Monday, May 28, 2007

More NASCAR observations

For the second weekend in a row, I found myself at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for a major race. A freelance assignment brought me to the track Sunday during the Coca-Cola 600.

First of all: Wow. I thought the crowd was impressive last weekend for the Nextel All-Star Challenge. Turns out that’s somewhat small potatoes compared to the estimated 180,000 on hand for the 600.

Last week, I marveled at how easy the traffic flow was around the speedway before the race. Not so for the 600. Who knew that by aiming for arrival around 2:30 p.m. before the 5:30 race, I’d be hitting peak traffic time? I allowed 90 minutes for a drive that’s normally 20, but it took nearly 2 hours.

I did learn that it pays off to study your map and learn a "back way" so you don’t need to rely on two exits off Interstate 85 as your only options. I cut over to Highway 49 and came in via Morehead Road, which seemed marginally quicker than the stop-and-go traffic on U.S. 29.

Also, I had the chance to observe from the infield. I can see why people shell out for the passes that allow them to wander around the Pit Row area. You get nice up-close views of the drivers and crews as they walk by – and feel sympathy at seeing the fireproof suits they have to wear in the Carolina heat. (I saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. reject adult autograph-seekers but sign his name for children; I also saw Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory chatting with team owner Rick Hendrick).

Another advantage to the infield: It’s not nearly as loud there as it is when the engine roars echo up into the stands.

It was difficult from there to properly observe the much-touted aerial stunt in honor of the "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" movie – but I did get nice up-close views of the four stars, including Jessica Alba and my personal fave, Ioan Gruffudd. (Never heard of the Welshman? Click here to see his accomplishments).

Though I didn’t have the endurance to stick it out for the entire race, I considered it a great day and an experience I was glad to have. I continue to recommend Lowe’s Motor Speedway as a must-visit place for newcomers who want to understand what this area is all about.

If any newcomers out there attended their first NASCAR race during the past two weeks, I'd love to hear your impressions - post here or e-mail me.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tips for NASCAR newbies

Growing up in Charlotte, I didn’t consider myself a diehard NASCAR fan, but I was always aware of our gigantic speedway to the northeast and the crowds of fans that would gather there for races. Names like Earnhardt and Petty were always in my consciousness, but I’d never seen them race.

Now, I can finally say I’ve seen a race – last weekend’s NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge.

And I can share some impressions that might help other racing newbies heading out this weekend:

--Traffic flow was great going both in and out. My friend and I planned to arrive about an hour before the start of the race, and we realized all the NASCAR diehards had arrived long before that to make a full day of it. So we didn’t have to fight any traffic going in. And parking was free!

--It’s worth it to shell out for tickets facing pit row. Watching the pit stops is clearly part of the excitement of the race.

--If your seats are good enough, they’ll come with a wristband granting admittance to the Speedway Club building. My friend and I enjoyed wandering around exploring features including a clothing boutique and gourmet candy store, but we found it extremely confusing to navigate – and be warned, you’ll have trouble getting in and out if you’re carrying a beer or other alcoholic beverage.

--Earplugs are a must. Bring them or be ready to buy them immediately.

--Watch out for drunken fans. I saw plenty, but they were mostly good-natured.

--Don’t know what’s going on? Turn and ask someone sitting nearby. I found everyone more than happy to help explain the action.

--Food and beverage concession stands are plentiful, but fans are permitted – expected – to bring their own coolers. What other sporting venue passes up the chance to make you pay $4 for bottled water?

Gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hey Gen Xers: You might want to check this show out

I just loved one Charlotte couple’s idea for celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary yesterday: Going out to a free screening of ‘80s teen siren Molly Ringwald’s greatest film hits, "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club."

The crowd at Spirit Square’s McGlohon Theatre cheered the anniversary couple last night while celebrating all things ‘80s. It was a special event in honor of Ringwald’s upcoming visit to Charlotte to perform in "Sweet Charity" (the Broadway Lights show plays here June 5-10).

I went with our theatre critic, Julie York Coppens, because I consider "The Breakfast Club" the most significant movie of my teenage years – in my mind, John Hughes was the first filmmaker to accurately capture how teenagers relate to each other. It was fun to see it on the big screen and hear the crowd reactions to lines like "neo-maxie-zoon-dweebie."

Most Gen Xers I know have a "Breakfast Club" character they identify with the most. For me, it’s Anthony Michael Hall’s brainy dork. I spent my high school years with a none-too-glamorous wardrobe, an obsession with my grades and memberships in various academic clubs that were "demented and sad, but social."

Ringwald embodied the spoiled teen princess well, and I’m glad to see she still has a thriving career in Broadway shows. Click here to see Julie’s advance story on the show.

