Friday, March 30, 2007

Driving habits, and more questions for readers

Most readers who responded to my recent query about driving habits say drivers have gotten more rude here in recent years.

But there’s little agreement on whether it’s the locals or the newcomers who are to blame. Personally, I believe drivers can be good and bad anywhere in the country, and I suspect the main culprit here is more-crowded roads as the region grows.

Read on for a sampling of responses – an excerpt will also appear in my column in Saturday’s New Home section:

“Having spent most of my life driving in the Northeast, where I was regularly cut off, flipped off and crowded to the shoulder, I’m convinced the continuing migration of people from Northeast cities has more to do with the lack of road manners (here) than a simple increase in roads and traffic.” --Tom Strini, Mint Hill

“My husband and I moved to Mooresville in July 2005 from the Los Angeles area. It never ceases to amaze us how polite drivers are, and how patient! No matter how much traffic is on the now infamous Brawley School Road, without exception drivers will slow down to let you merge in from side streets.” --Diane Aurit, moved to Mooresville from L.A.

“I must say, North Carolinians are the nicest people I’ve ever met. Except on the roadways! But, I guess I can’t blame you sometimes as you’ve had to endure an influx of newcomers.” --David Andreotti, Indian Trail

“I have a geat concern about the drivers who speed, don’t signal and talk on the phone.” --Deanna Watts, Charlotte

“I am a native Californian and came to Charlotte via Idaho. I learned to drive in Southern California, and both there and in Idaho no one let others cut in front of them, ever.... After eight years of living here, I find myself waving people into the line in front of me.“ --Susan Green, Matthews

“Ungracious and aggressive drivers are not produced based on any prior geographical home state. There are &#$!&^%# in every state of the union. Sometimes it just seems like they have all clustered around you when you are out on the road.” --Mary, Waxhaw

“Charlotte drivers should look in the mirror before blaming newcomers to your city. I have been driving for many more years than the majority of those I encounter were born. Blame newcomers for being ‘new’ and trying to assimilate, especially on the highway. But those who have lived here for years should ask themselves if they are disproportionately adding to the problem.” --Jim Lovejoy, moved to Charlotte from Maine


As you head out for your weekend (drive safely!), here are some more questions to contemplete - e-mail me your responses with contact information and a JPEG photo if you're willing to be featured in a follow-up!

First: Who’s your favorite personality in town? Whether it’s a politician, business leader, athlete, artist, celebrity, TV/radio/print personality or some other category, I want to hear suggestions of your favorite people in the region, and why you like them.

Second: Where’s your favorite place to hang out? A restaurant, nightclub, park or somewhere else? Please tell me where it is and why you like it.

And on a final note, this is the 100th post on this blog since I started it last summer - thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Readers: Share your thoughts

For newcomers and longtimers alike, I’ve got a query for you: Where are your favorite shopping spots?

I’d like to know what things you appreciate when you’re out shopping. Maybe you like a store because of its salesclerks, its decor, the type of merchandise it carries, its mom-and-pop atmosphere – or something else.
Please e-mail me with your favorites, tell me why they’re your favorites, and if you’re willing to be featured in an upcoming article, attach a JPEG headshot photo of yourself.

This is the first of a series of questions I’ll be asking in coming days about your favorite stores, sights and personalities in this region. Every time I ask readers for suggestions of their favorite spots, I love the feedback I receive. This time around, I’ll be using it in a more comprehensive follow-up in a few weeks.

Keep watching here and in my columns for more questions soon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why no stay-at-home dad group in Mecklenburg?

Not long ago, I received an inquiry from a transplant looking for a group for stay-at-home dads in Charlotte.

No problem, I thought. I personally know four families here who have made the choice, either temporarily or long-term, for dads to be at-home caregivers for the children while the moms work outside the home. Surely this city has ample resources for caregiver dads.

Turns out, I was wrong. I visited the leading national online resources for dads, and I searched the Observer’s archives. I Googled. I looked through the family resource guide for Charlotte Parent magazine. I turned up just one group in this region: York County Dads ( The group, which organizes weekly playgroups and other activities, also serves dads in Mecklenburg and Union Counties. The group's leader said to me in an e-mail: "I am not sure why there are no groups in Charlotte. It would really be a no-brainer."

Charlotte Parent’s list, by the way, includes at least 20 local groups just for moms; see

There is a locally-based blogging site,, that focuses on the male perspective on parenting, but it's not just for stay-at-home dads and it doesn't organize activities.

