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Charlotte: the most boring town in America? Billy Graham and car racing, not for me

Published
September 9, 2021
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AFTER Standing Rock, I was ready to tackle more social movement issues, so I got a train back to Chicago once more, stayed for a night and then headed south. Way down south by plane this time. It was only 2 hours by plane rather than about 20 by train.

I flew into Charlotte in the afternoon: the largest city in the state of North Carolina. In 1761, when the thirteen colonies were still British, the infant city was named after the wife of King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; the same royal person that Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand is named after.

I found Charlotte to be an overly sport-focused city, with a ‘jock culture’ as the Americans say.

According to a recent entry on Wikipedia, “Among Charlotte’s many notable attractions, some of the most popular include the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League (NFL), the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League (USL), two NASCAR Sprint Cup races and the NASCAR All-Star Race, the Wells Fargo Championship, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Charlotte Ballet. Carowinds amusement park, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center.”

Well, at least they have a ballet. I stayed for two nights there and the whole time all I could think was what a boring place. There was nothing there that interested me, it was all cars and car racing and jock stuff, or pretty nearly so.

The most interesting thing I learned about Charlotte was that it was once occupied by the Catawba Native American Tribe and that in 1759 there were 10,000 of the Catawba living in the Charlotte area. In 1826 there were only 110. It’s crazy to think that contact with white people caused that population crash, mostly as a result of smallpox and other diseases.

Actually, I did one cultural thing while in Charlotte and that was to visit the Billy Graham Library. I convinced myself that there had to be something good about this place to set against the dreadful deaths of virtually an entire Native American people.

Billy Graham was an Evangelist preacher and revived the religion in the state as well as across the world. He was quite a popular person: in 2007, three former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — attended the opening, in Charlotte, of the library named after him.

Billy Graham was one of the first southern preachers to openly oppose segregation in the early 1950s, and often went on the road with the legendary civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., better known as just plain Martin Luther King.

But apart from that, I felt like I yawned my way through almost two days in that city. Sorry Charlotte but you take the number one spot for the most boring city I have ever visited in America.

One of Charlotte’s big problems in terms of acquiring more snap is that its downtown area, tightly circumscribed by a motorway bullring, seems overly devoted to open-air car parks and sports stadiums of various sorts. Both are notorious killers of city life and belong outside the motorway bullring, not inside. Also inside the bullring is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a car-racing museum. Again, that’s not the sort of thing that belongs in the absolute centre of town.

This is what happens when you have too much input from the jocks: sports-mad types I mean, not the Scots (we see it in New Zealand, too).

The only way to make the city centre come alive is to encourage the sorts of things that go with walking around and hopping on trams: pretty much the opposite of team sports, and of car culture as well.

The failure of Charlotte’s downtown is made worse by the fact that Charlotte has less than half the population of Houston in its hugely sprawling metropolitan area.

Houston developed in a similarly car-dependent manner; but so many people live there these days that it has developed a lively downtown anyway, complete with an eventually revived tramway. There’s something for everyone in Houston. But a city like Charlotte has to work harder to keep the sparks of the life downtown from going out, and not pour cold water on whatever remain with yet more stadiums, carparks, and motor museums.

I was excited to head to Alabama. The train was going to leave at 3 a.m., which was just not ideal, so I decided I would drive. I hired another rental car, this time with much better service then in Minot (the snow wasn’t hiding things in Charlotte, of course) and drove for six hours through the countryside to old Alabammy.

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