When "Sweet Charity" rolls through town, I look forward to being there in the audience to watch Ringwald play another "lovable redhead with guy trouble," reminisce about my favorite Molly moments ("What about prom, Blane?"), and to appreciate her memorable contributions to pop culture.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Summing up Charlotte

I thought summing up Charlotte in a minute or less would be a challenge, but I was surprised at the number of thoughtful people who wanted to give it a try.

Here are some responses that I didn’t have room for in my recent column on this subject:

"Charlotte is a New Economy, white collar town, with a highly educated population, that is adding residents from other states every day.

The person you talk to may be one whose family has lived here for generations – or one who has been here less than you.

It's a good place to raise a family. If you're single, it's better than it used to be, with all the housing and nightspots recently built close to uptown.
If you want to get a good idea of what Charlotte is REALLY all about, visit the Levine Museum of the New South. That should be the first stop for anyone new to the area." --Stephen Gilmore

"Charlotte has FOUR seasons. Yet, mild seasons! Charlotte is about the weather. People who move here from the North are going to be pleased with the mild winter and the Floridians should relish the beautiful fall foliage!!!! Charlotte is such a wonderful place to live. There is a long list of great things about the Queen City!" --Blithesome in Ballantyne

"I've only lived in Charlotte since 1986, but I've had the opportunity to meet countless folks who've lived here much longer than that. And I've learned that Charlotte is all about its people. Good people who will take the time to get to know newcomers and accept them, regardless of where they are from or what they do. Charlotte is a city that fosters community involvement. But even more than that, Charlotte is a city where ‘who you are’ is what matters most." --Jay Ahuja

"We have lived here for a year and a half after relocating from New York City. Positive: 1) Low cost of housing, 2) Low cost auto insurance, 3) Good customer service (i.e. retail, physicians' offices).

Negative: 1) Taxes - Government will always find a way to tax whatever you are doing (tax on groceries, absolutely ridiculous, never heard of from anyone we know in other states; annual automobile tax, totally ridiculous.)

2) Driving – Tailgaters: We never knew so many people are so desperate to get ahead of us while we are driving the speed limit; Stop sign ‘Jumpers:’ We never knew in NYC that you can actually stop well after a stop sign as they do here in the Charlotte area; Drunken drivers.

Miscellaneous: If you’re sick in the evening or on weekends, heaven forbid a doctor's office is open past 5PM Monday-Friday or the staff give up their TWO HOUR lunch break in which the office is closed.

Crime - Never mind watching CSI or Law & Order - the local news is so full of crime statistics that it makes a big city like NYC look like paradise.

CMS starting times - Most Elementary schools start at 7:30AM. It is a ‘joy’ to wake up 5-10 year olds at 5:15AM in order for them to make it to their school bus pick up on time at 6:15AM!" --Lorna and James Denton

And finally, I have an update from the man whose inquiry started this whole discussion – Mitch Ganz, who’s moving to Charlotte from Florida. He's the one who asked me to sum up the city in a minute:

"Well I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed my exploratory visit to the Queen City! I covered a lot of ground in just four short days and talked with a great number of individuals. I found Charlotte to be a very pretty place and the people were absolutely wonderful (extremely friendly and helpful)!

I am looking forward to relocating to Charlotte this upcoming August and making it my home and community.

Take care,
Mitch Ganz"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Only in Charlotte: Our history and sister cities

Here’s something you don’t see every day: Revolutionary War soldiers shooting a cannon down Tryon Street during the busy uptown lunch hour.

The ground-shaking booms, which re-enactors set off shortly after noon today, were part of the community’s festivities in honor of the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the accompanying Mecklenburg Resolves in May 1775. There are still some free events available this weekend for people who want to learn more about this aspect of our local history - see

It was stirring to hear a reading of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (though its validity has been disputed, copies of the reconstructed document exist), watch a re-enactment of the document’s departure for Philadelphia on horseback, and see Mayor Pat McCrory declare "We never want to forget (the signers’) courage and we never want to take for granted the freedom we have today."

People frequently complain that Charlotte has bulldozed too much of its history, but this is one aspect I’m glad to see people want to celebrate.


Earlier this morning I attended another only-in-Charlotte event: A breakfast with visitors from Krefeld, Germany, Charlotte’s sister city. I stopped by because I visited Krefeld in 2005 while on a journalism fellowship. I found it a warmly accommodating place, with many similarities to Charlotte – and many differences too.

During breakfast, I sat at a table with Krefeld architects, a banker, an economics teacher and an ice cream shop owner. They were much like any assemblage you might find in an uptown Charlotte conference room – with slightly different accents.

