My Post-Election Night Thoughts

I woke up this morning firmly in the icy-cold grip of an ominous fog of helplessness, the same disturbing sensation so many others across the country felt as well. Upset with myself, I wondered aloud how I could fail to fully realize how imminently possible a Presidency backed by hate and oppression was. There was no longer anything I could do in my power to prevent a future America backed by intolerance, and I was quick to blame myself for not doing more in the first place.

However, I quickly reminded myself that there is little one person can do that could present a devastating catastrophe on the national scale like the one we bore witness to Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Besides, there is no time for assigning blame or justifying fault.

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Photo by Brian “BT” Twitty Photography

It is my belief that fear of the unknown is the strongest motivating emotion in human existence. I usually use the same example to illustrate this: If someone tells you to do ten push ups, you do ten push ups and then you’re done. No worries. Now imagine someone tells you to start doing push ups until they say stop. Gets a bit more dicey then, doesn’t it? With each consecutive push up, the uncertainty of your directive doesn’t allow for you to relax, making the aches and sores in your shoulder that much more difficult to ignore.

Fear of the unknown is exactly what had me worried the most today. Fear of what will happen to my friends and family that aren’t straight white males. Fear of what regressive policies will do to the Earth’s already fragile and wounded environment. Fear of what a pro-ignorance Presidency will do to an economy that is just beginning to see the light of day again. Fear of what Russian influence and Vladimir Putin could have on a bombastic yet morally weak and easily manipulated leadership.

This cloudy uncertainty is the feeling that is hitting me the hardest at this moment. Will we start rounding up all those who don’t fit a certain profile and send them to modern day concentration camps? It wasn’t all that long ago we did exactly that to Japanese Americans, back in the day when the new leadership constantly reminds us that America was supposedly great. Will free speech be banished and replaced by a state-sponsored system of propaganda? Will a Gestapo-like force knock on my door one night to make sure I’m not protecting people of color? Will it be determined that I have just enough color (and an odd enough last name) in me to be the person the Gestapo is looking for? Just like I’m not sure when I have to stop doing push ups, I’m not sure when I might need to go into a Hunger Games-like mode of survival.

Fear and uncertainty, however, cannot win.

Despite having a person that epitomizes all that I stand against in the greatest single position of power in this country, I still have the power to put positive energy into this world, and no one can take that from me. I still have the power in me to stand up for what I believe is right. I still have the power to set a positive example in my community, at a time when it is needed the most. I still have the power to stand firmly against the persecution of my friends and family. I still have the power to become more educated and, in turn, help educate others. I still have the power, while there is still a single breath in my lungs, to speak truth to power, and hold accountable those who seek to oppress, diminish or marginalize anyone in my community. I still have the power to volunteer for causes and the money to donate to charities. I still have the power to create art and music and share it with the world. I still have the power to make positive contributions to my neighbors and my society, for building a stronger foundation of knowledge and respect is how I, personally, can make a difference in the face of seemingly impenetrable hate. I still have the power to do all of these things, and no one, certainly not an elected official, can ever take that away from me.

I’m trying my best to remain confident and optimistic that our state of affairs seems much more bleak than what will actually transpire. Regardless, now is the time to stand tallest and most proud of who we are, and to lift up those around us. We are at our strongest when we are together, and we will overcome whatever uncertainty we may face.

This is a new reality. As painful as it may be, it’s one in which we will be forced to become the best possible versions of ourselves, and maybe that’s not as bad as it seems.

34 Years on Earth, Ten in Charlotte

Bobcats inside sales ten-year reunion, 2016

Bobcats inside sales ten-year reunion, 2016

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.

Construction of the Ritz-Carlton Uptown, 2008.

Construction of the Ritz-Carlton Uptown, 2008

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.

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Senator Obama stumping in uptown Charlotte, 2008

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.

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A detour in the Smokey Mountains, 2006

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.

