- and post-game shows on NBC that night. You might think that Costas was a bit cold in this moment, and it’d be easy to reach into the grab bag of things people say when their one encounter with a celebrity isn’t a sparkling, gracious affair. He was rude! He didn’t want to talk with me! He’s a jerk! He signed up for this when he decided to work in television! He couldn’t spare one tiny moment for a picture? The hell! I tend to give celebrities the benefit of the doubt, because nobody can be warm and friendly for every single moment of their lives, especially when they’re late and some schlub asks for a picture. I shoved my iPhone at the clerk, who got two pictures off before Costas said “Thanks guys” and ran out the front door. He really was nice enough about the whole thing, and Kelsey and I picked out an Instagram filter on our own time.
3. I don’t know why people go to, say, the a Cowboys-Ravens game and wear a Brett Favre jersey or whatever, but they do. Football’s football, I guess, and if you want to pick up some sort of hipster cred by wearing the jersey of a guy you are guaranteed not to see that night, then so be it. But here’s a pro tip: If you’re trying to navigate the heavy crowd on South Mint Street a half-hour before the Panthers-Eagles game starts, follow the drunk girl in a Rob Gronkowski jersey who’s pulling a rolling cooler, because she knows how to run downhill. SHE STOPS FOR NO MAN.
If you’re trying to navigate the heavy crowd on South Mint Street a half-hour before the Panthers-Eagles game starts, follow the drunk girl in a Rob Gronkowski jersey who’s pulling a rolling cooler, because she knows how to run downhill.
4. I was trying to hotfoot it to the press box at the stadium in time for kickoff, and Governor Pat McCrory was walking ahead of me under the stands, flanked by two beefy plainclothes security guys. I was walking as fast as I could without running, and one of the bodyguards was clearly giving me some serious side-eye, because I was starting to catch up. My plan wasn’t to jump the governor or anything, but how was that guy to know? I wasn’t wearing a belt, so I fully expected to be thrown into a cinder block wall the second I reached down to hitch up my britches.
I finally caught up with Governor McCrory at an an elevator, and we started talking about television and the Panthers and whatnot. I’ll say this: If you’re going to meet Pat McCrory, this is exactly the situation you want to meet him in, because he was as loosey-goosey as I’ve seen him. It’s obvious why: He’s back in Charlotte, and he’s not here on business. He’ll talk to everyone who so much as glances at him. He’ll start at least one sentence with “Back when I was mayor here…” He isn’t spitting out opinions on policy, or bristling at a question. He was wearing a really busy button down shirt. He chatted up an old lady and the elevator attendant. He was Mayor Pat again, which was the Pat that everybody in Charlotte thought they were going to get when he became governor, before he inevitably had to turn into a Republican politician with talking points (“stepping on toes!”) and, you know, actual stands on things. This man could have been mayor for life. He could have been Charlotte’s Richard Daley, but, of course, going on to bigger roles requires that you change your game. You don’t use your high school playbook when start playing college ball, and so Mayor Pat had to become Governor Pat, and that leaves anyone who’s followed his career trying to figure out which one of those characters is actually closest to Real Pat. I’d guess Mayor Pat is, but I don’t know him well enough to actually know. We talked for a few more moments before we both got off the elevator, and he walked off to a suite and I hoofed it over to the press box, and I felt his bodyguard’s eyes staring daggers into my back as I pulled up my pants.
The implication was clear: Only an uncouth neanderthal lets old coffee mix with new coffee.
5. I was having coffee at the Gallery Restaurant with “Smoky” Bissell, who is one of those guys who created what we think of as modern Charlotte. He, along with Johnny Harris, carved Ballantyne out of what had been a heavily-wooded hunting preserve just a little more than 20 years ago. Bissell was warm and incredibly insightful. But when the waitress came back to top off our mugs, Bissell poured the little bit of cooled coffee he had left into a separate glass, and only then would waitress would fill it up. The implication was clear: Only an uncouth neanderthal lets old coffee mix with new coffee. Bissell is obviously a man who has an eye for quality, which you can see if you go, I don’t know, anywhere in Ballantyne. There are paintings lining the walls of the hotel, and they serve foie gras at the restaurant, and the golf course is perfectly manicured, and so it makes all the sense in the world that the developer responsible for this would not want anything outdated in his presence. The coffee thing? That is a baller move. I’m going to start doing that. It’s my first step toward becoming a CEO. Or, again, a CEO’s secretary.