Off to Charlotte this morning, as Mom and Dad dropped me off with my friend Duncan. Mom and Dad like Duncan, and I sometimes think they’re as happy to see him as I am.
After a little time in Charlotte, where I lived through 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989, eating great food, hanging around in Duncan’s great (and cheap by SF standards) house, and hitting a few bars which were less objectionable than I remembered, I thought briefly that living here again might not be so bad. Fortunately, I remembered some of the reasons I left, however, and came back to my senses.
Charlotte is perhaps the symbol of the “new south”: rapidly urbanizing and becoming more cosmopolitan and diverse. However, the Republican banker mentality is just as strong, as is the oppressive religious sentiment. The current gag in SF surrounds the ubiquitous “WWJD” (“What would Jesus do?”) stickers and buttons around the new Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte. I’m not sure how much of this is true and how much is sour grapes from a city pissed off about losing one of its major institutions, but I did catch a “WWJD” bumper sticker or two.
The original plan called for a side trip to Atlanta, but an ice storm made this unwise, so we sample Charlotte nightlife, ate some really great food, and watched “Rock and Roll Jeopardy”. and I installed an revamped web site at one of the TV stations I work for, thus makig the whole trip deductible. All in all, not a bad trip.
Ice, ice, baby. Ice all day. We didn’t get out much. We definitely didn’t risk Atlanta. I actually got to watch the TV stations I do web sites for. Big breakfast at home. Big dinner at Gus’ Sir Beef (the name doesn’t really fit). We braved the rapidly thawing ice to hit the nightlife again a little after 11.
The Charlotte bars seem a lot more pleasant than I remember them, although it could be the “change of scenery” factor. Oleen’s was as odd as ever. Chaser’s was a tad creepy, with a really small crowd, really flooded bathrooms, and a bartender who resembled a prepubescent junkie. Guess it’s feeling the competition from the new bar across the street. The Masquerade features strippers too and is without flooded bathrooms.
Had a great time at the always “hit or miss” Brass Rail, drinking cheap, playing “Shiny Shiny” on the jukebox, and getting cruised by a couple (only one of whom I was interested in). Then there was this strange game of “surrogate strip pool” in the back. As I have respect for the Brass Rail’s liquor license, I’ll skip the details.
All in all, though, it’s annoying as hell bar-hopping in Charlotte. That southern queer bar tradition of “always a cover” can easily result in spending more at the door than at the actual bar.
Late night food at Athens. I love Athens. I loved it even more when I only lived a block away.
Charlotte has definitely grown. We saw a good bit of it today after a most incredible gumbo at the Bayou Kitchen. There’s construction everywhere and a new freeway has completely obliterated one of my favorite old strips (as well as one of my former homes). A second 70-story phallic symbol is about to be built downtown, the next round in the Bank of America vs. First Union “mine’s bigger than yours” competition. Walgreen’s is back in town after about a 50-year absence.
We drove by my old apartments and my old store. The apartments look pretty much the same, but my old surf/skate shop is now somebody’s middle-eastern market. The massive mall across the street is on the skids; Charlotte has finally hit that point where its postwar suburbs are becoming its inner city.
Took the train back to Greensboro. Travelling by rail absolutely rules. If I could manage never to fly again, I’d be truly happy.
Why is the Winston-Salem paper so very much better than the Greensboro paper, even though Greensboro’s the bigger city? I guess it’s sort of like San Jose’s paper being so much better than either of San Francisco’s, even though SF is the “dominant” city.
I visited some friends at Greensboro’s brand new Kinko’s today. I saw Anne and Jeana and Tim, all of whom I knew from my years working at the old Greensboro store. And I saw Maggie, who I know from San Francisco (long story there…) Greensboro’s now a “two ways to office” town. Imagine.
Tonight, I hit “Big Band Night” at a local club with Mom and Dad. I was a little apprehensive about this, but it turned out to be fairly interesting. Apparently, it happens the first Monday of every month. There’s an orchestra and food. The crowd was pretty much 60-plus, but they were a pretty lively bunch. It was most definitely not a depressing “old folks night”.
Of course, most people who know me well are aware that, despite my rock and roll exterior, I have a certain affinity for this music, and I didn’t hear a single song I didn’t recognize. It was sort of nice, too, talking with people outside my normal age bracket, and watching my aunt and her new beau take to the floor. Mom and Dad were out there a few times too.
I was impressed with one couple in particular. The wife had emphysema and carried a rolling oxygen cannister. I imagine that even walking does not come easy to this lady, but she loves to dance, and two or three times, she rolled that tank right out on the floor and did all she could. You have to admire that.
Stopped by the Border’s on High Point Road on the way home. It’s kinda cruisy there late in the evening…
This afternoon, I watched a lot of TV with the folks. We were waiting for Steve Jobs to spill the beans about the new iMacs, since my mom was planning to buy one. We must have looked like an odd neo-techno version of the Waltons, huddled around the radio waiting for FDR to give a Fireside Chat. Or at least it seemed that way to me at the time.
After the announcement, I took pictures of abandoned motels. Why should this be any different from any other road trip, after all?