The original Bobcats inside sales team, 2007

The original Bobcats inside sales team, 2007

Two Sides of Responsibilities in Charlotte Cycling

I’ve always liked riding a bike, but when I moved to Charlotte, I didn’t bring my college bicycle with me. I really wasn’t in a hurry to get another one either, since Charlotte was clearly a car-heavy town (living in the Park & Woodlawn area didn’t help at all). It wasn’t until about four years ago when I had to go six months without a car that I spent $35 on a bike I found on Craigslist.

That shitty (boy was it shitty) bike got me around for a bit, but I’ve since graduated to a much nicer Specialized Rockhopper, and ideal hybrid/commuter bike. Ever since then I’ve been a huge fan of riding my bike around town. It’s great exercise, lots of fresh air, tons of fun, all the same reasons I’m sure you’ve heard.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s just a 15-minute bike ride to my work uptown, the fastest option for my commute.

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The other side of that fun and convenience is that riding a bike in Charlotte is a major risk. The streets were designed almost exclusively with cars in mind, making most biking lanes scarce or redundant. Drivers are also either overly aggressive with cyclists or wildly timid. The only greenway that connects the entire city probably won’t be completed until after 2020. Oh, and one of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the city is less than half a mile from my house.

To me, that leaves three main areas of improvement that can address the situation. The first is infrastructure. There have been some great efforts by the city, Sustain Charlotte and local cyclists to make the roads wider, increase the number of bike lanes and create exclusive bike paths. The second is driver etiquette. Drivers need to show patience around cyclists (who are required to ride on the road by state law) and be comfortable with the idea of sharing road space.

But the third area of improvement falls squarely on the rider themselves. Now most riders I know are like me and pretty courteous. We stop at stop signs, signal when turning and generally follow the same driving rules as if we were in a car. But as the old saying goes, a few rotten apples spoil the entire bunch.

I’ve been either riding or driving and seen the lone jackass cyclist weaving in and out of traffic, running stop signs and cutting people off. That one cyclist out of 50 that doesn’t wear their helmet or lights at night. It’s a daily occurrence uptown to see a cyclist fly through an intersection and narrowly avoid a pancaking. That kind of riding is the same as it is in a car: aggressive and problematic. It’s also that one idiot cyclist that drivers remember when they drive.

So when I’m riding my Specialized Rockhopper (paid a lavish $100 for at a pawn shop) down Davidson, I’m getting drivers who want to come as close as possible to me (I guess to prove a point) or go the exact opposite way and give me ten feet of berth, swerving into oncoming traffic. Another classic example is when I pull up to a stop sign, actually stop, and then have to spend the next 10-15 seconds pantomiming reassurance to the opposite driver that they can indeed proceed. The message to me is that most drivers are deathly afraid of cyclists, to the point that they would actually rather have a wreck with another car than a cyclist.

It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to take a collective effort, but cyclists need to be just as courteous to drivers as they want drivers to be to them. We need to stop at busy intersections, not make sudden movements and use good judgement when switching lanes (I’m asking a lot on that last one, I know).

(Quick side note: more cyclists on the road will also force the hands of the city and drivers to be more accepting of cyclists on the road. The more you see it, the more you adapt. Just another reason to break out your bi-ped!)

Until both cyclists and drivers can learn to occupy the road together, and the city can build roads and paths that encourage cycling, Charlotte will continue to have a shaky relationship with cyclists. Out of those three things, however, you can contribute directly to at least one, and possibly two. Drive with patience around cyclists, and ride with respect around the half-ton death machines flying around you.

Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl Run is what Cities Dream of

via charlotteobserver.com

There it is. You feel it?

There it is again. And again. Wait a second –

It’s everywhere.

It’s that rare electricity that’s been not-so quietly surging through Charlotte for the past two weeks, culminating in today’s Super Bowl. You’ve felt it everywhere because you’ve seen it everywhere. It’s in the jerseys and the car flags, the pep rallies and flash mobs. You see it in the Panthers-blue skyline that has lit the night, you’ve tasted it in silver and blue macaroons, your social media feeds are filled with endless Panthers hype videos. And, of course, you see it in the omnipresent and perpetual dabbing that has remained an ever-present anchor to this roaring showcase of Carolina pride.

