Charlotte: A Friendly Place

Think we talk funny? Well, bless your heart

Mark Washburn

MARK WASHBURN

You’ll love this if you moved here from Atlanta.

Or New York. Or Miami. Or Washington, D.C.

Or San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia or Boston (particularly Boston).

We have baaaaad traffic here.

Yep, that’s what we think. Welcome to Charlotte, bad-traffic city.

See, we’re an ambitious place and it’s part of the city’s personality to fret about how much we’ve grown. We want to think of ourselves as a big city. We just don’t want any big city problems.

Lots of people move here expecting to find a big hick town in bib overalls. Sometimes we oblige their expectation.

Drive down Interstate 77 and go hunting for the airport. Think we’ve got any signs saying “Airport”? Nah.

There are a couple symbols of planes bolted to overhead signs (they sort of look like a Girl Scout badge sash), but that’s about it. One reason our population is growing so fast is because people fly here to visit and can’t find their way back to the terminal. Your average real estate open house is better marked than Charlotte/Douglas International.

Manners are still in fashion here. You’re expected to nod or say hello to strangers you encounter on the street. Don’t take that habit with you when you go back to Boston or Miami. People will hand you money like you’re a beggar. If you try to chase them down to give it back, they’ll spray mace in your eyes.

People here still offer their seats to old people on a crowded bus, say thank you to the cop when handed a ticket and let you know slyly when your kids act up (“Little Johnny just said the oddest thing that he must have picked up from some child at school, though I can’t repeat it”).

Our uptown is a spiffy thing, thick with tall buildings slathered with glass. From afar, it looks like the Emerald City from across the poppy fields.

But architecture isn’t our strong point. Most cities have old buildings full of character from the age of their birth. Our city center is over-endowed by designs from the linear 1970s. New York’s great spires owe their appeal to the art-deco period. Our skyline is inspired by major appliance boxes.

Our two tallest buildings, however, do their work well. Bank of America’s headquarters is a stately thing, from its lobby murals to pleasing spire. Down the street, the Hearst Building intrigues with padded shoulders. It’s nice symmetry – they look like dance partners.

We’re not the genteel South of olden times, of course. It is possible sometimes to go all day without hearing a Southern accent, which appeals to some but not to me. It’s a rich dialect full of frills and ornaments and one of the attractions of living here.

One phrase you need to learn is “Bless his/her heart.” This is a good one. You can say anything about anyone as long as you cap it off with “Bless his/her heart.”

“He had so much fun at that party, he could barely stand, bless his heart.”

“She always finds the most alarming qualities in others, bless her heart.”

So welcome to our world, and all its oddities. They’ll grow on you, believe me. Before long, even you folks from Boston will be complaining about the traffic, bless your hearts.

Mark Washburn is a local columnist for the Observer. Reach him at 704-358-5007 or mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com.

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