I used to cringe whenever I saw those orange and white road closed signs near my apartment building.
I’ve lived uptown for nearly a decade and the barricades were always a sign that some street festival or special event was going on and I’d have to navigate my way through a maze of detours to get the few blocks from my apartment to anywhere else.
The signs inevitably meant hundreds of sweaty and eventually irritated people milling a few feet from my front door. Even worse were the parades, when an otherwise glorious holiday morning of sleeping in would be interrupted by a cacophony of megaphones and every local high school’s marching band.
But, as time went on, I made peace with the barricades. They’re better than living in a city with an uptown devoid of activity. Most times, the flurry of activity they signify is more than worth the hassle.
When my family first moved here in 1996, uptown was empty after the people who worked for the banks went home at 5 p.m. Owners of fancy restaurants, clubs and bars began to migrate to the city center years ago, but for a while, the city had the look-but-don’t touch feel of your neighbor with the really nice front yard. There were several parks, for example, but almost all of them had signs that politely told you to keep off the grass.
Now uptown is morphing into the backyard where all the neighborhood kids hang out on Saturdays. It’s book-ended by two parks — Romare Bearden on the southern end near the Knights minor league baseball stadium, and First Ward Park on the north end, near the expanding light rail line. Sitting on the grass is encouraged.
And as more people have chosen to live and play uptown, it’s changed into a place where the hours can tick by without notice.
The stadium for the city’s NFL team, the Panthers, is a few blocks from the ballpark for the city’s minor league baseball team. Completing the sports triangle is Time Warner Cable Arena, which hosts the Charlotte Hornets NBA team.
The increasingly cultured southern part of the center city has a block full of museums: the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. If you’re interested in culture that smells a bit like race car fuel, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a few blocks east. (The adjoining tower is also the headquarters of the Charlotte Observer, where I’m writing this column from.)
At College and Trade streets, you’ll find EpiCentre, which attracts party-goers and foodies throughout the week. There’s a bowling alley, a movie theater that’ll serve you dinner and drinks at your seat and a mechanical bull (at the bar partially owned by NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.)
And the festivals aren’t as bad as the barricades. Taste of Charlotte puts a sampling of the city’s best restaurants in a few city blocks, and the annual Speed Street festival around the Bank of America 500 and the NASCAR All-Star Race puts the city in touch with its racing roots.
Uptown has also expanded its offerings for the city’s youngest residents. ImaginOn, a combination children’s theater and library, is just blocks from Discovery Place, a family-friendly museum.
Or you could just hop on a train. The Lynx light-rail line, which goes all the way south to Interstate 485, runs through uptown and intersects the trolley line, which goes to Elizabeth and is free. Just riding the trains can be fun, especially the old-timey, clanking trolley, but I enjoy making them part of my trip to a restaurant or other venue in another part of the city.
The best part? Trains don’t have to detour for traffic barricades.
Cleve Wootson, a former Observer reporter, lived in uptown for eight years.