People tooling around in electric cars. Police patrolling on horseback. Left-leaning celebrities - is that Ben Affleck? - posing for smartphone snapshots.
Trying to predict exactly what uptown Charlotte will look and sound like at this time next year - when 35,000 guests are expected for the 2012 Democratic National Convention - is a bit like consulting a still-cloudy crystal ball.
But based on interviews and on the experiences of other host cities, it's not hard to come up with educated guesses.
Take President Barack Obama, whose acceptance speech will be the week's high point: He may well give it from a stage at Bank of America Stadium, then smile and wave and hug the First Lady as fireworks burst above a Charlotte skyline suddenly framed on TV sets around the world.
That visual message - Welcome to Charlotte, a can-do city with an eye to the future - will also be the implicit theme at every decorated street corner.
And while those leading the effort to prepare for the convention are cautious in commenting on the coming transformation of uptown, they are eager to talk about the impressions they hope Charlotte will make on all the visitors - and TV viewers.
"Charlotte is an aspirational city," said Dan Murrey, a former Mecklenburg County commissioner who now heads the city's host committee. "We lean into our challenges, and we seek ways to create solutions. ... We're not afraid of outside ideas, and we're not afraid of outside people."
Yes, acknowledged Murrey, Charlotte has its trials, including a struggling hometown bank and high unemployment.
But, in a preview of what could become a convention week mantra, he added: "This is a city that rises above that, and finds a way to get it done. ... America needs to hear about a city that's turning it around, that's taking (the sour economy) as an opportunity and is trying to find a way to reinvent itself. And that there is light at the end of the tunnel."
Tryon Street sights
Sept. 3-6, 2012, in Charlotte will be a week of motorcades, bullhorns, tents, police helicopters, shuttle buses, metal detectors, balloons, bloggers, flags, fences and speeches - lots of speeches.
Some numbers: 140 hotels; 1,200 events; 10,000 volunteers; up to 15,000 members of the media; and a projected economic boost to Charlotte of more than $150 million.
The Democratic delegates will total more than 5,000. And they'll come from all 50 states - Buckeyes, Hoosiers, Tar Heels and all the rest, proudly sporting big campaign buttons saying things like "CLT DNC" and "Yes we can - again!"
Stroll up Tryon Street during convention week and you might run into:
Corporate bigwigs going to and from the center city condos they've rented for $7,000.
Andy Pressley, president of MECA Properties, said he's trying to interest uptown condo owners and families in Dilworth and Myers Park in renting their places to large companies for the week.
These hundreds of executives "don't want to go on Craigslist," said Pressley. "And they don't want to have to worry about driving around in a rental car."
Anti-Obama marchers - from the right and left - waving signs and chanting slogans.
Tea partiers have told the Observer they're coming, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have heard that anarchists are, too.
Local law enforcement has been trained in how to deal with civil disobedience, and they're looking at bringing in various tools - including, perhaps, what would be the first uptown horseback patrol in nearly 40 years.
"Morning Joe" and other familiar TV talking heads, on the air and drawing a crowd.
The network anchors will be inside Time Warner Cable Arena, where all the official action will take place. But look for some cable TV hosts to be more visible outside.
"MSNBC loves to go out into the public," said NBC News Channel's Greg Kohler, who has produced coverage of six national political conventions for NBC and its cable partners.
Democratic senators and governors - all making the case for Obama's re-election at receptions in the lobbies of the Bechtler, the Mint, the Gantt.
Mary Tribble, chief of events planning for the city's host committee, is spending much of her time helping venues sort out all the inquiries they're getting from groups that want to host things.
Most in demand: Cultural facilities and nightclubs.
"It runs the gamut," she said of the kind of events being planned. "Everything from small receptions honoring people to things designed to entertain several thousand."
The Republican National Committee's daily press conference-rebuttal.
In Boston, site of the 2004 Democratic convention, Republicans flew up then-Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory to do interviews criticizing then-N.C. Sen. - and Vice Presidential nominee - John Edwards.
In Charlotte, the GOP "will be visible," said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer. "We will have a robust rapid-response and surrogate operation."
Fortune 500 companies and national labor unions wining and dining politicians and selected state delegations.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner - all are opportunities for well-heeled interest groups to show their appreciation for the powerful, politically connected people who attend conventions.
A few examples from Boston: J.P. Morgan Chase threw a reception and lunch to honor Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. And the American Gaming Association hosted a lunch for the Nevada delegation.
Charlotte residents tapping their toes to musicians brought in by the city's host committee to thank the locals.
Charlotte planners have taken some of their cues from Denver, which last hosted the Democrats.
Among the things that worked there in 2008: inviting local residents to come downtown, then giving them things to enjoy, including outdoor concerts.
Uptown won't be the only hub of activity when the Democrats hit Charlotte.
The Lake Norman area, for one, is hoping to grab some of the fun - and some of the economic benefits.
"Outside of when they're at the convention, we want them to stay here and spend money up here," said Courtney Wolfrom of Visit Lake Norman, which is promoting its scenic area with printed theme maps and an online trip builder.
But for a week, uptown Charlotte will be party central, a place where history is made, and America's temporary political capital.
"A good chunk of the leadership of the country and the world will be here," said Mayor Anthony Foxx. "And we'll have the White House in our backyard for several days."
With that bright a spotlight, the effort to get the city ready is continuing at a brisk pace.
Duke Energy is talking with various rental car agencies about possibly showcasing electric vehicles, said Tom Williams, the utility's spokesman.
Though nothing's firm yet, he said, "we're exploring concepts like picking up delegates from the airport and dropping them off at special events."
By the end of this year, about 50 charging stations will be up and running in uptown parking decks and on the street, said Michael Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners.
Better cell phone reception and fewer dropped calls may also be in the cards for convention week and beyond. Foxx and others have said providers are accelerating upgrade work on 4G towers and infrastructure.
AT&T wouldn't give any details to the Observer, but spokesman Josh Gelinas did say that his company plans to work with the city, event venues and convention organizers and that "we'll have more to share in the coming months."
Speech at stadium?
The city's professional sports franchises may also play a role in helping Charlotte shine.
On Charlie Rose's PBS talk show last month, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson made it clear he'd be a willing host if the president is looking for a place to give his acceptance speech.
"President Obama, I'm sure, will be making his speech in our stadium," Richardson told Rose.
And in recent interviews with the Observer and a visiting C-SPAN crew, Mayor Foxx offered yet another possible photo op for convention week.
Namely, a friendly basketball game pitting Obama and former Duke basketball star Reggie Love - a native Charlottean who's now the president's aide - against Foxx and another well-known North Carolinian.
"I have some basketball shorts and a ball," the mayor said. "And I will find Michael Jordan, to be on my team."
But before Charlotte gets to all the hoopla of convention week, it must first do the grunt work of preparation, said Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber.
"The stakes are very high," he said. "We have to succeed. I have no doubt we will. It'll be a lot of fun - but also a lot of work."
Staff writers Franco Ordonez, and Elisabeth Arriero contributed.