They commented on Charlotte’s growth, its beauty and its NASCAR (they had visited Lowe’s Motor Speedway). I recall when I visited their city, I was impressed by their plentiful green parks, their shop-filled uptown streets and their devotion to the sports of hockey and soccer.

Krefeld has been our sister city for 22 years, and was the second one we adopted after Arequipa, Peru. Our others include Baoding, China; Voronezh, Russia; Limoges, France; Wroclaw, Poland and Kumani, Ghana.

"In Krefeld, it’s considered good form to have visited Charlotte at least once," that city’s mayor, Gregor Kathstede, said during breakfast.

Wouldn’t it be great if the same was true for Charlotteans? That sister cities list sounds like it’d make a fascinating travel itinerary.

Have you ever visited one of Charlotte’s sister cities? If so, post your impressions here or e-mail me.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

David McCullough's Charlotte visit

This morning I caught up with David McCullough, one of the nation’s premier historians, during his visit through Charlotte today. It was great to see throngs of teen-agers, from 8th grade through high school, who were excited to see him.

He stopped by ImaginOn to mingle with the students – and tonight he’s at the Charlotte City Club for a $150-per-ticket event honoring the anniversary of the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775 (click here to read more about it).

When I interviewed McCullough Wednesday, he said he always makes it a priority to meet with young people when he makes public appearances.

"Something I care very deeply about is that we are raising generations of Americans who are historically illiterate. It’s not just that young people, say, in North Carolina don’t know about Mecklenburg, but they don’t know much about anything concerning the Revolutionary War, and it’s our fault. We can’t blame them for not knowing what they haven’t been taught," he said.

"I think it’s of the utmost importance that parents and leaders in all fields of a community take part in the processes of education and not just leave it to teachers and schools."

From the looks of things, McCullough didn’t need to worry about the hundreds of kids packing into the auditorium at ImaginOn. They were chosen to attend because of their interest in American history, and a hand-picked group of about 16 got to meet privately with McCullough before his speech.

Laporcha Ingram, a 12th grader at Harding University High School, was among them. "I’m very honored to meet him," she said afterward.

Why, I asked her, should a 17-year-old care about what happened in the 1770s?

"Because," she replied, "if you don’t know your history, how do you know where you’re going?"

A wise 17-year-old indeed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

One soon-to-be-ex-New Yorker's story

This e-mail arrived in my inbox today, and it nicely sums up the migration trend that has resulted in so many New Yorkers moving here.

"Hello Ms. Dyer,

I read your article on and wanted to drop you a note. We currently live in Cortland, NY, 30 miles south of Syracuse. Our home is on the market and we are looking to relocate to Ft. Mill, SC over the summer. Though the Finger Lakes area of NY is, indeed, beautiful, there is an 'exodus' from NY. (Though you already know that.)

Taxes are outrageous! We purchased the home we are in now in 2000. Since then our taxes have doubled. For our 1900sf home on a third of an acre we are paying $8,000 a year for property and school taxes.

My husband is self-employed and NY is not friendly to self-employed individuals. Why would one want to begin a business here when the State will take so much of what you bring in?

Jobs are difficult to come by. Several years ago Smith Corona (remember the typewriters?) left Cortland for Mexico. Rubbermaid and Marietta are gone. Cortland County, last I heard, has the highest poverty rate... in the state.

Ithaca with Cornell University and Ithaca College, Syracuse with SU and LeMoyne, are each thirty miles in opposite directions. With gas here in Cortland County at $3.17 a gallon, it is tough to rationalize the commute for minimally paying jobs. Cornell is known for great benefits and low pay.

With our oldest two daughters in college, even the in-state tuition and costs run approx. $17,000/yr. Our younger two children are currently in 7th and 5th grades. If we are to relocate, this is the time so they can get established.

In terms of 'adapting' to the South.... A co-worker of mine lived in Charlotte for several years and only returned to NY because of her husband's family being here. When I told her of our looking to relocate to the Charlotte area she told me to 'go and don't look back!' She also told me to make every attempt to adapt to the Southern ways and not expect the Southerners to adapt to us. Makes sense.....

In a nutshell,... if (my husband's) new venture does not work out, there are jobs to be had, unlike NY. Taxes are less, MUCH less. The schools are good. The lack of 120 inches of snow is an added benefit though my son pines at the thought of not having his yearly snow fort next to the mailbox.

I look forward to meeting new people--ones who I hear are friendly. And let it be known that I do very much realize that it it we who are entering their 'world' and we must to it graciously and thankfully."

I'm omitting the writer's name until she gives me her OK. I'm guessing that with this positive attitude, she won't have much problem being warmly welcomed here - even by some of my more ornery blog posters. Do you agree?

Friday, May 11, 2007

More free outdoor concerts!

