Thursday, January 22, 2009

Update 2009

This is a long-overdue update post. When I last wrote, I was headed into the adventure of full-time editing for the Observer's Neighbors of Southern Mecklenburg. You may have heard that the Observer has undergone some budget-cutting in the past year, and now that section no longer exists. But, I'm happy to report that I was able to move into the Observer's magazine division last summer, and I've continued to enjoy my work there.

The Observer publishes six magazines, many of which have operated almost completely independently until recently. Now, their editorial divisions fall under the command of the Observer's newsroom. I first stepped in as the editor of University City Magazine and SouthPark Magazine - later, due to more personnel shuffling, I traded Ucity for Lake Norman Magazine. Both SouthPark and Lake Norman are community lifestyle magazines with devoted audiences, and both experiences are gratifying for me. I still have the same e-mail address:

While the Observer no longer promotes this blog, occasionally people still find it in cyberspace and post comments - and I do still see them, so please feel free to continue posting if the mood strikes you. If you have a newcomer-related question, your best bet is to write my successor Amy Baldwin, at I hope to launch an editor blog for SouthPark and/or Lake Norman, and I'll put another update here if I do! I also hope to get that Twitter thing figured out someday.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A goodbye - and an introduction

In recent weeks, I’ve been clearing out my files to pass along to Amy Baldwin, who has begun work this week as The Observer’s new guru of all things newcomer-related.

And it occurred to me that many of the people I met when I started the newcomer job in the summer of 2006 likely would not call themselves newcomers anymore. Maybe they arrived a year or two before that and were still flummoxed by our streets, our accents and our food.

But by now, I’m sure they can proudly educate their more recently transplanted neighbors on such matters as the differences between Blakeney and Birkdale, when to avoid the traffic jams on I-485 and where to find the best sushi – or barbecue.

A fact of life in Charlotte is that every year brings an influx of new people who must be welcomed and educated about our city’s peculiarities. I like to think I played a part in doing that over the past year and a half.

I particularly enjoyed how this blog took on a life of its own and you readers often peppered my message board with feisty comments, dozens at a time. It was great to have that dialogue with you.

I decided to keep that conversation going until Amy’s blog was up and running. (Click here to see it.) Now, it’s her turn to get you talking about the things that make this city unique and, at times, hard for the new folks to figure out.

I’m now an editor in the paper’s southern Mecklenburg bureau. I’ll miss meeting newcomers regularly, but I’ve wanted to be an editor for a long time. I’ll eagerly accept your tips on things our paper should be writing about in the areas of Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Ballantyne, Steele Creek and the Arboretum/Providence Road area – my new realm of responsibility.

This blog will continue to float in cyberspace and, from time to time, people might stumble across it and post a stray comment or two. But with the demands of my new job, I won’t have time to update it after this week.

So, I’ll pose one final question to those readers who are transplants, but no longer feel like newcomers. What’s the most important thing you’ve done to help you get adjusted to life in Charlotte? Was it meeting other newcomers, or befriending natives? Was it joining groups, or driving around to explore? Any advice you have for other newcomers is welcome – and might provide future story fodder for my successor.

Keep in touch!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Charlotte's economy pinched?

Is the economy pinching you?

As my colleague Mark Washburn pointed out in Wednesday’s paper, the effects of the economic slowdown making national headlines are finally being felt here.

Growing up in Charlotte, I’ve always taken pride in the fact that our economic growth has been so strong, we usually don’t feel slowdowns the way the rest of the country does.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that construction cranes are slowing down, gas prices are crimping commuters and people who list their houses for sale are having a harder time than usual.

I recently added a commute to my job with my switch from reporting to editing. Now I have to drive to our paper’s Matthews bureau office each day, instead of the five minutes from my Elizabeth home I used to drive to the main Observer building uptown. I’ve become increasingly conscious of conserving gas when possible – carpooling, combining errands, eating out somewhere I can walk to or staying in at night.

I used to enjoy taking a lunch hour at Target and leaving with unplanned purchases. No more.

And I figure it’s only a matter of time before we see more fallout among retailers and restaurants, especially the smaller mom-and-pops.

If you have any moneysaving tips to share, please post them on my colleague Celeste Smith’s new Deal of the Day blog.

Meantime, I’m interested in hearing how you’re feeling the economic slowdown. If you’re taking extra steps to pinch pennies, how has your life changed in recent months? How do you think things in Charlotte are changing? Let me know.

Monday, February 11, 2008

North vs. South - again

This morning, this blog earned me a guest appearance on the “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins” show on WFAE (90.7 FM). The topic: Northerners vs. Southerners.

The show was picking up on the tensions between newcomers and natives exhibited in the comments on many entries here, as well as on the Letters to the Editor page and “The Buzz” section of the Observer.

On the show, I think we reached a consensus that Charlotte’s rapid growth has indeed caused many under-the-surface tensions, but generally this city embraces change. (Just look at our willingness to tear down historic structures to build shiny new developments).

