Thursday, August 31, 2006

Uptown or Downtown?

Is it uptown or downtown Charlotte? What about center city?

When I wrote a recent column about the terminology debate, I got heated responses. People didn’t like my suggestion of using center city as a compromise. Some think “uptown” is confusing, or snobbish.

But central Charlotte originally got the designation “uptown” because you have to go uphill to get there. The majority of readers I heard from favor using uptown.

Watch Saturday’s New Home section of the paper for more comments on this issue. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from one of the most passionate responses, from Joe O’Neill Jr. of southeast Charlotte:

“OK. For the last time. Uptown Charlotte is ‘uptown,’ not ‘downtown,’ not ‘center city,’ not ‘in the loop,’ none of those pitifully lame adjectives. My ancestors came to Charlotte, two of whom started St.Peter's Catholic Church – uptown. Then my father was born here in '07, went to Central High School... (and he) went ‘uptown’ to the ‘Square’ (where Trade amd Tryon streets intersect), around which all the business offices, full service clothing stores, cemeteries, the YMCA, the theatre, and some early turn of the century homes were located. Neither the area nor the structures or inhabitants were looked upon as ‘upscale.’ They were just ‘uphill’ for anyone coming to Charlotte from east, west, north or south to see them....

I have been to New York City and understand their ‘uptown and downtown’ designations. Charlotte AIN'T the same. So... newcomers, especially from up North, just have to learn to say two words to survive in Charlotte –‘y’all’ and ‘uptown.’ You'll have to say ‘y’all’ when you invite more than one friend to come ‘uptown’ to visit you at the Charlotte Observer or Bank of America or Spirit Square, or other of the many ‘uptown’ locations!
As a Queen City native and a Southern gentleman, I welcome y’all to my Charlotte.”

Thanks for the comments, Joe!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Seeking connections from home

The Charlotte region is full of transplants, and many of them are hungry for ways to meet people from their hometowns or home states.

I learned this after my recent post with a question from a reader wondering where she could find Chicagoans gathering around here. I’ve compiled an answer to that, and it’s scheduled to run in Monday’s Your Week section in the Observer. I’ve also written previously about places to find people from the Buffalo and upstate New York areas.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten inquiries from others wondering where in the Charlotte area they can go to meet people from New Jersey, the Washington D.C. area and New Orleans, among others.

So, I’m planning to compile a list of as many groups for transplants or transplant-friendly bars, restaurants and other gathering spots as I can, and I’ll follow up here and in the paper. If you know of any, please drop me an e-mail at

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ever had your heart blessed?

New to the South? Well, bless your heart.

I loved the article in today’s Observer about the expression “bless your heart.” As a near-native, I’ve grown up hearing the expression and have used it often.

The article suggests the phrase is often used to cloak an insult, such as “The cookies my sister made were hard as rocks, bless her heart, but we ate them anyway.”

I don’t generally use it that way – for me, it’s more of an expression of sympathy, as in: “You found out the place you just moved into has fleas? Oh, bless your heart.”

If you’ve heard the phrase used in a particularly funny or memorable way, please send me examples at If I get enough, I’ll publish the best in a follow-up.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Where do Chicago transplants gather in Charlotte?

Here’s a question from a reader who moved to Charlotte from Chicago: “Matt's Chicago Dog and Pizzeria Uno are the two restaurants in town for Chicagoans...but, is there somewhere to watch Cubs games?”

I plan to research the answer for her, but if anyone out there has any Charlotte-area suggestions, please send them my way.

Speaking of gathering spots for transplants, a reader wrote to clarify something from my Aug. 12 column in which I advised a Syracuse native on where he could meet others from upstate New York. I pointed him to several Buffalo-centric restaurants in the area, since the Bills were playing the Panthers that night. A reader named Brian wrote in response:

“Having grown up in Buffalo, there is a huge difference between being from western New York (Buffalo, Rochester) as opposed to upstate (Syracuse, Albany). Everybody from NYC and Long Island always refers everyone from (both regions) as upstate. From their vicinity, it may be upstate. Nobody from Buffalo feels they’re from upstate.”

Consider this Southerner corrected – I’ll certainly be more careful in the distinction from now on. But in my experience meeting newcomers, those from Syracuse and other upstate areas also tend to be Buffalo Bills fans, and I’ve seen plenty of them congregate in the places I mentioned for their games.

Along those lines, here’s another gathering spot a reader named Doris clued me in to: Zio Authentic Italian restaurant at 116 Middleton Drive in Charlotte’s Eastover area; owner Jim Consol is from Endicott, NY and plans to have periodic gatherings for other Endicott transplants. If you’re interested in being on his mailing list, e-mail him at or call the restaurant at 704-344-0100.

Friday, August 11, 2006

'Yankee' debate touches a nerve

Wow. The discussion over whether the word "Yankee" is a slur or not generated the most heated discussion this young blog has ever seen.

Clearly, feelings run deep around this word. It touches on issues of insider vs. outsider, native vs. newcomer, South vs. everywhere else. For some people, it's a test of how welcoming a person or a region is.

