Seven Questions with Jen Band of Playing for Others

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Jen Band of Playing for Others. Photo courtesy of thesavageway.com

People with disabilities, especially children, often times miss out on some of the joy and wonder than most of us take for granted as we grow up. Events like birthday parties, proms and vacations many times minimize the involvement of the disabled, limiting the exuberance that others routinely enjoy.

Fortunately, organizations like Playing for Others make it a point that kids with disabilities don’t miss out on feeling like they’re the superstar. One such event is happening this Sunday at McKnight Hall on the UNCC campus. For the ninth consecutive year, Playing for Others presents its Red Carpet program which makes the buddies (PFO’s affectionate term for kids with disabilities) the star of the show, both literally and figuratively.

At the center of the Red Carpet program is a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which features performances from both the teens and buddies. Before the show, however, the buddies are treated to a VIP experience, as they will arrive at the show in style. A limo ride to the venue is followed by a walk down the red carpet, where spectators, PFO teens and the buddies themselves are dressed like movie stars at the Oscars. As the cameras flash, the buddies and teens strike poses and bask in the adulation of the event, which is the culmination of homecoming weekend.

Playing for others was formed in 2006 to teach teenagers that you can take what you’re passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good. Today, 75 teens (eighth grade through high school) from 37 different schools participate in the Playing for Others program. Two teens team up with each buddy for friend dates, art experiences and relationship building. One of the program’s main focuses is diversity, with teens and buddies of all races, nationalities, sexualities and economic backgrounds included. Through this mentorship, teens in the program learn personal development, leadership training and public service.

To get a better idea of what to expect at the Red Carpet Event, I asked seven questions to Jen Band (formerly of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte), Executive Director of Playing for Others.

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What are some of the other activities in homecoming weekend leading up to the red carpet event? Friday night we will host HeARTbeat, an evening celebrating 12 local non-profits by bringing their story to life through the music, dance, spoken word, and digital art. Then on Saturday night we’ll gather to celebrate 10 years and watch a premiere of our first ever original musical, Ready. Set. Go.

What was the inspiration for the red carpet event? The Red Carpet event is a PFO staple. It’s a time for our “buddies”, children with disabilities, to be celebrated and treated like the rockstars they are! We believe that every human being deserves love and belonging.

How many teens and how many buddies participate in each homecoming? We have 75 teens in the program and 36 buddies that all come together for a weekend of hugs, high fives and dance parties :)

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How are the performances (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in this case) selected? You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was the very first PFO show. It seemed fitting to do it for our ten year anniversary.

What has the response been like from previous parents or caregivers? Parents are blown away by their experience with PFO. Many talk about how important these friendships are for their kids. The care, attention and love given to the buddies is simply beautiful to watch.

How often do you hear from former buddies and what do they say? Many of our buddies stay in the program year after year, they just can’t get enough of it! Those that move on come back for performances and stay in touch with their former PFO teen buddy. It’s a life-long relationship.

Personally, what is your favorite part of the red carpet event? That moment when I get to open the door to the limo and see all the excited faces inside. It’s honestly one of my favorite moments of the entire PFO season :)  

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Playing for Other’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is this Sunday, March 5 at McKnight Hall on the Campus of UNC Charlotte (9025 University Rd.) at 4:30 p.m. with red carpet festivities starting at 3 p.m. Show up in your freshest attire, and pay what you can at the door.

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.

Quick Thoughts on Creative Loafing’s Best Of 2016

I had a few quick thoughts in regards to Creative Loafing’s “Best Of” issue released last week. Here they are, in no particular order or purpose:

Reader’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Course – Kilborne Park This pick may or may not be the reason why I wrote this blog. In terms of pure quality, Kilborne is far from the best disc golf course in Charlotte. Creative Loafing even wrote about how Charlotte is the mecca of disc golf back in May. I always tell people the reason that is true is because we have a higher density of championship-level 18-hole disc golf courses within an hour’s drive of Uptown than any other city in the US (and arguably the world). There may be cities with better courses, but there’s not as many. There may be cities with more courses, but they’re not as good. Courses like Renaissance Gold, R.L. Smith, Nevin and Hornet’s Nest (closed now, but will reopen in 2017) are known across the country as being destination courses.

Despite all that, I can see why the readers would choose Kilborne. It’s centrally-located, beginner friendly and has been around since 1991 making it the second-oldest CDGC-sponsored course in town. If you’re going to learn the game, Kilborne is a great place to start, but more experienced players know there are far greater treasures in the Queen City.

