Monday, November 26, 2007

More light-rail tips from readers

With tens of thousands of people sampling Charlotte’s first light-rail line this weekend, the advice is flying.

People with light-rail experience in other cities are sharing more tips for proper etiquette on the crowded trains, in response to today’s article on the subject.

A sampling of responses:

--“As a veteran of many commutes in the northeast, the number one etiquette tip I could give people here is PASSENGERS GETTING OFF OF THE TRAIN HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY (to those getting on). Trust me – this will be the first rule of law implemented by routine passengers. Especially for those who think that the train comes just for them and when the doors open, it’s their right to get on as quickly as possible. Hey, it happens at the door at Dunkin Donuts all the time - it’ll happen on the train.” - Jim Mitchem

--“ALWAYS allow passengers to exit before entering the car. Keep away from the door to allow a speedy exit.” --Transplant from Boston, Bette Rega

--“I agree with your list of rules of etiquette for the light rail, but I'm concerned that you passed over one important rule - that a man should give up his seat for a woman. This may not sound politically correct, but it is still the rule of etiquette. Men need to be taught that this is the proper expectation of society and women should be taught to accept this courtesy with grace as a gesture of respect towards them.” --David C. Judge (Blog author’s note: I’m not sure I agree with this point in cases where people of both genders are equally able-bodied, but I was horrified to learn recently that riders on the Gold Rush uptown bus failed to yield seats to an 8-months-pregnant friend of mine. Use common courtesy, people).

--“There’s at least one more very basic rule you omitted: Let passengers on the train exit before trying to push your way in. When we rode LYNX yesterday, we could tell we were riding with novices. I’m sure that will self-correct with experience.” --Rheba Hamilton

--“I noticed two biggies we dealt with and they constantly remind us of in DC:
1) When the doors open, if you are waiting on the platform, please step back to allow customers to exit. Think about it: if let them leave, it makes more roomfor you! And it makes it easier for both parties to enter and exit the train.
2) When boarding, please move to the center of the car. Because - believe it or not - others also may want to board and they don't want to squeeze by you.” --Keith Hall

--“We visit D.C. all the time and ride the metro system. Great system to get downtown. However, they’re not as nice as we are down here. Everyone’s in a hurry. They have signs for $100 fines for littering, including leaving your newspapers behind. One thing is, the doors. Everyone knows you have limited time to get off and you better be ready. The doors close and there is no pushing them open. That’s something we’ll have to train ourselves about down here. Hopefully, they’ll have plenty of marketing and signs to help relay these messages, like other systems have.”--Gary Veazey, Albemarle

And lastly:

--“I am a Charlotte native....Oh please, you don't have to teach etiquette to a Southerner. We were taught manners and courtesy since we started talking.” --Shelia Boone

That may be true for many Southerners - but surely not all, and I never said all train novices were born here. Any more tips out there?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Please share your Thanksgiving traditions

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

When I was interviewing newcomers for today's story about people who clear out of Charlotte to celebrate Thanksgiving "back home," one told me that her Virginia family always gathers for a "big Southern Thanksgiving."

I started thinking about what that means. Most likely, the side dishes include macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top and stuffing made with cornbread. (It was relatively late in my life that I learned people in some parts of the country actually make stuffing with oysters - shudder.) But as far as the nature of the gathering - extended family, all in one place to share in good cheer - I don't think it makes much difference what part of the country you're in.

I grew up in Charlotte, and my family's traditions hail from a combination of the Midwest (Dad grew up in Chicago) and Texas (Mom's from Lubbock). Some of our quirks include an occasionally appearing green jello dish made with cottage cheese and crushed pineapple, and pumpkin pie which I usually serve with Cool Whip (just as good as the real stuff to me, and a lot easier). We usually stress over who's going to make the gravy, because nobody feels confident about it.

Now I'd like to hear some of your family Thanksgiving quirks - and please specify where you grew up. There are probably commonplace dishes and traditions in other parts of the country that I - and fellow Southerners - haven't heard of. And everyone out there, please have a happy and safe holiday!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is Charlotte less safe than other cities?

I am so accustomed to talking with newcomers who are thrilled to be in Charlotte that my recent conversation with a Manhattan transplant shocked me.

“I have felt more unsafe here than anywhere I’ve ever lived,” she said. “I think Charlotte has a dark underbelly that not many people talk about.”

The conversation was triggered by discussion of the mysterious case of Kyle Fleischmann, who left an uptown bar alone, without any money, and vanished. His story has resonated because most people I know have a story involving drinking a little too much and losing track of one or two of the friends we went out with. His disappearance has many of us imagining the worst.