While someone from the North may write me to say they’re unhappy about being called a “Yankee,” by far most of the people I hear from consider this place very welcoming.

And I’ve heard from many natives who embrace the amenities, restaurants and increased diversity our influx has brought us.

One listener brought up an interesting point: Should the Observer stop printing the views of transplants and natives who resent each other for their attitudes?

My response is that the purpose of blogs, Letters to the Editor and The Buzz are to air the current views of the community. Just because we devote ink or bandwidth to the views doesn’t mean that we, as a newspaper, endorse them. What we do support is informing people of what’s going on out there in their community.

What do you think? Is there more to say on the subject of Northerners vs. Southerners, or have we exhausted the topic?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A view of Charlotte from Sundance

Thanks to the relative strength of North Carolina’s filmmaking industry, the state is usually represented in films at the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

As I have for the past seven years, I traveled there recently. I go out of personal interest and usually write about Carolinas connections for The Observer. One of this year’s films showcasing Charlotte surprised me.

Called “Kicking It,” it’s a documentary about soccer teams comprised of homeless people who compete annually in a Homeless World Cup tournament. An effort spearheaded at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center sends a U.S. team each year, and a Charlotte player was prominently featured in the documentary. (Click here for my article from Sunday’s paper about it; here for another article about a Carolina film connection).

In one sequence, the Charlotte player, Craig Holley, walks the streets of uptown Charlotte with a camera crew, and complains that in our city, there’s often no place for a homeless person to go. If the shelters are full and homeless people try sleeping on park benches or other public property, police officers will awaken them and make them move. Many end up in tents deep in the woods, and they, too, are sometimes forced to move along.

It’s no secret that this city has a serious homeless problem. It’s estimated there are more than 5,000 homeless in our community, and uncounted numbers of them sleep outside at night.

I wonder how much our leaders will want to celebrate our appearance in this film. It points up the sad reality that for many people who have fallen through the cracks of our system, there is simply no place to go.

So, I wrote in a brief for the Observer from Sundance that the film portrays Charlotte in an unflattering light. Lawrence Cann, a founder and leader of Charlotte’s homeless soccer program, took issue with my wording.

“The streets, in Charlotte or elsewhere in the world, are never nice and hardly ever described as peachy by someone who has to live on them,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But, he noted, Charlotte is ahead of many other cities in spearheading the homeless soccer program, which is credited with helping many homeless people turn their lives around. That includes Holley, the featured Charlotte man, who now lives in an apartment and has a job.

In that respect, yes, the documentary paints a positive view of Charlotte. And, I’m glad it provokes thought about the flip side of our shiny bank-towered skyline.

I also salute the filmmakers for coming up with the concept of “filmanthropy” – the idea of making a film about a cause they believe in, then contributing the film’s proceeds to the cause. This film’s profits will go toward the Homeless World Cup program. It’s been picked up by ESPN; no air date has been set yet.

This is an innovative way to attack the problem of homelessness. What else should we be doing?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Been in the Dead Zone?

There aren't many things more maddening than a cell phone dead zone. Especially when it happens in the middle of the largest city in the Carolinas.

You know the drill – you’re driving along talking (in hands-free mode, of course) and realize you’ve been giving vital information to dead air for the last few minutes.

Or, in my case, I was recently banging on the door at a friend’s house, certain she was home but couldn’t hear me, and I flipped open my phone to call her. No service.

I have a major wireless carrier – one that has, in fact, bragged about the extensiveness of its coverage areas.

And I haven’t exactly been in the hinterlands when these cut-offs have happened. My friend is in Plaza-Midwood. I’ve dropped people while talking on Independence Boulevard and on Sharon Road, major urban thoroughfares.

In a metro area of 2 million people, is it too much to ask that our cell phone service eliminate its dead zones at least inside the city limits?

I’m curious to know how many others out there have similar complaints. Where are the dead zones you’ve encountered? Perhaps I can help pass the patterns along to the companies and see if something can be done.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Southern expressions - uglier than armpits?

I’m a fan of those joke-a-day desk calendars. A recent entry on my new 2008 calendar, focusing on humorous insults, contained this supposedly “Southern expression”: “She’s uglier than a lard bucket full of armpits.”

This made me chortle a bit, but rest assured that as a near-native of this area with family roots going way back in the South, I have never heard anyone say this.

I have, however, heard newcomers repeatedly comment on Southern expressions they find either charming or somewhat perplexing, such as the ever-present “Bless your heart” – is it cloaked insult or true empathy?

A personal favorite of mine is “tickled pink.” How could you not smile if someone told you they felt that way? And I've heard the insult that someone is "dumber than a sack of hammers." I also enjoy stories that involve hollerin’ or skeedaddling somewhere.

A friend mentioned he hears about “Adam’s housecat” down here sometimes – as in, “I wouldn’t know that guy from Adam’s housecat.”

What about you? What are some favorite Southern expressions you’ve heard – or need translation for? Post 'em here.