Reader’s Pick: Best Place to Get Back to Nature – Crowder’s Mountain I’m pretty sure everyone in Charlotte has been to the top of Crowder’s Mountain like, a zillion times. Every time I’ve gone in the past five years (even on a weekday), the place is incredibly crowded (see what I did there?). For a place to get away from it all, Crowder’s is the last place you want to go if you’ve already been there.

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If you’re still set on Crowder’s Mountain, try to find the scenic and secluded back side

Fortunately, you do have a couple other options within a 45-minute drive of Uptown. My pick is Morrow Mountain just outside of Albemarle. There are more trails (with similarly breathtaking views), a lake, campgrounds and it’s rarely as densely trafficked. Also worth a shot: King’s Mountain in Gaston County.

Reader’s Pick: Best Blog – Freckled Italian Yo, CL readers, since Megan now lives in California, how bout you do ya boy a favor next year?

Reader’s Pick: Best Podcast – Margarita Confessionals My plan is to get more people to play disc golf so that next year y’all can vote for Final Round Radio. Make no mistake, however. Lauren and Ali do an excellent job with this podcast.

Critic’s Pick: Best Movie Theater – AMC Concord Mills This shouldn’t even be allowed since it’s located in the retail hell that is Concord Mills Mall. Try the Manor Twin off Providence for a cozy atmosphere and lots of independent films (which the readers confirmed with their pick).

Reader’s Pick: Best New Night Spot – Kandy Bar Gotta wonder if voting took place before this happened. Plus, Epicenter.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for B-Boys and B-Girls to Congregate – Breakin’ Convention Breakin’ Convention is nice, but it’s just once a year. If you checked out this event held at Knight Theater and the surrounding area, try hitting up Knocturnal every Monday night at Snug Harbor. You’ll see many of the same break dancing teams without all the polish and ads for Sprite.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for Karaoke – Jeff’s Bucket Shop This place has the long-standing reputation as Charlotte’s only true karaoke bar, so it gets grandfathered into this award each year, but the truth is there’s far better options. Jeff’s seems like it would be cool because it’s on Montford and you have to go down a flight of stairs which gives it that speakeasy vibe. But once you get down there is where the fun ends. The bar selection is tepid at best and the room itself is incredibly small which means the god-awful singers are just that much more unbearable (I know, it’s karaoke, but this place seems to attract the very worst wannabe singers). The worst part? You gotta pay to play. If you’re not brown-nosing the DJ a little, expect to wait at least an hour to sing. Try NoDa 101, which has karaoke seven days a week or Hattie’s Thursday nights.

Reader’s Pick: Best Restaurant in NoDa – Cabo Fish Taco OK, forget disc golf. *This* is why I wrote this blog. Cabo’s… eh, not too bad, certainly not the worst, but JEEBUS, PEOPLE. Ever since Guy Fieri and his stupid blonde tips (there I go again with the blonde tips) ventured there a few years ago, the line to Cabo is out the door, spilling into Davidson and around the corner. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having lots of business, I can’t hate on that. I just want to tell all those folk (none of whom actually live in NoDa) that you could dip out of that line and go to literally any other restaurant on the block, sit right down and have a meal that is at least as good, and most likely better than Cabo.

Dying for fish? Try Boudreaux’s, best cajun this side of Cajun Queen. Want that southwestern feel? Sabor is less expensive and way quicker. Thought they might have oysters at Cabo? Nope. Try walking across the street to Growler’s. Just wanna say ‘fuck it’ and get drunk off cheap bar food? Jack Beagle’s and Solstice won’t let you down.

In short: skip the line. It’s not worth it.

Critic’s Pick: Best Pastry Shop – Renaissance Pâtisserie So I’ve never actually been to the place CL picked as the winner here, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic spot. Really, I’m just glad that this pick didn’t go to Amélie’s. Amélie’s has been criminally overrated for some time now. I’ll really never understand why it consistently is mentioned not only as one of the best pastry shops in town, but an actual tourist destination! What in the actual fuck?!? I can only assume it’s the kitchy decorations and the 24-hour service, because it sure as hell isn’t the food (very little of which is hand-made), the prices ($2.50 per macaroon?) and the hipster-approved aloof service.

