I just realized that our anniversary of living in Charlotte came and went on Saturday. One year! Part of me really cannot believe that it has only been a single year; there have been quite a few days it has felt like an eternity.
I’m so often asked, “How’s Charlotte treating you?” in e-mails from friends and family in Oregon. I always hesitate to answer honestly. Partially because I am tired of writing semi-negative responses and partially because I know The Husband worries about my happiness.
How to summarize this year?
The bottom line is I do not like Charlotte. This does not mean I loathe the city with every fiber of my being or living here causes irreversible mental anguish. It just means I do not like it, and that’s ok (apparently I’m invoking my inner Stuart Smalley).
I admit I have biases; I have lived in Portland, Oregon and Boston, Massachusetts. Two cities that are unique in their own right, but have similarities with Charlotte that I thought would prepare me for life here.
Charlotte was not planned well and lags far behind other cities of similar (and smaller) size in regards to public works (mass transit, sidewalks, mixed-use buildings and neighborhoods). Culturally, Charlotte enjoys boasting about its age and the historical role it played that helped shape America, but really has nothing to show for it due to what I can only assume is lack of interest.
Portland has a population of ~576,000 (two million if including the metro area) and Charlotte has a population of ~717,000 (1.7 million if including the metro area)*. Granted, Portland has one of the best planned and functioning public transit systems in the country, but I found the system in place in Charlotte horribly inadequate for the needs of this city. What’s worse is there seems to be a negative connotation with riding the bus or light rail here; city officials encounter much difficulty in securing funds to improve the system when the citizens scoff at getting on a bus.
During the winter, Charlotte encountered some nasty weather. CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) actually increased its coverage of the city and added extra bus routes to help people get into town. Sadly, this was only advertised on CATS’ website; the information was not relayed to the community on television or in the newspaper. Another missed opportunity to introduce the public to an alternative mode of transportation.
This is a gas/oil friendly (greedy?) part of the country and the fact that sidewalks do not exist in almost every neighborhood does not help; why walk when you can drive? I wrote to my City Councilman, Andy Dulin, questioning this oddity and expressed safety concerns: activities that would normally take place on a sidewalk (jogging, dog walking, pushing a baby stroller, small children riding their bicycles, etc) have been moved into the street and pedestrians must maneuver around parked cars. Mr. Dulin directed me towards a pedestrian-friendly city improvement project with laying sidewalks as a top priority. This made me happy, even after learning it takes three years to get a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood. On a single street. On one side.
Again, projects like this are met with vast, hostile opposition from the public, which baffles my mind. This blog post from Charlotte Observer op-ed contributor, Mary Newsom highlights just one small incident. I encourage you to read the comments that follow.
In most neighborhoods, strict zoning regulations also eliminate the ubiquitous shops; please direct yourself (and your car) to the nearest strip mall for a latte and a scone as outside of the small downtown area, Charlotte is one giant suburb.
Bean Town received Europeans in 1630. What would become the Queen City was settled in 1755. If you walked around Boston, you would know this. If you walked around Charlotte, you would think a million people just magically showed up in the last ten years due to the habit of demolishing anything over a decade old and rebuilding. Gives Charlotte a rather sterile appearance and subsequently, I believe, loses a lot of charm. The walking tour of downtown Charlotte can be completed in an hour and I do recommend taking this tour if you come to visit. However, anything else of historical value that you would like to see will require driving to another city or part of the State.
Am I really the grumpy miser who wrote all of this? I have felt so disconnected from this city and have honestly tried to immerse myself by volunteering, meeting people with big ideas about things that are important to me and learning whatever I can about what makes people so excited to be here. It just keeps falling short.
I am not unhappy nor would I ever tell anyone not to move or live here. It’s just not the place for me, but I am determined to make the best of it. Maybe writing this is just one large catharsis.
What haveI done since arriving in Charlotte? I challenged myself to come up with a list of 50 things I have observed, done or discovered, good or bad:
- Acquired a cat with questionable brain function.
- Swam in the Atlantic Ocean. Not exactly in Charlotte…but I was still in North Carolina.
- Met two fabulous couples; all transplants. Two individuals also keep blogs here and here.
- Bought a house.
- Consumed an awesome burrito.
- Participated in the killing of cockroaches.
- Planted a garden.
- Adopted an awesome dog from the Humane Society.
- Discovered what the hell was making that awful noise!
- Learned not to confuse “grill” with “barbecue”. Major faux pas!
- Drank sweet tea. Too sweet for my liking!
- Called an “Obama Fascist”.
- Went to a Polling Place to vote (Oregon handles all voting by mail).
- Learned to bake a damn good batch of biscuits.
- Pumped my own gas (an illegal activity in Oregon).
- Constantly over-tip at restaurants by looking at the total and not the pre-tax subtotal (no sales tax in Oregon).
- Had to confirm Oregon was part of the United States and not in Canada. Twice.
- Learned Tyvola Road becomes Fairview Road which becomes Sardis Road and then Rama Road and finally Idlewild Road without signs notifying people of these changes.
- Amazed by how many varieties of cornmeal and grits are offered at grocery stores.
- No longer take being called “ma’am” as an insult.
- Even the cleanest kitchens will attract cockroaches.
- “Bless your heart!” is code for “Go to Hell, Yankee!”
- Sourdough pancakes and French toast at the Original Pancake House make me smile. Founded in Portland!
- “Y’all” still drives me a little nuts.
- I do not like thunderstorms of the Southern variety.
- Line-drying laundry outdoors is possible almost year-round.
- Clay makes extremely poor gardening soil.
- Fried green tomatoes are delicious.
- Fried okra is not delicious.
- Always ask if the “vegetarian” items are made with lard, bacon grease or chicken broth.
- Tillamook Cheese and Widmer Brothers are sold a few grocery stores.
- Have been asked if I “helped elect that nigger President?”
- Pleased a Greenway is practically in my backyard.
- Would have lost my mind if it weren’t for air-conditioning.
- Collegiate athletics can be a way of life.
- Many dog owners seem to think cleaning-up after their pet is optional.
- A very nice man is responsible for this. And I met him.
- Regardless of where you live, the local news is a joke. An annoying, useless joke.
- Found a great salon, but I could not afford to keep going back.
- Went to a not so great Farmers’ Market.
- Went to a great Farmers’ Market.
- A non-smoking tavern! A rare find in these parts.
- Truck nuts en masse.
- This is a nice place to visit. So is this. As the only ones in Charlotte, they can become quite tiresome when visited too often.
- If one obtains enough mosquito bites, can one become immune to the itching?
- Very affordable college tuition.
- The sign on Randolph Road notifying everyone of the percentage of seat belt wearers has never changed. Last month: 81% This month: 88%
- Everyone in my neighborhood waves at each other.
- My City Councilman responds promptly to e-mails and gave me his mobile phone number. Mistake? You decide.
- High humidity makes for lazy felines.
*Numbers taken from the United States Census Bureau Metropolitan Statical Areas of 2008