Getting 20/20 with Charlotte

On January 23, 1996 I packed up my Honda Civic with two suitcases full of all my worldly possessions and drove from Millburn, New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina. I was 21 years old, six weeks out of college and moving into a new apartment in South Charlotte. Thanks to getting the flu within 3 days of my arrival, I quickly learned that (back then) South Boulevard was full of body shops, strip clubs and, lucky for me, an urgent care. To make the move even more complicated, a mattress was not yet part of my “worldly possessions” so I nursed myself to health from the comfort of my bedroom floor while I waited a week for the mattress company to show up with a bed. It is fair to say my first few days in Charlotte were not very fun and I was beginning to think an even five years of college may have been a better route. But within two weeks, I was back to solid foods, donning an oversized suit from Talbots and heading in for my first day as an Analyst with Andersen Consulting (Accenture). I was, more or less, ready to start adulting in my new beloved city.

It is 2017 and while many things in my life have changed in twenty years, Charlotte is still my home. I pride myself on being a go-to resource for local and out of town friends who want to know where to live, eat, exercise, volunteer, work and shop. My son asked me recently if I could live anywhere in the world where would it be and I responded, “Charlotte. If I wanted to live somewhere else, I would.” While Charlotte’s got a lot and I have seen and done a lot, I also know there is far more to this community that I have yet to explore. I often end up visiting the same restaurants, attending the same sporting events or hanging out at the same breweries (the last of which was not really an option in 1997). So, to have some fun and renew my rolodex of “favorite places and things” about Charlotte, I am going to spend the next year checking out 20 new places, restaurants, events and/or things. It does not take much for me to think an occasion is worthy of a celebration so making the decision to celebrate 20 years in Charlotte with a year full of new experiences was simple- hopefully carrying out the plan will be as much fun as coming up with the plan. Anyway, I hope you all stay tuned as I visit and write about these 20 new (to me) places.

1 out of 20: Abari

I have lived 18 of my 20 Charlotte years in the same exact zip code. I love my neighborhood for a multitude of reasons- tree lined streets, convenience to the airport, ability to walk to restaurants on the yearly snow day when driving is only left to those who have life or death jobs, etc. However, one thing I really love, is that on every street I have lived on in 28209, I have made wonderful and really fun friends. The type of friends who send a group text on a Saturday morning and say, “Thinking of taking the kids to Abari this afternoon. It’s a retro arcade with vintage games and craft beer in NoDa. Anyone interested?”. From that text, my first 20/20 Charlotte idea was born.

I walk into Abari with my husband, Andy, and our children (Alex and Millie) and we are immediately met by a nice guy sitting at a table who asks us to sign up for a membership. I admit it feels kind of weird signing up for the token “$1 membership” when you are no longer in your 20s and attending a random club after midnight on a Saturday. I oblige and do a quick scan to make sure the place really is kid friendly and upon 1) seeing other kids and 2) seeing Frogger, I decide this practically meets the criteria for a 1980s daycare. We break a $20 in the change machine, hand the kids some quarters and I make a beeline for Frogger. While video games get played in my home often, I am never the one at the joystick (pretty sure they don’t even call it that anymore) and I am a bit surprised at how excited I am to jump at the chance to play this game. My enthusiasm starts to wane as I realize I am, well, not very good at Frogger. Apparently, all my skills from my youth have considerably weakened and even my sense for which flying objects are “safe” and which will result in immediate death has vanished. I walk away from Frogger, chat with our friends, check on the kids and then make my way to Donkey Kong. My last encounter with DK was during middle school when I mastered the game on the family Nintendo 64. Surely my muscle memory will come right back. Well, it did not. I could not get passed the first level. Worse, everyone else seems to be sailing through the game and actually saving the princess. It is around this time it starts to dawn on me that I may be better off socializing and enjoying the nice selection of beers Abari sells on tap. Of course, I did stop for a minute to reflect on how annoying it was that there was a game where a princess needed to be saved. Anyway, back to Abari. An amazing element to Abari is the art above the bar and the crowd. I think it is fair to say Abari is a true cross section of humanity. We saw a woman in a tiara celebrating her 40th birthday party, a man with beautiful dreadlocks, people with all sorts of cool piercings, hipsters, millennials wanting to look like hipsters and of course, families! We hung out with our friends a bit longer comparing childhood arcade stories and pretty soon it is close to 5:00- when Abari kicks out the kids- so we decide to leave.

Over at Joe’s Donuts (next door to Abari), we have a quick debrief. Alex, an avid fan of all things Madden, talked about playing Blitz 99 and his new found appreciation for pinball machines. Millie made a decision shortly after our arrival that she would forego playing games and just keep her quarters for a rainy day so her recap was fairly short. And Andy, channeling his inner-nerd, tried hard not to show his enthusiasm for setting more than one record during the 90 minutes we were at Abari. All in all, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday and while I am not going to dedicate my 40s to gaming (sorry kids), this was a perfect venue for the launch of “20/20 Charlotte”.