Oh you want to swing by for a coffee real quick before you go to work? Fuck you, you have to wait in line behind 20 mouth-breathers who ask what each individual flavor of every single fucking thing is in the case before flippantly deciding “Nah, I’m good”. “Would you like something from the case?” “Fucking no, I just want a damn cup of coffee!” Is it really that hard to make a second line where people like me who just want a coffee can quickly order it without having to suffer through other people’s indecision issues? It’s 2016, maybe that could be solved via… an app?

The original Amélie’s in NoDa is 24 hours. Awesome, you might think, until you try to go there after midnight on a weekend night and the line is literally stretched into the pavilion full of kids who are too young to drink, each of them repeating the commitment-phobic task of picking something from the case of crap.

Think the shiny new Amélie’s Uptown is any better? Fuck and no, it’s just bigger and closes at 6 p.m. Despite having a huge bar with two baristas and multiple point of sale stations, you still have to go by their precious pastry case, get accosted about a recently-frozen croissant you don’t want only to order from someone who could seriously care less that you’re there, and the faster you leave is the faster they can go back to writing their organic mayonnaise recipe.

Oh, let’s not also forget that ownership there has a shady past in regards to the mistreatment of their workers. How laissez faire of them.

Critic’s Pick: Best Brunch – Letty’s Trick question. Brunch in Charlotte is pretty awful in general. There’s a few highlights (Dish, Füd at Salud, etc.), but even those are pretty pedestrian compared to other cities. Plus, where is the brunch service during the weekdays? Have we no love for those who make their own hours?

Reader’s Pick: Best Steak House – Beef & Bottle 100% agree with CL readers on this one. In fact, this is where I was for my most recent birthday. Give me that hole in the wall feel over Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s any damn day.

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Me and the homies

Reader’s Pick: Best Sushi – Rusan’s Seriously. Any place that serves an “all you can eat” sushi special is suspect. All you can eat works at Golden Corral. Not at a sushi place. Unfortunately, since my go-to spot, Eight Sushi closed down, there’s really not a place I can confidently say is #1. Akahana is aight. Nikko is overpriced. K.O. is pretty solid for quick service. I’ll give this a grade of incomplete.

Reader’s Pick: Best Mexican – Three Amigo’s This is part of what’s wrong with Charlotte. Just a mile or so down the road from Three Amigo’s original location on Central is Morazan, which is about as authentic and delicious (not to mention affordable) as you can get. But since it’s in the “rough” part of town and you may actually need to know some Spanish to order, it will never make a list like this where a segment of this city’s population will avoid going out of their comfort zone at all costs.

Come to think of it, all the authentic versions of all your favorite ethnic restaurants are all on the east side. King of Spicy, La Shish Kabob, Landmark, Pho Hong, Dim Sum and Queen Sheeba are just a few of them.

Reader’s Pick: Best Brewery – Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Seriously? With all the breweries in town that are pushing the limits of craft beer to their absolute edge and y’all picked the place whose entire lineup consists of three beers that taste like an expensive version of Miller Lite?

Critic’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Shop – Another Round Disc Golf Full disclosure: this is where I record Final Round Radio along with Kevin Keith and one of the co-owners of ARDG, Kevin Burgess. All bias aside, this is definitely the place you want to go if you’re just starting out in disc golf, or you’re a seasoned pro. With five local craft beers on tap, it’s the perfect 19th hole after a round. Also, this is a bit of a trick category since ARDG is the only disc golf exclusive shop in town.

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Discs and beer on tap at Another Round Disc Golf

Reader’s Pick: Best Bicycle Shop – Uptown Cycles Since I know that people don’t show up to a damn thing in this town if there’s not beer involved, it should be pointed out that Spoke Easy in Elizabeth has a bar with craft beer on tap, much like the bicycle version of Another Round Disc Golf.

Reader’s Pick: Best Barber Shop – No Grease Y’all coudn’t have been more right on this one.

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Me and Omar, my barber of seven-plus years

Locally owned by twin brothers Damian and Jermaine Johnson, No Grease carries on the tradition of the black-owned barber shop, except with a stylish flair. The barbers (or tonsorial artists if you wanna be precise) never show up to work without dressing the part, frequently wearing the bow-ties that the Johnson brothers also sell.

