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City: Eight Things I Know about Charlotte
What it's like to move to Charlotte from Asheville via Washington, D.C.
Like many Millennials in the Queen City, I’m a transplant.
I was born in Rocky Mount but I don’t claim it. I grew up in my hometown of Asheville, went to college in Boone, and worked across the state until I moved to Washington, D.C.
I love our capital. In spite of everything that’s wrong with our government, the neoclassical landscape is hard to resist. Even if you miss the bus, there’s another 10-15 minutes later. The food selection is amazing. A Tex-Mex/Korean fusion restaurant was one of my takeout standards.
So when I moved here to marry the editor of this publication I learned a lot of lessons quickly. Then the pandemic happened and we bundled up, and then I had a chance to learn some more.
So, for those who have just arrived, I’m happy to impart this wisdom:
Find your coffee place
I’ve been working from home since August of 2019. My schedule is flexible except for 3-4 video calls a day. When I need that daily pick-me-up, I can go get one.
Central Coffee has become my go-to. They aren’t pretentious, the people who work there make me laugh, and they have the best iced dirty chai I can find.
It’s hard to make friends but eventually you’ll figure out what works
Yes, I know we’ve been in a pandemic, but where do people go to meet others? I haven’t figured that out yet. I have posted up at coffee shops, taken watercolor classes from Skillpop, and I’ve taken my dog to various dog parks hoping to meet like-minded people. Nothing has clicked for me.
I know that alcohol-based hangs are big, but it’s not always for me. I have enjoyed having season tickets to Charlotte FC and tailgating with friends before matches, and one of the saving graces of my social life is a small group of girlfriends that get together to try new restaurants. As an Appalachian State graduate, I have been fortunate that more than a few of my college friends have ended up in the area and that we’ve been able to reconnect and laugh about our antics from a decade ago.
Once you start looking for art, you won’t stop finding it
From Charlotte institutions like the Mint Museum and the Bechtler (I’m a member of the latter), to new spaces like Goodyear Arts, to gallery walls in restaurants, bars and festivals, Charlotte has art! When you add in local theater, modern dance, 60-plus murals across the county, and a thriving live music scene, there isn’t a shortage of culture. It’s there to take in if you go find it.
Charlotte is NOT a BBQ city
Amendment to an earlier statement: I’ll claim my Rocky Mount heritage when it comes to barbecue. My family grew up on Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson, I always lived near places like 12 Bones in Asheville, and I’ve visited essentials like Red Bridges’ Barbecue Lodge and the Lexington Barbecue Festival.
Earlier this year, I visited the Skylight Inn in Ayden for the first time, and that was the best BBQ I’ve had this year. It’s a must-visit if you’re ever in Greenville, N.C.
I mention all of this to say, with strong Eastern North Carolina credentials, that Charlotte is not a barbecue city. When Michelle Obama infamously mentioned “Charlotte Barbecue” in the lead-up to the DNC in 2012, even the effortlessly cool First Lady was ridiculed. I’ve enjoyed some great plates in Charlotte, but none of them meet the standard that I grew up with.
If you have to satisfy a barbecue craving in Charlotte, try Sweet Lew’s in the Belmont neighborhood, and avoid Noble Smoke at all costs.
Find the restaurants where you can be a regular
I love cooking, but at least twice a week I need a break from making dinner or reheating leftovers. Every Friday we order nachos from Sabor and watch the next episode of whatever we’re watching together (right now it's the Great British Baking Show).
With a husband who likes to go on spontaneous road trips for Charlotte FC matches, or to see his family and friends across the country, I usually end up ordering takeout or taking myself on a solo date. I needed some go-tos that I knew would be good no matter who was working that night. Once I had five or six, I knew I would be set for when I was home alone, needed to work late, or I just wanted to take myself on a solo-date because my husband was editing this newsletter.
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Charlotte has a low bar for being considered a progressive city
Compared to Asheville and DC, Charlotte is by no means a progressive city. Perhaps it’s the banking and commerce background, or the presence of many historically conservative faith homes. Maybe it’s because the city lives in fear of a vindictive General Assembly, or because Charlotte is the headquarters of Duke Energy.
However, you can’t just blame the General Assembly. Many city Democrats have come out as opponents of affordable housing, including the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance. Multiple County Commissioners voted to defund Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools during a pandemic, even as decisions in the Leandro case continue to make the case that schools are underfunded. Keep all of that in mind when you vote on Tuesday.
When it comes to leadership on environmental and social justice, look no further than Asheville. From the beer scene to local government, sustainability is a big part of the culture. One of my proudest professional moments was working with local activists to close a coal-fired power plant south of my childhood home. The city has also passed a reparations package.
When I lived in DC, legislation to get big money out of politics was passed. This small dollar donation empowerment program would match donations 5 to 1 with public money and wouldn’t allow donations from Political Action Committees (PACs). DC also passed the strongest climate plan of any state government. Due to the North Carolina General Assembly, that’s probably not possible in Charlotte.
New acronyms for neighborhoods aren’t cool
WTF is LoSo? The alphabet names are a trend that’s fun to make fun of, but they hide a real harm: erasing the history of the historic neighborhoods they overlay. Charlotte has a lot of diversity and culture in its neighborhood fabric, and while building enough housing stock for our growing population is an unavoidable necessity, we don’t have to destroy the history.
On the other hand, there could be fewer things named after Sharon.
Your mileage may vary
Everyone has a different Charlotte experience - it’s impossible not to in a diverse city of almost a million people. I’d love to know what yours is like: please comment below!