(here’s the dab’s origin, if you somehow haven’t looked yourself yet)

The Carolina Panthers’ sudden run to the biggest stage in American sports has almost certainly had a positive effect on the local economy between two high-profile home playoff games, the bonus hospitality income that comes with them and the exponentially increased merchandise sales. Someone smarter and more motivated than me could probably produce a sound study that could tell you the added amount of dollars that are flowing into local businesses, and that number would probably be pretty satisfying.

But that energy? That excitement? That flavor and fun that has let you wear football jerseys and dab with your friends and coworkers?

There’s no study that can quantify that.

That kind of energy doesn’t come around often, and Charlotte is soaking it up. Regardless of what happens in the game tonight, the city of Charlotte won’t forget this Panthers season very soon.

Panthers Pep Rally January 29 at Romare Bearden Park. Photo via sportingnews.com

Two years ago, there was a bit of an uproar about how the Panthers asked the city for $87.5 million dollars in renovations to the 20-year old Bank of America Stadium. The Charlotte Hornets got in on the action too, riding the wave of team renaming fever to the tune of $33.5 million for upgrades to the not-even ten-year old Time Warner Cable Arena. Understandably, there was a bit of push-back and hand-wringing over the city using public funds to essentially subsidise private investment. For good reason too, this is the same city that wouldn’t give George Shinn money to upgrade the old Charlotte Coliseum, and also originally voted against building a new uptown NBA arena.

In the greater American sports landscape, this isn’t anything new. Major cities are routinely held just short of ransom with their respective pro sports leagues leveraging the threat of moving to another city in order to pry loose those taxpayer dollars. Ask the fan bases in San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland right now about how they feel about it. Ask fans in Seattle how they feel about the Sonics. The list goes on and on.

That electric feeling that has been so pervasive in our city in 2016? That’s the feeling that cities gamble on when they make these deals with pro sports teams. Every major city that has every invested in pro sports has had daydreams about experiencing a run that Charlotte is having right now (right now!).

For the past two weeks, the entire nation has gotten to see what we here in the Queen City have known for quite a while: that Charlotte is a quickly growing bold presence. Outside of North Carolina, people across the country have been saying things like “So the Panthers play in Charlotte, not Raleigh!” and “Charlotte is in North Carolina, not South!”. That beautiful skyline that we get treated to everyday has been seen by millions of new eyes, and people are recognizing the unique combination of finance and culture we have. We see this Super Bowl run as a manifestation of all the growth, development and progression that we’ve had for the past 30 years.

Not to mention, a whole lot of supposedly smart pundits and prognosticators have been made to look pretty silly by Cam and the crew.

via nytimes.com

That last point is not insignificant when it comes to how special this season has been. This Carolina Panthers team (led by its quarterback) has redefined what it means to be a championship NFL team, and one that embraces its culture and personality. Cam Newton has shattered stereotypes and challenged all of us to take a good hard look at who we are and how that affects what we perceive in other people. The team as a whole has carried itself in that incredibly hard to balance sweet spot between having swagger, being honorable and charitable, while also having laser-like on the task at hand.

As if that wasn’t enough, this Panthers team (if they win tonight) could be looked back on as one of the NFL’s all-time greatest teams. There’s not a whole lot of buzz about it now, but if Carolina was to finish as only the fourth team to finish 18-1, there’s going to be a lot of people taking a long hard look at putting this team in the top tier of all-time greats.

So enjoy it, Charlotte. Take pride in your dab. Wear with gusto your Kuechly jersey, your Cam jersey, or your Brad Hoover jersey for you old-schoolers. This is such a rare and perhaps fleeting opportunity to relish in the sunny spotlight that so many cities, sports fans and elected officials dream of.

Watch the Panthers win this game tonight and the city literally never be the same again because of the increased exposure for the city and for Cam Newton. If the team loses and that electricity is replaced by bitterness, it’s all the more reason to savor this moment, because we might not have another one like it soon.