I plan to revisit the issue in an upcoming column in the paper. Feel free to e-mail some more thoughts on the subject.

I'm on vacation this coming week, so it may be a little while before my next entry. But you're welcome to drop me a line with any questions or concerns, and I'll get back to you when I return.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

'Yankee': Slur or term of pride?

Is the term “Yankee” an insult that should be retired from polite company except when referring to a baseball team?

J.P. Russell of Lake Wylie wrote a letter to the Observer saying he thinks so – “It makes you feel unwelcome,” he said during a recent interview. Russell was born in Ohio and has heard the term used to refer to non-Southerners in many places he has lived, including the 10 years he spent in Florida before moving here last year.

According to “The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,” the source of the word is disputed and could have come from Native Americans or the Dutch. British began using it as a term for Americans during the French and Indian War. During the Revolutionary War, the British considered the word derogatory, but Americans adopted the nickname and made it a term of pride – particularly in New England.

During the Civil War and beyond, many Southerners used the term “Damn Yankee” as a derogatory reference for Northerners, and the reference has continued to pop up from time to time – including, Russell says, at meetings of community groups he has
attended recently.

There’s a well-sourced entry on the origins of the term at Wikipedia.

What do you think? Is “Yankee” a slur or a term whose history is often misunderstood? Please e-mail me your thoughts at with your contact information.

Monday, August 07, 2006

How to see a trolley in Charlotte

The Charlotte Trolley, a charming bit of local history, isn’t running at the moment. But a reader wants to know if there’s still a way see a local trolley – and the answer is yes.

“Riding the old trolley downtown for dinner or shows was a fun thing to do. I know it will be off-line for almost a year, but can you take the kids to see it?” the reader e-mailed.

Charlotte Trolley Inc. is the nonprofit set up to restore Charlotte’s old streetcars. Martin Wheeler, a sales associate with the group, said several steetcars are on display at the group’s museum at 2104 South Boulevard, open Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Trolleys ran between uptown and South End for almost two years before the city put the service on hiatus earlier this year to build a light rail line through south Charlotte.

Charlotte’s original No. 85 car has been sent off for some maintenance, but the group has several other streetcars owned by the city at the museum. They’ll be running once service is restored sometime next year, he said. (The date depends on the light rail line's completion).

Charlotte Trolley also sponsors children’s activities at ImaginOn uptown. More information:

Friday, August 04, 2006

Beating the heat

Given this week’s heat wave, it seems like a good time to spotlight our list of public swimming areas and other places to beat the heat.

Click here to see it.

This information was compiled last year for our annual Living Here magazine, and I haven’t updated it since, so be sure to call and/or visit the Web site before you head out to make sure nothing has changed.

The Living Here columns you’ll see in the paper this weekend have a guest writer – Gail Smith-Arrants, a reporter in our Concord bureau, who was the part-time newcomer columnist for four years before I stepped in to make it a full-time job in June. I’ve been working on this year’s 160-page newcomer magazine, which is scheduled to come out Sept. 24 (but needs a lot of advance production time). I’ll resume the columns Aug. 12. (Saturdays in New Home, Sundays in Arts & Living and Mondays in Your Week).

In addition to that, soon I’ll be writing more stories for other sections of the paper about how newcomers are transforming our community. Got ideas or questions? Send ‘em my way.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Newcomer insights

Newcomers shared a few insights with me last night. Here's a sampling:

--Some who move to Charlotte’s outskirts end up learning more about the area where they work – i.e., uptown – than their own communities (in this case, the booming towns of western Union County).

--As newcomers, people hunger to find connections. Two specifically wanted to know more about ways to meet other baby boomers and “young seniors.”

--Lots of people who move here have connections to upstate New York. It’s one of the top areas of migration to the Carolinas, and I’ve already written about the South’s Upstate New Yorkers Club (SUNY) formed by the owner of the Dilworth Neighborhood Grille in Charlotte.

These topics came up at a gathering convened by the Observer’s Union County bureau, which plans to expand its coverage of our area’s fastest-growing county in a new format that debuts Aug. 20. If you want to know more or have ideas for the section, e-mail its editor Dave Cowan at

And this native Southerner learned a new term from two former New Yorkers: beef on wick (or weck). The sandwich, consisting of sliced roast beef on a special salty roll, is a favorite in Buffalo and is available at the Township Grille at 10400 E. Independence Blvd. in Matthews, 704-847-2480.

THURSDAY UPDATE: After reading this item on the blog yesterday, Buffalo native Sandy Woods (now of Stallings) e-mailed more details: "Beef is thinly sliced, warm and juicy. The roll is a fresh hard roll, soft in the center with crushed salt and caraway seeds sprinkled on top. Served with fresh horseradish on the side, and french fries with tarragon vinegar to sprinkle over them. That, chicken "Buffalo wings," celery sticks and bleu cheese
dressing, and 'Friday night fish fry' are staples of the area."