In a county with more than 800,000 residents, and with stats showing stay-at-home dads are on the rise, why isn’t there a Mecklenburg-based activity group? In this era when many women have earning power equal to or greater than men, why isn’t there more public acknowledgement that the choice of who becomes primary caregiver for children can - and should - go either way, depending on individual circumstances?

I realize that many men don’t have as much tendency to be "joiners" as women, and they may have needs different from those in the heavily-populated network. But surely they, like every other category of newcomer I’ve met, hunger for more ways to form friendships and connections.

If you know of other resources for dads in this community I might have missed in my research, please drop me a line.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On new and old Charlotte

If you’re new to the Charlotte area and you’re single or a part of a couple looking to make new friends, Charlotte Outdoor Adventures (CHOA) is one good way to meet people.

I checked out one of the group’s open houses this week – CHOA has them roughly once a month to give prospects a chance to get questions answered before joining. To participate in events, you have pay a membership fee starting with $20 for a one-month trial, or you can be the guest of a member for no charge. (If you go to an open house, you can get a year’s membership for $99). Watch the Web site at for the next one.

The group’s activities range from half-price martini nights to whitewater river rafting. Most days, there are two or three activities to choose from, and many activities draw more than 40 people to sign up. Organizers say their membership fluctuates between 1,200 and 2,000 people – most of whom are new to town. The membership is about 60 percent singles and 40 percent couples.

About 50 people showed up to the open house I attended on Tuesday, and I overheard many conversations involving newcomers. The group gathered in the bar of an uptown hotel, then sat in the hotel restaurant for a Q&A session.

One attendee, a teacher who recently moved from Ohio, commented that it can be tough to find a completely new group of friends in a new city – most people haven’t had experience with that since they were starting college at age 18. And at that age, it’s so much easier because you’re surrounded by peers with free time and common interests.

Finding ways to make new friends is one of the top requests I hear from newcomers – so I hope this can be one solution for them.


Also this week, I checked out the Historic Charlotte program on the history of the old Carolina Theatre, a 1927 building that remains at North Tryon and Sixth streets awaiting a long-delayed restoration plan.

More than 70 people crammed into a meeting room at the Dunhill Hotel to hear Charlie Clayton, a leader in the preservation effort, give an update. The Carolina Theatre Preservation Society is gearing up to launch a drive to raise $2 million to restore the building’s historic details, including curtains, lighting and stenciling on the walls.

Clayton detailed the history of the preservation efforts, which date to the theater’s 1978 closing. “We’ve been trying to save it from the wrecking ball for all these years,” he said. “This town doesn’t like history for some odd reason.”

Having grown up here, I have to agree with him. There is seldom much hesitation before tearing down old buildings. Nobody seems to be batting an eye at the prospect of developers tearing down Hall House on North Tryon Street. It’s currently used as public housing, but the building started in 1940 as a grand hotel – and still has some attractive architectural touches. Its 12-story brick silhouette isn’t like any of our beige skyscrapers.

And I still mourn every day on my way to work as I drive by the ugly parking lot that used to be the the famed all-night Athens Restaurant – it shuttered last fall for Central Piedmont Community College expansion after 45 years in business.

What do you think about Charlotte’s attitude about its history? Let me know.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Carolina Theatre and other history lessons

Your chances to learn more about the old Carolina Theatre and other parts of Charlotte's history are coming up soon.

Click here for details on Historic Charlotte's programs, which begin Tuesday with a look inside the defunct theater building still standing at North Tryon and Sixth streets.

And click here to see my TV report on the building with news partner WCNC.

What other aspects of Charlotte's history are you curious to know more about? Post here or e-mail me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The region's best diners, drive-ins and dives

Today I was out with a crew from the Food Network, which brought host Guy Fieri to Charlotte to film segments for a new upcoming series called "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." He was at Bar-B-Q King, a drive-in on Wilkinson Boulevard, and will be at The Penguin Sunday.

The series premieres April 23 and will air Mondays at 10 p.m., but producers haven't decided which date the Charlotte segments will air. I'll update here when I know more.

Today's experience got me thinking about the value of the mom-and-pop restaurants that make every city unique. Growing up in Charlotte, I drove by Bar-B-Q King probably thousands of times, but today was the first time I tried its yummy barbecued chicken, cherry-lemon Sprite and strawberry pie.

So I consulted with colleagues to come up with a list of diners, drive-ins and dives worth trying around the region. I'm sure I left off some favorites, so e-mail me or post other suggestions here.

Bar-B-Q King, 2900 Wilkinson Blvd. 704-399-8344. Try the onion rings.