There are other reasons my friend feels unsafe. A frightening spate of random robberies has been making news. Women walking alone uptown or in center-city neighborhoods are often bothered by aggressive panhandlers. Crime rates have seesawed here.

But this is my home, and I have always felt fundamentally safe, so long as I took common-sense precautions. I don’t walk alone at night unless I’m in a well-lit, highly-populated area. I use my burglar alarm consistently. I always make sure my cell phone is charged before I go out and I make sure someone knows where I am.

Charlotte isn’t much more dangerous than similar-sized cities. Most violent crimes here, as with most other places, occur between people who know each other. The crime I am most likely to become a victim of is a car break-in. (Please, don’t leave stuff out visibly in your car!)

I also believe that as far as the center city goes, things will get much better – and soon. As each new condo tower opens, it sends a new batch of people out to walk the streets at all hours. So the chances of finding yourself in a frightening situation will diminish.

Last night I was at the Police concert. It was a thrilling feeling to be among the 15,000 people leaving Bobcats Arena all at once – all pumped up from a great show, filling uptown streets. Many of us poured into nearby bars and restaurants – I ended up at Brixx – for a post-show snack and drink.

This scene is repeated anytime there’s a big show at the arena, but I’m hoping that our uptown is developing enough that those kinds of crowds will be commonplace whether or not a special event has brought them there.

Transplants, do you agree with my friend or do you feel safer here than other places? What can be done to improve Charlotte’s sense of safety?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Light-rail etiquette tips?

OK, you Charlotte-area transplants from other cities with rail systems: I need your input.

The light-rail line through south Charlotte opens the weekend after Thanksgiving. There’s a group of Charlotteans out there who may be setting foot on a light-rail train for the first time. Given the volume of complaints I hear about Charlotte drivers, I imagine there will be a fair number of complaints about rail-riding etiquette.

For those with rail-riding experience, what are your tips? Hopefully most people will know the basics like “let everyone who’s getting off the train out before you try to go in the doors” and “for Pete’s sake, be careful when you’ve got your iPod on full blast.” But perhaps there are more subtle tips you can offer for avoiding annoying your fellow passengers and getting the most trouble-free ride possible.

(And for all you haters out there, this entry is not a referendum on the merits of light rail – you got your chance to weigh in on that during last week’s election. And it’s not a referendum on the merits of Charlotte, either. Please keep your comments on topic).

Personally, I’ve ridden trains in Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, Portland, London and Frankfurt. Each city's system had its own quirks. I’m eager to learn what Charlotte’s quirks will be, and how people will navigate them. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing your advice – and I hope to write an article for the paper, so e-mail me if you’re willing to be quoted by name!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Taken any good road trips lately?

We live in a great place for road trips, and this past weekend brought me ample opportunity to be reminded of that.

First, I headed to Durham – home of my alma mater, Duke – for an event for alumni of the university’s student newspaper. The highway was filled with cars displaying flags for the ACC football teams playing on Saturday, including UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State (my beloved Blue Devils have never been a football powerhouse, alas).

The afternoon was so crisp and clear, I envied those who got to spend it outside watching football. Newcomers should put road-tripping to one of our ACC schools for a football or basketball game on their to-do lists.

From there, I headed west on I-40 to the Asheville area, which was hosting the city’s annual film festival. Perhaps I had the drought to thank for the brilliant red-and-gold leaf display along the way, unusually bright for mid-November.

The fest has a tradition of honoring a film actor each year, and this year’s guest was Tess Harper, star of “Crimes of the Heart,” “Tender Mercies” and the N.C.-filmed “Loggerheads.” North Carolinian actors Andie MacDowell and Robby Benson also made appearances. I caught two pretty good flicks, a documentary about Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (“I Have Never Forgotten You”) and a feature about illegal immigration (“Under the Same Moon”). As always, I appreciated the chance to bypass typical popcorn fare for some thought-provoking movies I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see.

I’m glad to see Charlotte nurturing its own fledgling film festival scene, and I’d love to see the local Charlotte and/or Cackalacky film festivals follow suit with bringing in a headlining actor and/or director to highlight, which would help boost the festivals’ profiles and ticket sales.

In the meantime, I’m grateful I live in a state that has several enjoyable film festivals, along with a lot of other great attractions, just an easy interstate drive away.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Need your input: Transit tax, and Thanksgiving plans

Did newcomers make the difference in the vote to keep Mecklenburg's transit tax?

They certainly had the power to, as I previously reported. A majority of Mecklenburg's voters registered after the transit tax was first approved in 1998. The half-cent sales tax has paid for expanding bus service and starting a light-rail system.

