For those of you who know me “in real life”, you know that I have a terrible habit of launching into a long and seemingly amusing story, only to have a minor detail completely derail my train of thought halfway through, leading me to then tell another story entirely. People who aren’t exactly enamoured of my personal social style find this one of my more annoying traits, as it can be seen as a little self-centred and monopolises conversation. People who consider themselves friends and are generally amused by my blog-length anecdotes wonder why they hear stories that never have a conclusion.
I have a number of friends who are like myself, and tend to think and communicate in a largely tangential fashion. In one-on-one interactions, this works out well. It may take two hours and five other topics of conversation, but we eventually come full circle, and I remember to punctuate my original story with the courtesy of an ending. In social situations where people don’t really want to invest more than 15 minutes in listening to you, it’s less successful.
This blog suffers from the same dilemma. In mid-June, I took a trip to North Carolina, and broke down the discussion of my adventures into three or four potential blog topics. After writing two of them, people started sending me other ideas for blog topics…and, well, weeks later, my story about my random travels was never completed.
Last month, I put up two blogs about a visit to an old-yet-new friend in the Durham area, and exploring the smaller side of the Triangle, as I’d only really ever spent time in Raleigh on previous visits to the area. I also spent time discussing the complexities of friendship, and how spending time with someone in that person’s world is one of the best ways to gain a very real, honest, non-idealised sense of who another person is and how they live.
After leaving Durham, I stopped to visit a few other people in Charlotte, North Carolina. The experience was quite different, because while my visit to Durham was largely about spending a lot of one-on-one time with someone I’d been getting to know well and exploring a new city, Charlotte was about being more of an extrovert and taking the time to discover a place I’d passed through many times before. I happen to have a number of friends and acquaintances in Charlotte; not only is it a vibrant city in the South, somehow, performing artists and touring companies always seem to end up with extended tours in Charlotte. In fact, I almost ended up there for a month or so myself, before deciding I’d rather not. *laughs*
However, while I’ve passed through the city on bus and plane layovers, met up with a friend for dinner or lunch before heading onward, I never had occasion to spend any time there. Charlotte is a large city that’s rapidly grown due to the banking and business industries, and in so many ways, is what I call Atlanta Light. The city is structured in the same way; without a car, it’s tough to get around, it can take 45 minutes to drive through the Metro area, there’s a very corporate vibe to it— excepting for small little enclaves where “alternative, artsy types” frequent and a surprisingly impressive live music scene—and like Atlanta, the tallest building is courtesy of Bank Of America.
I happened to stay with a friend who is a fellow artist and Burner, and he had a house located about 15 minutes from Downtown Charlotte. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is possibly one of the coolest houses I’ve ever had the good fortune to stay in, because it’s exactly my style—quirky, modern, with a few touches here and there that express the love of eras gone by that were a bit more aesthetically focused. I have an ex, who is an architect, and he would have been endlessly fascinated by this house. The more impressive thing is how many personal touches were reflected in the space, as my friend designed much of it himself.
To its credit, a lot of architecture in Charlotte is focused on angles, which I love. It’s a very modern city that still has plenty of trees and trolleys, but is genuinely interesting to look at (and photograph). In my opinion, it’s a much prettier city than Atlanta, and the downtown area is far more pedestrian-friendly. Then again, they have far fewer people to manage.
My friend’s house was no exception, with lots of nooks and angular corners, including a spiral staircase leading up to the second floor, which is a loft. The main area of the second floor is open, while the part that isn’t visible is well-suited for a guest bedroom (including a library/window seat), and a well-designed guest bathroom. It was a mix of old and new, with the art on the walls being romantic and ornate and the space perfect for creative endeavours. Yet, the downstairs had lighting everywhere that clubs would envy, from being able to dim the lights and change it to any colour while turning on faux-candles installed in the wall, to adding bright red/purple/blue floor lighting that announced it was time to party. On top of it all, my friend is more well-traveled than I am, and completed the decor with chairs from Japan, a table from Peru, and feng-shui touches everywhere. I was just a little tiny bit impressed. Being in the suburbs, the property even had two lakes, complete with ducks and geese.
I joked around with my friend from Durham that it was a good thing that I wasn’t staying with him when I was in town, as I suspect we have a lot of incompatibilities regarding how we live and how we’d co-exist in one space. Opposite personalities tend to have that problem. However, I’ve now come to realise just how adaptable I can be (one of the few positive traits I’ll take credit for), because it was a little bit of a shock to learn the friend who offered his hospitality was a raw food vegan. Even mixing a vodka cranberry was an adventure, as the cranberry juice was 100% cranberry, and had to be hand-mixed with sugar and lime juice, and was still quite tart. It’s a good thing I’m a fairly good bartender. *laughs* There’s incompatibility, and then there’s incompatibility..and someone who doesn’t eat anything I’d consider tasty enough to be edible, and is essentially a hipster who showed up at a swanky bar in a t-shirt and shorts, might be seen as an incompatible friend for me. Yet, we still had a great time. I think I mostly enjoy the company of anyone who is open-minded, interesting, and doesn’t roll his or her eyes at me as if to say “I’m judging you because you’re really weird.”