South 21 Curb Service, 3631 South Blvd., 704-527-5530, and 3101 Independence Boulevard, 704-377-4509. Known for the Super Boy (a two-beef-patty sandwich).

The Penguin, 1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-6959. Grab some fried dill pickles.

Price’s Chicken Coop, 1614 Camden Rd., 704-333-9866. Best deep-fried chicken in town.

UPDATE: A reader has pointed out that there are only four drive-ins inside Charlotte, and I left out one: Town & Country Drive-In, 2441 Wilkinson Boulevard, 704-333-0189. (It's right across the street from Bar-B-Q King). It's best known for burgers, barbecue and seafood.

Concord, Kannapolis, Mooresville and Mount Pleasant
What-a-Burger. 34 Church St. SE in Concord, 1256 Old Charlotte Rd. in Concord, 210 S. Main St. in Mooresville, 926 S. Main St. and 1510 N. Cannon Blvd. in Kannapolis, 8330 Franklin St. W. in Mount Pleasant. The name says it all.

R.O.’s Barbecue, 1318 Gaston Ave., 704-866-8143. Try the spicy reddish “slaw.”

The Snack Bar, 1346 1st Ave. SW. 828-322-5432. Country fried steak, with banana pudding for dessert.

Bridges Barbecue Lodge, 2000 E. Dixon Blvd., 704-482-8567. At least one local authority dubs it the region’s best pork barbecue.

Keaton’s, Cool Springs/Woodleaf Road, Statesville; 704-278-1619. Must-have barbecue chicken.

York, S.C.
Palmetto Grill, 2910 Hwy 161 S., 803-684-6737. Try salt-and-pepper catfish, and frog legs.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Where to go for March Madness?

Happy March Madness - and in honor of the launch of the NCAA tournament, here’s a follow-up on my earlier suggestions of good places to go watch the basketball games:

--Cherie, whose husband is a diehard Memphis fan, wrote to ask where the couple should go. Memphis has a Charlotte alumni group that meets sporadically at the uptown Fox & Hound (330 N. Tryon St., 704-333-4113).

--Bill wrote to tell me that Syracuse fans like to go to the Picasso’s Sports Cafe in University City, 1001 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., 704-595-9553. "Great large screen, and lots of Syracuse faithful," he wrote.

--Illinois fans should go to Jocks and Jills, 4109 Southstream Blvd, 704-423-0001, since local alumni plan to gather there.

--Tukuli, a University of Tennessee alum, wondered where to find UT fans. According to their alumni Web site, they like to gather at Hickory Tavern, 9010 Harris Corners Parkway, exit 18 off Interstate 77, 704-921-4466.

If you know of other spots around the region that attract specific schools’ fans, please post them here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On McGill Rose Garden and Spirit Square

While I was researching the life story of Henry McGill, who with his wife co-founded the McGill Rose Garden, I stumbled across an article in the Observer's archives that I had nearly forgotten I wrote.

Back in 2001, the rose garden was threatened with closure due to insufficient funding. In a compromise vote, the Charlotte City Council gave it enough money to stay open to the public, and it has survived under the management of a private foundation since.

The article stirred memories of meeting Mr. McGill the night he spoke to the council. I remember being impressed by how spry and lucid he was, considering he was close to 100 at the time. (Newcomers: If you haven't visited this garden yet, you should stop by. It's fascinating to see how an old industrial rail yard became a place of such beauty).

Reading that article gave me hope for the current debate about the future of Spirit Square, another treasured center city attraction. I grew up in Charlotte and remember the days before the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and Belk Theater existed. Spirit Square's McGlohon Theatre was the only major venue in uptown, and its events were one of very few things that gave life to the center city and brought people in after working hours. I remember going with my family to see The Amazing Kreskin, a hypnotist, perform there in the mid-1980s. (Perhaps one could argue the theater's lineup has improved considerably since those days).

So far, all proposals for the sale of the property would preserve the historic church structure that houses McGlohon Theatre on North Tryon Street. I'm also a fan of events in the neighboring classrooms and galleries in Spirit Square - I've attended several events there put on by the Light Factory, the museum devoted to film and photography, and visited Mike Collins' adjoining WFAE studio. Whatever happens to the property, I hope all parties involved will recognize its importance to our local cultural scene and keep an eye toward preserving the things that make our city unique.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bars and restaurants Charlotte needs

Lots of people responded to my invitation last week for readers to vote for what types of bars and restaurants Charlotte needs, and where.