As some of my recent columns have shown, there’s a lot of free fun stuff going on around this region if you know where to look.

We recently published our second annual list of free outdoor summer concerts around the region. They happen in parks, plazas and shopping centers. They’re so plentiful that they’re one of the reasons I can’t accept hearing "There’s nothing to do around Charlotte." If you feel that way, you’re just not looking.

Since my list ran last Monday, I’ve gotten word of additional events. In addition to the four new ones listed below, I’m told there will be regular concerts at NoDa in north Charlotte and Baxter in Fort Mill, just across the S.C. state line in York County, but they haven’t sent me details yet. If you know of more, keep sending them and I’ll keep updating this list.

Mecklenburg County:
Blakeney, Live Music on the Village Green, 7-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights at the shopping center at Rea and Ardrey Kell roads in southern Mecklenburg. (No contact information available, but see info about the center at

Burke County:
Valdese, Family Friday Nights, 7 p.m. Fridays through August 31. Town parking lot next to Wachovia bank. 828-879-2129,

Gaston County:
Belmont, Concerts in the Park. Every Saturday night in June at 7 p.m., Stowe Park, 24 South Main St., 704-825-8191.

Stanly County
Albemarle, Thursdays at the Station. May 17-Aug. 30, 8 p.m. at Market Station on West Main Street., 704-982-8118.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What a difference a decade makes

A former colleague who worked at the Observer in the mid-1990s before moving up North visited our newsroom today, and she couldn’t stop talking about how much Charlotte has changed in the last 10 years. "The growth is blowing me away," she said.

When she left, there were no high-rise condos in uptown Charlotte, and no Hearst Tower skyscraper; no Bobcats Arena; no Ballantyne Village with its spaceship-style movie theater; no Northlake mall; no Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus at SouthPark.

And those are just some of the immediately visible changes. The region’s been growing at the rate of 50,000 people a year, and those newcomers are bringing with them new accents, food preferences, driving habits and cultures from around the U.S. and the world.

For me, the biggest change Charlotte has undergone in the past decade is the livability and attractiveness of uptown Charlotte. I love seeing our skyline grow crowded with all the high-rise condos under construction, and new entertaintment and cultural opportunities rising along with them at places like the EpiCentre development and the Wachovia complex underway on South Tryon.

I get out to the suburbs a fair amount, thanks to this job, but I’ll bet the people in Union County, Mooresville, Belmont and Fort Mill can tell me more about some of the newer happenings in their areas too.

E-mail me or post here what, in your opinion, are some of the most significant changes the Charlotte region has seen in the last decade. I’ll share highlights with our newcomers in an upcoming column.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's important to know about Charlotte?

"What’s the most important thing to know about Charlotte?"

While I was out of town recently for a friend’s wedding, a friend from Boston who’d never visited Charlotte asked me that question.

My quick answer was something that I know is on many newcomers’ minds: "It’s important to know that many of the roads change names, so you shouldn’t panic when it happens – you’re still going the right direction."

Practical advice, yes. But it doesn’t tell anyone a whole lot about what this city is really like – the people and places that make it different from anywhere else.

Perhaps I should have told him about the importance of our bank headquarters and their influence on our arts, culture and development. Maybe I should’ve mentioned the rampant growth we’re experiencing and the accompanying traffic headaches. Or, I should’ve said anyone who spends any length of time here needs to know some of the finer points of NASCAR and have a position on the question of Eastern vs. Western style barbecue.

What do you think, Charlotteans? How would you answer that question? Post here or e-mail me.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Want to learn more about these parts?

Here’s a headsup on a few events coming up that are useful for anyone who wants to know more about these parts:

--Sunday at 3 p.m., learn more about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence – which local tradition holds was signed by patriots more than a full year before the actual Declaration of Independence – at a free discussion session at the Duke Mansion, 400 Hermitage Road, 704-714-4448. Look for lots of local events commemorating the document coming up around May 20, known as "MeckDec Day."

--Then, set your DVRs for the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." This Monday at 10 p.m., it’ll have a segment on Plaza-Midwood diner The Penguin, which is known for its fried dill pickles. And at 10 p.m. on May 28, see a segment on legendary local drive-in Bar-B-Q King.

Want to try ‘em in person? The Penguin is at 1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-6959; Bar-B-Q King is 2900 Wilkinson Blvd., 704-399-8344.

--And looking ahead to Mother’s Day, it’s a great chance to visit a unique local attraction, the McGill Rose Garden. It holds a free open house next Sunday, May 13, 1-5 p.m. with music and local artists. 940 N. Davidson St. 704-333-6497. To get a peek at the garden, see my newcomer report with news partner WCNC by clicking here.