I started getting my haircut at No Grease in 2009 when it was located at what is now Workman’s Friend on Central. Since then they’ve expanded to have three different locations, the flagship one being on the ground floor retail space of the Spectrum Center. I was tired of the bowl cut drones that were cutting hair at Supercuts and Sports Clips, so I gave these guys a shot. Needless to say, I haven’t turned back. The cuts are always on point (for me, a smooth fade is a necessity), and you always get great conversation and a welcoming atmosphere.

In One Week I Saw the Spectrum of Human Emotion Play Out In The Streets: Part II

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Wednesday night of the protest. Less than a block and less than an hour from the spot where Justin Carr was shot

An all too familiar scene unfolded, one that I had only been exposed to through social media in other, far more remote and flawed cities. As if to make sure there was no confusion to the point, another unarmed black man was shot dead in the streets. This time, in my seemingly picture-perfect and socially insulated home city of Charlotte.

This incident, the killing of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of the Charlotte Mecklenburg PD, played out not unlike most other highly (and not-so-highly) publicized instances of police brutality. A lone, unarmed black man encounters a group of police officers who, despite outnumbering him, fear for their own lives and react with the swift pull of a trigger. Four shots ring out and in an instant, seven kids are without their father, a wife without her husband, and the strange fruit that once hung from a tree is now lying in a pool of blood in an apartment parking lot.

The date was Tuesday, September 20. Mere hours after I had felt an inescapable sense of community with a group of strangers whose only common bond was the love of life, another group of strangers would be bound together in the streets by an inescapable sense of fear and anger under the ominous specter of unjustified death. The universal joy and happiness was replaced by a cold and bitter, yet all too familiar feeling of hopelessness.

Just a few hours after those fateful four shots were fired, protests erupted in the area. Fueled by the countless images of violence and bloodshed that the black community had been cruelly exposed to for what seems like an eternity, tensions had reached a boiling point. Like a fire hydrant that had been burst open, the streets of northeast Charlotte furiously flooded with people who had enough. A spontaneous burst of emotion that could no longer be quelled manifested itself in hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had no more patience for silent hope. An unorganized but intensely passionate protest raged through the night, even blocking part of I85 during the early hours of the morning.

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Police in riot gear march down Trade Street towards College Ave.

Over the next several days, the protests would continue. Wednesday and Thursday night saw the flame fanned into uncontrollable rioting in Uptown, resulting in the calling of state police, the SWAT team and National Guard. The governor of North Carolina called a state of emergency. The mayor of Charlotte signed a curfew order. The blood of another innocent black man, Justin Carr, was spilled on the same sidewalks I stroll by on a daily basis on my way to lunch.

Several of these nights I witnessed this surreal scene for myself. Streets blocked off by Humvees. Lines of riot police blocking other streets in gear that seemed more at home in Fallujah than Mecklenburg County. The unmistakable smell of tear gas in the air. The deafening bang of stun grenades. Protesters with signs, chants and makeshift gas masks fashioned out of t-shirts. Blocked highways. Shattered windows and store fronts. Blood-smeared police wagons. Helicopters circling above. Young girls not old enough to fully understand what’s happening crying in front of city council. Grainy and shaky video of the catalyst incident was dissected over and over Zapruder-style after an awkward wait for it’s release.

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Blood on the police van

The emotional makeup of the city was as scattered and fragmented as it had ever been. Besides the vitriol of the protesters, others experienced emotional reactions that were reflected, perhaps rooted in, who they were at their core. Some people condemned protesters for lashing out at their own community. Some people lamented the fact that their previously pristine city was being portrayed as chaotic in the national news. Many grappled with an internal struggle that came to terms when they were forced to acknowledge a side of the city that they had tried so hard to dismiss. Others saw it as an opportunity to create chaos without repercussion, or a chance to live out a voyeuristic fantasy. For some, it was finally their time to be heard.

All of this played out in the streets. Groups of people who were previously strangers connected by an intangible force, moving in unison. The parallels to what I saw a week earlier in Atlanta were uncanny, except with wildly different emotions.

In one week, I saw the spectrum of human emotion play out in the streets.

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

Words at the Bechtler

A few weeks ago, when the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosted Creative Mornings Charlotte, I was called upon to deliver a few words on the Bechtler when our president wasn’t able to make it. I had no idea I would be speaking that morning until about ten minutes before this video was filmed. Given just a few minutes to prepare something to say in front of 250+ influential Charlotteans, this is what I came up with:

Andy Goh / Bechtler Intro – CM6 from Charlotte Star Room on Vimeo.

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.