Here’s a sampling of responses:

“What it seems to me is lacking in Charlotte - all over town - are good places where married adults or couples, 30-40-50-year-olds, can go for an evening of dancing, where the dancing starts before 10:30 or 11:00 at night.” -Dick, Gastonia

“I think Charlotte could use a great vegetarian restaurant, something like The Laughing Seed in Asheville.” - Rob

“More vegetarian restaurants and martini bars.” - K

“The bottom line is that there are few, if any, restaurants located uptown that serve truly good and inventive food. I would travel anywhere for a great dinner, certainly uptown. A friend of mine once observed that Charlotte lacks a renowned restaurant. If someone you know is going to spend time here, there is no place where you will recommend that they ‘must go’ for a meal.” - Jim

“I would like to suggest a quiet bar/restaurant with adequate lighting and room between tables. Say something about $20-25 each for an entrée and glass of wine, maybe dessert. A place where friends can gather to enjoy a meal and good conversation in relative quiet.” - Cheri

“Diners, delis (uptown).” - Linda

“More mom-and-pop restaurants.” - BC

“A small uptown live music venue similar to the ones over in NoDa (” -Bettie Ann

“Charlotte really needs a good French restaurant. Ever since Patou changed hands, it’s lost its quaint bistro charm.” - Josane and John

“How about a high-end bar with large flat screens and very nice billiard tables, smoke-free, either downtown or near SouthPark.” - Sarah

And some interesting thoughts on our sports bar dominance: “The 30 - 40 year olds do not go out enough to even be able to support one bar that would cater to them. This is a banking town (read: wine and cheese crowd). Once people here start hitting 25, they have to start saving their money to afford their future country club membership or fear being left behind by the Jones’. So, they have a tendency to go out less with each additional year. Therefore, the majority of the market is 20-23 year olds. Bar owners know this and cater to this clientele because they are the ones paying the bills. Nationally, sports bars are the largest growing and profitable segment in the bar business, so Charlotte isn’t out of the norm.

The only thing that Charlotte hasn’t picked up on is the trend of having a combination of sports bar and dance club in one.

Other thoughts: A 24 hour downtown restaurant would be good. And, a restaurant that is committed to serving only low-fat, low-carb meals with portion control.” - Anonymous

(Tonya Jameson, the Paid to Party columnist, has a similar query on her blog about what’s needed uptown for those who want to weigh in: Click here.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Free lunch for newcomers?

I’m holding a lunch forum for newcomers, and I have a few slots left.

It’s this coming Wednesday, March 14, at noon at the Observer building, 600 S. Tryon St. Lunch will be provided. Let me know if you're interested in attending.

I’m interested in hearing your overall newcomer impressions. I also plan to ask you about the topic of racial trust and diversity in this community, because I’m curious to hear your opinions – click here to see some background on that topic.

If you’re not available to participate in this forum, but you’re interested in being on my list for future meetings, let me know. E-mail me at

Top 10, part 2

I recently proposed my picks for the top 10 things to do in this region. The folks over at Visit Charlotte, the marketing arm of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, chipped in with their own “Top 10 reasons to visit Charlotte.” It might give you a few more ideas for getting out and exploring:

1. Southern charm and hospitality, available at places including Mac’s Speed Shop (, a barbecue restaurant at 2511 South Blvd.

2. Multigenerational fun. The kids like Carowinds theme park on the Carolinas state line (, while grown-ups like shopping at SouthPark mall .

3. Cultural opportunities including the Mint Museum of Art at 2730 Randolph Road (

4. NASCAR. Lowe’s Motor Speedway also made my list, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame ( is to open in Charlotte in ’09 or ’10.

5. Golf. More than 80 courses, including the Ballantyne Resort (

6. Strolling historic neighborhoods, including Plaza-Midwood, Dilworth, Elizabeth, South End, NoDa and Myers Park. These, plus Fourth Ward in uptown, were on my list too (click here).

7. In addition to the U.S. National Whitewater Center (which was also on my list), multiple recreational opportunities at the area’s more than 200 parks (

8. Pro sports, including the NBA Bobcats (, the NFL Panthers (, minor-league Charlotte Knights baseball (, Charlotte Eagles soccer ( and Charlotte Checkers hockey (

9. Historic heritage, visible while riding the Gold Rush rubber-wheeled trolleys uptown, and later this year, trolleys on tracks connecting South End and uptown (click here).