I heard from colleagues who were out interviewing voters on Tuesday. Many voters who moved here from areas where rail systems are prevalent said they favored keeping the tax. In the Northeast, for example, paying to maintain a rail system is routine for many residents, and New York is the No. 1 state of origin for this region's transplants.

I'm interested in talking with transplants who voted on the transit tax. Please e-mail me with your contact information, and let me know where you moved from and when, and why you voted the way you did.


I'm also looking for transplants willing to talk about their Thanksgiving plans. Are you leaving Charlotte to go "back home" for Thanksgiving, or are you staying because Charlotte is "home" now? If you're willing to be interviewed for a Thanksgiving article, you know the drill: E-mail me with contact information, where you moved from and when.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Newcomers: How do you decide how to vote?

Does the length of time you’ve lived in this area influence how you’ll vote on local issues? Should it?

I pondered this while working on today’s article reporting the fact that more than half of Mecklenburg County’s voters – 51 percent – are people who registered after 1998. The bulk of them moved here from other counties or states.

That’s significant because 1998 is the year Mecklenburg voters first approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for mass transit, and one result of that tax – the south Charlotte light-rail line – is set to open in November.

Tomorrow’s ballot includes a measure to repeal that half-cent sales tax, which could potentially force city leaders to radically alter transportation policy. I found it interesting that, depending on turnout, the vote could rest entirely in the hands of relative newcomers who have no memories of the initial debate that led to Charlotte’s light-rail transit plan.

In my article, experts say there’s no telling how these transplants will lean. Some moved from cities where they’re accustomed to light rail. But newcomers in general are less likely to vote on local issues.

Tomorrow’s ballot includes several other key local issues, including a school bond and races for mayor and city council.

So, I’m interested in hearing from newcomers in particular – if you plan to vote tomorrow, or you’ve early-voted, what factors do you use to evaluate your vote when you’re new to the community?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Follow-up: Halloween ghost tour

When it’s a dark Halloween night at one of Mecklenburg County’s oldest surviving properties, everything takes on a certain spookiness.

A breeze through trees sounds like whispering. A cat pouncing in dry leaves causes a start. Darkened windows at Historic Rosedale plantation, built in 1815, convey a feeling that perhaps someone inside is watching.

After writing about local ghost stories, I couldn’t resist attending Rosedale’s Halloween ghost tour last night. I’d heard that Rosedale has a reputation among Charlotte’s historic community as one of the most haunted properties in the region – and executive director Deborah Hunter shared many tales of eerie happenings with me and about 20 other attendees.

The house was occupied by descendants of its original family until 1986. “A lot of their spirits still linger here,” Hunter told the group. “There is a lot of family energy in this house.”

In its plantation days, Rosedale was home to 24 enslaved people. One was a root healer named Cherry, whose plantings of arrowroot and other herbs remain in the woods. She was a nursemaid for many of the plantation’s children, and “she is still here,” Hunter said.

About once a month, Hunter and education director Camille Smith smell smoke outside their offices in the house – which smells exactly like the rabbit tobacco Cherry used to smoke. When they first noticed it, they called the Charlotte Fire Department – and only two of the firefighters could smell it. No cause was identified. Now, they accept the occurrences as part of working in the house.

A small cabinet is built into a post on the back porch. It’s not easy to tug open, but many mornings, workers arrive to find it popped open. One of the home’s servants used to keep shaving equipment for a disabled homeowner there; observers assume the servant periodically visits to give his master a shave. “We do have a raccoon out here, but he does not have a crowbar,” Hunter said.

Sometimes, Rosedale employees, volunteers and board members lead nighttime tours with “intuitives,” or psychics. Many have picked up on impressions of former residents of the house. Everyone – intuitive or not – feels sadness and gets headaches when visiting the top floor of the house, where it is believed a former tutor experienced much personal misery about her reduced economic circumstances, and may have punished her pupils by locking them in a closet.

Hunter once saw a ghostly arm cross a doorway in front of her in the house. Recently on a nighttime tour, she felt a tug on her sleeve while nobody was standing nearby – an intuitive told her it was the spirit of a child. Neither incident has fazed her.

“I think we have multiple people that visit and look after us and look after the house,” Hunter said.

Many presences, both happy and sad, have been detected in the kitchen in the house’s basement. That’s where Cherry is believed to reside. Last night it was difficult to detect anything spooky with 20 other people crowded into the brightly lit room, but I did get the sense I was in a room where much activity had occurred over many years.

And there was one strange thing: Bundles of dried herbs hang from the ceiling in one corner. They aren’t near any obvious drafts, and yet one bundle of rosemary – apart from all the others – rotated slowly in a circle while I stood nearby.