Lunch today with Mom at Libby Hill. ‘Twas a nice thing eating the real southern version of fried fish. It’s one of the things I miss most. We hit the branch on Summitt Avenue, which used to be a Hot Shoppes drive-in (the chain from DC which evolved into Marriott Corporation).
Tonight, I did the nightlife thing with Jeff again. We met at Babylon, fled the perky Swing Night crowd as quickly as we could, and headed for College Hill Sundries and New York Pizza, two of my old UNCG hangouts. Then it was off to the Palms, where Jeff was working, and the ever-wondrous Marilyn Rivers was on stage.
Every time I come home, I get progressively more and more nostalgic. In my warm and comfy bed, with all that free Mom and Dad food, I start thinking “Greensboro is not such a bad place”. Eventually, I have a revelation and come back to my senses. This revelation usually happens at the Palms. Tonight was that night. All of a sudden the “I gotta get the hell out of here” light started flashing. I fled.
Another day and half and I’d flee town altogether.
I stayed an extra day because the flights were tight and because there were one or two more relatives to visit. Instead of the relatives, though, we took the back road to Winston-Salem (NC’s own Route 66) to see some urban decay and a mall.
Mall first. We shopped. We looked around. I watched more scary redneck kids. Security stopped me (with Mom and Dad) and told me I was not allowed to videotape in the mall. I told the rent-a-cop that was fine because I was through anyway. She didn’t look pleased. I didn’t look like I cared. We left. See the “concept shots” which so threatened the sanctity of the mall above.
Then we headed downtown to the factory district. This was the area where R.J. Reynolds used to make Winstons and Salems and Camels, until they moved to a new plant on the edge of town. The area is threatening to develop into a high-tech office and loft condo area, but a major fire a few months ago delayed some of the plans.
Parts of this area resemble Detroit. Lots of abandoned and boarded-up buildings are surrounded by large open areas, the result of unsuccessful urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s. If I lived in Winston-Salem, this would be my neighborhood.
Winston-Salem is kind of an interesting place. As one might guess, it was formed when the towns of Winston and Salem merged. Until the 1920s, it was North Carolina’s largest city, and it still retains an older and more urban feel than Greensboro, even though Greensboro is now a much larger city.
Had the traditional late night “last night at home” talk with Dad last night. I miss having my parents nearby. The older I get, the more I find that I really like them (not that I doubted it before). I think it’s time to move back to someplace which is at least a little closer to home. Not Greensboro, probably not even North Carolina, but maybe Richmond or Atlanta, or Baltimore, or Philadelphia. Who knows? This brings up the same old “what am I going to do with my life” anxiety which I’m not in the mood to deal with right now.
Everything just seems so much saner away from San Francisco. The stress level is so much lower. People live in actual houses, with big rooms and porches and heat that works. No one feels trapped at home by the fact that leaving the house means giving up your parking space. Gas is cheaper. Cigarettes are cheaper. Food is cheaper (and better). Rent is cheaper. Everything is cheaper.
I’m sitting in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. I spent an hour checking in and almost had a heart attack running to the gate with five minutes to spare, only to find my flight delayed 90 minutes. Now they’ve added another half hour on top of that.
I just spent $3.00 and ended up with five sticks of gum, a newspaper, and a cheap Bic pen. Then I shelled out $2.50 for a Coke at the bar so could smoke. I hate airports. I hate flying.
I’m going home to San Francisco. For a while, anyway…
Back in San Francisco. Woopty-do. Less than a day back in town and I’m already smoking more and eating junk food again.
I may never again travel over the Christmas holidays. I really shouldn’t complain. I didn’t get stranded under eighteen inches of snow in Chicago like so many people did. I didn’t get stuck in Las Vegas without benefit of a hotel room like my roomie almost did. I didn’t have to rent a car and drive from Memphis like another friend did.
Actually, I had a great time at home in the land of Mom, Dad, and assorted friends and relatives. Details and some really bitchin’ pictures coming soon.
But I hate traveling at Christmas all the same. There were lines. There were delayed flights. There was ice. There were 13 degree nights. And I didn’t find myself in a single redeneck love nest.
Thanks to everyone who sent Christmas cards, email, etc. while I was gone. And thanks in advance to everyone who will continue to wait patiently while I catch up on answering said email. Give me a couple of days.
Between all the leftover work I avoided over Christmas and all and the fact that I’ve been sleeping off a really nasty bug all day, I am neither caught up on the website nor the email. I have, at least, managed to upload the first part of the North Carolina trip.
Other things I could be writing about but I’m not (just yet) might include whining about whatever this bug is that I’ve managed to pick up. I could discuss how pissed I am that I can’t get ADSL, even here in San Francisco’s most “wired” neighborhood.
I could include the fact that I got email from Strange de Jim (of Herb Caen fame). I could write about how I’m really starting to get serious about leaving San Francisco. I could tell the story of the disturbing graffiti which appeared on my front door this weekend.
I could even talk about that Leif Garrett documentary from Sunday night.
But I’m not going to get into any of this right now. I’m going back to bed.