10. Balmy weather and plentiful outdoor festivals, including Taste of Charlotte (June 1-3,

And if that wasn’t enough, Visit Charlotte has a brochure with “101 Things to Do.” Check out the Visit Charlotte at Main Street shop at 330 S. Tryon St. or click here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Readers: Your suggestions wanted

I’m still looking for your suggestions to follow up on some things I’ve written about recently:

In Saturday’s paper, I suggested some good places for single professionals in their mid-30s to live in the region, and I’d still like to hear recommendations of places I didn’t mention: Click here.

Sunday, I gave my highly subjective take on the 10 best things to do here in the Charlotte area. Surely some of you want to dispute or add to my choices: Click here.

And I’m already getting lots of responses to today’s piece on what kinds of bars and restaurants Charlotte needs more of, but I’d like to hear more thoughts on that: Click here.

Post comments here or e-mail me! Thanks!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Charlotte's history and future

History and the future mingled Sunday afternoon in Dilworth, the stately neighborhood just south of uptown Charlotte.

Oldtimers who lived in Dilworth between 1900 and 1940 met with 11th-graders from Charlotte Latin School and officials from Charlotte Trolley Inc. As I wrote in today's Local section, it was a project meant to preserve personal histories of Charlotte's first "streetcar suburb" before they disappear. Newcomers may not realize that the new trolley and light rail taking shape south of uptown are actually the second incarnation of mass transit in that area - Dilworth was organized around an electric streetcar system in the 1890s. The system extended to other "streetcar suburbs" including Elizabeth and Plaza-Midwood. In the 1930s, city leaders replaced it with buses.

Dozens of people gathered around tables in a hall at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on East Boulevard (familiar to most Charlotteans as the home of the annual Yiasou Greek Festival).

The older residents shared with the students their memories of growing up, going to school, riding Charlotte's early streetcars and dating.

The liveliest presence at my table was Bill Parlier, 84. He reminisced about playing a Halloween prank on streetcar conductors by greasing the rails on an uphill stretch on Hawthorne Lane. "It'd slip and spin and they'd have to get out and put sand on the track," he said with a laugh.

He talked about his first car, which he got in 1938 at age 16: a 1934 Ford coupe with a hard top and rumble seat - and then he had to explain to the teen-agers what a rumble seat is (an uncovered folding rear seat that was a feature in many cars until the 1940s). To pay for his gasoline, he worked as an usher in the Carolina Theatre on Tryon Street in uptown for 25 cents an hour.

And he talked fondly about going to see baseball games in Independence Park, which is still home to ballfields in the Elizabeth neighborhood. The area's textile mills fielded teams in evening "twilight league" games.

I asked Charlotte Latin student Jaime Todd, 17, what she'd learned from the history project. "I learned the difference in the lifestyle. It was slower and easier back then. There wasn't as much hustle and bustle," she said.

Would she have liked to experience life in that time? "I'm glad I'm in this generation," she said. "I'm not sure I could deal with the lack of technology."

What about you? Are there features of "old Charlotte" you wish you'd gotten a chance to experience? And what are some of the ways Charlotte is better off - or worse off - than 100 years ago? Post thoughts here or drop me a line.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inside the new uptown Dunkin' Donuts

Another sign of the growing influence of natives from the Northeastern U.S. around here is the proliferation of Dunkin’ Donuts shops in the Charlotte region.

I wrote about the trend recently in the Observer's business section (click here to see it).

This week, I checked out the newest local shop in uptown Charlotte at 231 N. Graham St., which opened to the public on Tuesday. It’s next to the CVS drugstore and Charlotte Cotton Mills.

It’s one of three Dunkin’ Donuts set to open inside the I-277 loop uptown within three years. The second is scheduled to open near Bobcats Arena on Trade Street in May; the location of the third hasn’t yet been determined.

It’s Charlotte’s first two-story Dunkin’ store, and the layout works. You can order downstairs and leave quickly if you need to, or go upstairs if you want to linger in a coffeeshop-style setting, with a flatscreen TV, comfy furniture and great views of the uptown skyline. I spotted a lively business meeting underway at one of the tables.

Everyone, including the employees, seemed to be having fun, and employees said business has been heavy since doors opened.

I grew up here in Charlotte on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts - they’ve always been popular here since we’re so near the company’s Winston-Salem headquarters. But we’ve had so many transplants move here from near the Massachusetts base of Dunkin’ Donuts, they’re keeping the Krispy Kreme rival thriving.

I’ve found that people from the Northeast can be very loyal to their Dunkin’ Donuts. So as they keep moving here, expect to see more Charlotte shops in the future.