State of the Art

If you think Charlotte seems too quiet now....

A young, naive (and slimmer) version of your correspondent.
A young, naive (and slimmer) version of your correspondent.

I started work in this building exactly 35 years ago today. I was supposed to begin March 1, but my third-hand Toyota Celica died in a snowstorm in Washington, D.C. I phoned the managing editor to ask whether I should stay there until it got fixed or take a train down to start on time. He told me that, in Chicago, the preferred thing to do was strip a broken car of identifying marks, leave it by the side of the road and call the insurance company to report it as “missing.”

I think he was kidding.

In the event, I drove down when I had a new transmission and wrote my first entertainment story the day I walked in. It was about R&B singer Lou Rawls coming to Ovens Auditorium for a concert, as I recall. I got the address wrong, but – as the character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would say – I got better.

I’m writing this to say that, no matter how quiet or provincial or limited Charlotte may seem to you (if it does), you are living in a paradise of possibilities by comparison.

When I wanted a Mexican dinner, I had to drive across the city line into Matthews to get one I wouldn’t have walked across the street to eat in New York. The only art-house movie theater was the Visulite, which had entered its death throes and was in one of many open-and-close cycles.

If you told the desk clerk at your downtown hotel that you’d rather not eat dinner on the premises, he asked if you had a car: Unless you got to the Bojangles at Ninth and Tryon before it closed, you couldn’t walk to food.

And downtown – before we started calling it “uptown,” to make it sound safer and more attractive to nervous citizens – yielded these totals:

Number of museums? Zero. Performing arts facilities? None, though Spirit Square opened fairly soon afterward. Bars or night clubs? Zip. Sports arenas? Nil.

After downtown workers bolted for home by 6 p.m., you had the same number of entertainment opportunities as Lewis and Clark on their journey through western America in 1804. Like them, you could have built a campfire and played your harmonica without disturbing a soul.

So I’m grateful for stuff that has sprung up in the last three and a half decades, since that guy in the photo above landed where he was destined to spend his career. (That picture was actually taken a few years later; no photos of pre-bearded LT exist in our archives, thank the Lord.)

Charlotte may not yet be the city it’s meant to be, the city it’s going to be or the city you want it to be. But be glad it’s not the city it was.