So I turn to the restaurant employee who’s sort of loitering behind us with nothing to do — it’s about 7 on a Friday night, and what with the street fair up on the main drag of Tryon Street, it’s still kind of quiet down here at the Cosmos — and pose my query.
Details, Charlotte, N.C.
He gives me a “Come again?” look.
“Barbecue?” he repeats at last, in a marked Asian accent, and shrugs. “No idea. I don’t even eat meat.”
Oops. Turns out he’s the restaurant’s sushi chef. He doesn’t know from barbecue, nor care.
Sooo, I guess this is not, as they say, my father’s South.
Well, of course, my father isn’t even Southern. But in some ways, he might be just as at home here as my father-in-law, who is. Pretty, leafy Charlotte, a.k.a. the Queen City, may lie 500 miles south of the Mason-Dixon line, but it’s even farther from the South of my obviously outdated imaginings.
That place, Charlotte has put behind her (well, mostly). The days of a Life magazine cover featuring a summer party with demure young ladies in diaphanous white gowns are so half-century ago. Nowadays, North Carolina’s largest city proudly presents itself as the avatar of the New South.
It’s all buttoned-up business (a banking center, an airline and retail hub), a multicultural melting pot and a farm-to-table haven. It’s all (well, mostly) about growth, progress, diversity. The Future with a capital F. Isn’t that the name of one of the statues that mark the four corners of Independence Square, the historic heart of Uptown? A bare-breasted woman holding an infant in the air, representing the Charlotte of tomorrow. Forward!
Wait. Isn’t that President Obama’s campaign slogan? Yes, it is. Which makes Charlotte the perfect setting for the convention! When they hit town in September, the Dems should fit right in here (well, mostly). The skyscrapers that loom like Druidic sentinels over the streets of Uptown (as locals call downtown, because downtown “has a negative connotation,” says Paul, our bartender; so politically correct) should remind them of New York. The restaurants with locally sourced ingredients should feed their foodie souls. The museums and theaters should warm their artsy hearts.
And if, speaking entirely stereotypically here, of course, they should stumble upon something that you might think is a little more foreign to the tastes of some — a biker bar or a monumental tribute to NASCAR, say — well, that’s a good thing. You know, mind-stretching.
And trust me. Even though Charlotte, as one native we met conceded, “is hardly a natural tourist destination,” any conventioneers who want to sneak a few moments away from the official proceedings should have a fine time.
Just as I did.