Why live in Charlotte?

Here’s how to embrace your new home

AMY BALDWIN

What’s a Charlottean?

In a region with tens of thousands of newcomers a year, if you’re a transplant, the answer is you.

My job is to write about newcomers – what brought them here, why they chose Charlotte, how they’re adjusting, what they like and don’t like – and answer their questions about living here. I do that in my Living Here columns in the Observer and New Around Town blog on www.charlotteobserver.com/livinghere.

My loose definition of a newcomer is someone who moved here in the last two years. But as a relative newcomer wrapping up my fifth year in Charlotte, I know it takes a while to feel at home. As much as I hear from new residents, I also hear from natives or those who have been here for decades, and I appreciate their perspective on how much Charlotte has changed.

No matter when you settled in the Charlotte region, if you have a question or comment or story to share, I want to hear it. Please be in touch.

Throughout this magazine you’ll find suggestions for getting to know the area, making friends, networking and picking a doctor or school.

So, want to be a Charlottean or at least pass for one? Here are five tips for making that happen.

1. Experience uptown. Try taking a walk around uptown at the beginning of the workday or during lunch and ask yourself if you have ever been in a mid-sized city with so many professionals bustling about the center city. But you’ll see more than just people earning a living uptown. You’ll see people living there too – runners out pounding the pavement, dog owners walking their pooches and couples pushing baby strollers.

Wonder what the four statues at Trade and Tryon represent? Call the Charlotte Chamber for a tour. Local history enthusiast and volunteer tour guide Russ Ford gives free two-hour walking tours on Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Registration is not required, but big groups should call ahead to arrange a special tour time. 704-331-2753, 704-847-3302.

2. Learn some local history. Don’t let the phrase “New South” or all the construction crews and cranes make you think there isn’t any.

Mecklenburg declared its independence from Britain a year before the colonies did – though some folks here dispute this. And Charlotte had a gold rush that preceded the more famous one in California.

Best bet for where to get schooled in local history: Levine Museum of the New South (www.museumofthenewsouth.org, 200 E. Seventh St.).

The permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South” covers 8,000 square feet and takes visitors through the Charlotte area from the post-Civil war era to now. It’s an interactive tour. Visitors can step inside a one-room tenant farmer’s house and run their hands through a pile of seed cotton. They can sit in a pew from Good Samaritans Hospital Chapel, one of the first African-American hospitals in the South, or at a lunch counter and listen to personal accounts from the Piedmont’s civil rights era sit-in leaders.

3. Go to a NASCAR race. Again, set aside any preconceived notions (you know what they are – just a bunch of guys turning left, huh?) and just do it. Racing was born in North Carolina. Living here and not seeing a NASCAR race would be like living in Kentucky and never seeing a thoroughbred horse race.

You might be surprised and – gasp! – like it. At the very least, you’ll appreciate experiencing the sound of 43 cars revving their engines at the same time and the excitement of the crowd when a favored driver takes the lead. Besides, what other sport allows you to bring in your own food and drinks?

For more on racing, go to www.lowesmotorspeedway.com or check out racing writer David Poole’s story on page 141.

4. Go on a barbecue tour. There are three styles of barbecue in the Carolinas but one thing stays the same: it’s always pork. Eastern style has a vinegar-based sauce and is slow-cooked from the whole pig. Lexington style is known for a redder (that’s usually ketchup) vinegar sauce, and the pork typically comes from the shoulder. South Carolina style is known for golden-colored mustard-based sauce.

If nothing else, remember barbecue is a noun, not a verb. Cooking food on the grill does not equal barbecue.

Some places to start your barbecue tour: Bill Spoon’s (Eastern style) on South Boulevard in Charlotte, Lexington No. 1 in Lexington and Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby (Lexington style), and Sweatman’s in Holly Hill, S.C. (mustard style). Holly Hill is a three-hour trek. Lexington and Shelby are each about an hour away.

Attention foodies: Want more? Read food editor Kathleen Purvis’ stories on top local food experiences on page 30 and how to cook like a Southerner on page 134. Also check out her column Wednesday’s in the Observer’s food section and her online Q&A at www.charlotteobserver.com/food.

5. Get outside. One of the best things about living in Charlotte is the relatively mild weather, though summers are hot and humid. You can golf, play tennis, run and ride your bike year round. Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties have an array of parks and greenways. In the summer, take the kids to cool down at one of five spraygrounds in Mecklenburg.

For more info on Mecklenburg’s public parks, greenways and spraygrounds: www.parkandrec.com.

Do all these things and give it a year or two and you might just start feeling like a Charlottean. Have fun exploring. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Got a question or comment about Living Here? Amy Baldwin writes about newcomers. Reach her at 704-358-5179 or abaldwin@charlotteobserver.com.

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