Being me, I wouldn’t spend time in a new city without meeting up with people at various establishments for food and drinks and entertainment. One of my favourite places was a little coffee shop called Amelie’s, a quirky French-inspired place where even the mosaic tables are hand-made, and the atmosphere leaves Atlanta’s charming Cafe Intermezzo looking downright boring and corporate. I visited both the original, and the smaller downtown location, and would love if Amelie’s would consider expanding to Atlanta. I think they’d find a welcome home here.
Even in the middle of sightseeing and eating eclairs, cupcakes, soul food, and everything else that would give my doctors a heart attack, I managed to set up a business-oriented meeting. I had dinner and drinks at a lovely establishment called Blue, where I had the opportunity to meet with the organizer of the largest Meetup in Charlotte, and discuss how we might work together in the future. While I wasn’t necessarily so impressed with the lack of chivalry inherent in him leaving me at the bar alone to hang out with friends, I try to remember that every member of the male gender I encounter is not required to be instantly infatuated with my company. Yet, I must admit, part of me resents it when I find myself in one of those situations. Although not all, or even many, connections with people in one-on-one outings are of a romantic environment, I do pride myself on being charming, and keeping people entertained. I’m a little more used to people blowing off other plans to spend more time with me than initially intended than I am being left in a bar…but, you know, what can you do. *laughs*
This was, in my opinion, rather indicative of the attitude of Charlotte as a city. If I’ve been repeatedly charmed by the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area and how friendly the residents are, and how easy I’ve found it to meet and strike up conversations with strangers, Charlotte was quite the opposite. As I’ve said, Atlanta Light. There’s an air of unapproachability, and while I met a few interesting people, on the whole, strangers were indifferent to my presence in their world. I’ve come to realise there’s a huge difference between cities dominated by business and corporate entities, and those dominated by the presence of academic institutions and research facilities, regardless of the size of the city. I seem to enjoy spending time in the latter far more than the former, which has always been my beef with Atlanta. We have enough people and things to do to have a balance between the two, but in the end, this place is not liberal enough, not intellectually inquisitive enough, not creative enough for my tastes. I’ve recently met people from small towns in the South who can’t believe this assessment, who look at Atlanta like it’s New York City. But if you’re from New York City, you look at it like Los Angeles Light, and may not feel quite as enamoured.
Anyhow, after checking out Blue, which has friendly staff and live jazz music (yay!) and made me very tasty drinks and a margherita pizza that didn’t survive long, I had to find something else to do with my evening. Fortunately, another friend was able to catch up with me, and I had the opportunity to check out three different Charlotte-area bars, before we ended up at a gay karaoke place called Petra’s. There, I finally found the liberal, exuberant atmosphere I was seeking. I met a number of people who were professional and semi-professional musical theatre performers, which was cool. The drinks were delicious, and the vibe was one that was very welcoming to everyone…regardless of what you look like, your sexual orientation, age, race, or relationship status, you simply felt welcome. It was a great note on which to conclude my trip (literally), although it did leave me boarding the bus to ATL with a major hangover the next day.
Much like I felt about spending time in Durham, I think a return trip to Charlotte is necessary at some point, because I get the sense there’s a whole other side to the city I didn’t have the opportunity to see. Charlotte is very much about soulful food, soulful music, and food and drinks hand-crafted with love. I’d love to spend the evening at a jazz club, and take the carriage tour of the city. Apparently, these are things one can only do on the weekend, however.
As you may have read in part one of my exploits, my random outing almost didn’t happen because the Chinatown buses were shut down the week of my trip. While Greyhound wasn’t terrible, they’re perfectly awful if you need to change buses in Richmond…as you inevitably do if you’re going between the North and the South. I was absolutely thrilled to hear from a friend that MegaBus (which I’d take to D.C. and Philly often when I lived in the NYC) is now in Atlanta, and will take me from Atlanta to Charlotte to Durham for less than $20 round trip. If I’m looking to go to the Northeast, getting myself to Washington D.C. or Richmond means I then have access to NYC or Philly or Boston in just a few hours. There are even trips to Savannah, New Orleans, Nashville, and other Southern cities I’d love to explore, for a fraction of what you’d pay on Greyhound. Since I am not allowed to fly, and can only manage travel for about 7-8 hours at a time (I’m still not strong enough for the 15 hours to NYC without a stop for sleep.), this is exciting news for me. It’s also uber-cheap, so if I’m heading somewhere to visit a friend who is amenable to me sleeping on their couch, it makes travel a way more accessible undertaking.
I’m thinking about a trip to NYC in October, and stopping in Charlotte, Durham, and Washington D.C. along the way. I know the chances of all my friends being in town and available to visit with me at the same time are small, and I may end up having less energy than I imagine I will…but if I can physically deal with it, it’s a good opportunity to review MegaBus and see if it’s worth it for trips longer than 3 hours.
I wish I knew more people who were like me, and just wanted to go off on a random adventure for a weekend. Then again, perhaps I’m just a very independent traveler who prefers it that way; I’m not really sure. I do know, though, that I like feeling as if my world isn’t confined to the Metro Atlanta area.