So here I am. 34 years old to the day and also ten years to the day that I moved to Charlotte.
If you’d have asked me about my long-term plans for Charlotte, I’d say the same as I would today: I don’t have concrete plans to be here for another 10/20/30 years, but I absolutely could if I had to because Charlotte is such an awesome city, clean and progressive, and now, I even have firm roots here. I’ve done a lot of growing, a lot of progressing, while also having a few stumbles along the way, just like the city that I now call home.
But before we get into that, let’s flashback to Charlotte in May of 2006.
The Carolina Panthers were hot, having just come off a Super Bowl and an NFC Championship Game appearance in the past three seasons. They were coached by John Fox and Marty Hurney was the GM. The quarterback was Jake Delhomme, the first round pick was a RB out of Memphis named DeAngelo Williams and they also signed the decrepit corpse of WR Keyshawn Johnson. The Panthers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
The Hornets were still known as the Bobcats back then, just two years removed from expansion status. Time Warner had not yet bought the naming rights to the arena, so it was known as “Charlotte Bobcats Arena”. The key players on the team were Raymond Felton, Sean May, Emeka Oakafor, Gerald Wallace, Brevin Knight, Primoz Brezec and the immortal Walter Hermann. The Bobcats used the third overall pick in the draft to select Adam Morrison, a guy who is today best known for crying at the end of an NCAA tournament game. Michael Jordan first bought into the Bobcats franchise that year as a minority owner, he would eventually purchase the team from then-owner Bob Johnson.
BB&T Ballpark was still in the beginnings of a years-long battle to secure the space, which was at the time, a giant undeveloped eyesore pit in the middle of uptown.
The Carolina Hurricanes won the first (and so far only) professional sports championship in North Carolina that June.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame had just been awarded to Charlotte, but was several years from construction. The US National Whitewater Center was already under construction, and opened that summer.
The light rail was still a year and a half from opening. There was no rail trail, no Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Midtown, and no statue of Captain James Jack.
There was no Duke Energy Tower, VUE, Catalyst, Element, Skye, UNCC Center City, Romare Bearden park, Mint Museum Uptown or Bechtler Museum. The Epicenter was under construction, but shady real estate deals and the 2008 recession would dramatically alter it’s course. Dixie’s Tavern (now the future site of Google Fiber) in the prime of it’s Jager-Bomb slinging, Def Leppard screaming life.
Wachovia was still headquartered here before they got bought out by Wells Fargo in 2008. The PGA tournament was still called the Wachovia Championship. Tiger Woods was the absolute undisputed greatest athlete on earth.
The only breweries in town were Carolina Brewery and Rock Bottom. Then-Governor Mike Easley had just signed into law the Pop-the-Cap legislation, which raised the ABV for beer brewed in state from a paltry 6% to a much more brewer-friendly 15%. It would be three years before Olde Mecklenburg Brewery really established itself as Charlotte’s first true craft brewery. The closest thing you could get to craft beer in most stores? Belle’s Oberon.
There was no Kindred. No Passion 8. No Custom Shop. No Midwood Smokehouse, no Earl’s Grocery, no Pure Pizza, no Sabor, no Chima, no Five Church or Nan & Byron’s, no Dandelion Market, no Soul Gastrolounge, no Cowfish, no Halcyon, no Mayobird, no Block & Grinder, no Pinky’s, no Bistro La Bon, no Bad Daddy’s, no Luna’s, no Futo Buta, no Heirloom, no Fahrenheit, no Queen City Q and exactly zero of the food trucks and mobile food options we enjoy today. The Penguin in Plaza Midwood was still in the tail end of its prime, however.
Montford (where I lived back then) was certainly not the Montford of today. You still had Angry Ale’s, but no Roasting Co., Brazwell’s, Good Food on Montford, Duckworth’s and Park Ten Lanes was still a serious renovation away from becoming an acceptable place to hang out.
NoDa (where I live now), was not NoDa back then. There was no Heist, no Jack Beagle’s (and no “Als Ich Chan” mural), no Growler’s. no Crepe Cellar, no Revolution Pizza, no Blind Pig and no Chop Shop (just like today). There was a pre-Guy Fieri Cabo Fish Taco, and Salvador Deli however.
Smoking was still allowed indoors.
There were only five CDGC-sponsored disc golf courses. Now there are 18.
Independence Boulevard was a mess of abandoned strip mall spaces and shuttered doors, a true eye-sore along such a prominent stretch of road. Oh wait…
Eastland Mall was still standing and in operation, however very much removed from its glory days.
Patrick Cannon was a four-year city council member. Jennifer Roberts was on the Mecklenburg County of Board of Commissioners. Pat McCrory… was mayor.
May 13, 2006 – I woke up with an unreal hangover in Athens, Ohio, where I had spent the previous night hanging out with my college roommate who was in grad school at Ohio University. Athens was a good checkpoint in my move to Charlotte, as it’s just a six-hour shot straight down I77. Despite my lingering intoxication, I set out just after lunchtime, for the second leg of a trip that would take me to just the second city in which I’ve ever lived.
The ride south on I77 is actually very scenic. Almost the entire drive is through the robust, rolling hills of the two Virginias. Southern Indiana had a few small hills, but these were seemingly infinite stretches of deep undulations that felt like something out of a movie or postcard.
As I got into the general Charlotte area, probably somewhere south of Huntersville, I realized I hadn’t printed out any directions to get to my new apartment. Back in 2006, maps and directions on phones were technically possible, but not really functional in the way we know them today. Because I had just spent the last six hours on the road, I called my friend back in Athens, had him Google my address and describe over the phone how to get to my apartment.
The first apartment complex I lived in was 1420 Magnolia, a nice but anonymous complex just off of Park and Woodlawn. It was getting dark by the time I finally found where I was and pulled into the parking garage. This would be the first (and last) giant apartment complex I would have ever lived in, and it didn’t seem particularly welcoming. The hallways are dark and cavernous, the doors are made of steel and my unit was completely unfurnished, meaning the only things I had to fill it with were the things I brought in my Jeep.
I didn’t rent a U-Haul (which both then and now seems insanely expensive), so the main things I had to my name upon my first night in Charlotte were a mattress (yes, I was that dude who strapped a mattress to his luggage rack), my clothes, a few small storage units with random shit, and my Dell desktop PC (I didn’t have internet hooked up yet, so it was basically just a stereo playing the music on the hard drive).
My roommate wouldn’t move in until the next day. There was no Yelp!, so I couldn’t figure out what bar was close by. I couldn’t call anyone who could tell me. I literally didn’t know one other person in the city. I called my mom to let her know I got there and that was nice.
It was this unescapable feeling of loneliness that was how I celebrated my 24th birthday.
Fortunately, that feeling wouldn’t last. My roommate moved in the next morning, and we’re still close friends to this day. A week later, I would start my job at the Charlotte Bobcats, which had a built in team of young people like me who were all new to the city too and just wanted to have a good time.
Fast forward a decade later and I feel pretty lucky to have grown and evolved in step with a young, dynamic city. I now have a deep set of roots and a diverse circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I can actually navigate my way through the majority of this city without the help of navigation. I’ve also starting following the Hornets and Panthers as much as the Pacers and Colts (but not more).
I still don’t know if I’ll be in Charlotte for another 10/20/30 years, but this city is awesome enough that if that were the case, I wouldn’t be mad about it. Charlotte is a great city that’s only getting better. Today I’m celebrating myself, but I’m also celebrating my city, and all the ups and downs we’ve shared over the past decade.