Author’s Note: The following anecdote first appeared in a comment on this blog. My store of anecdotes is finite, as my long-suffering wife can (and often does) attest. I can’t afford to bury them in, say, the fifth comment on a post about some other subject. That’s just a rookie mistake. In blogging, as in buffet-style dining, one must pace oneself (especially if one has already re-posted most of one’s pieces from The Rabbit Room). In that spirit, and in honor of the fact that I am writing this on a plane trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I hereby promote the following anecdote from comment to post. I hope you find it edifying.
I went to college at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville was close enough to Charlotte for me to form opinions about that city. They were largely unfavorable opinions. I don’t remember the details of my case against Charlotte, but they were summed up by the bon mot, “I’ve got no use for a city whose goal in life is to be the next Atlanta!” (I had opinions about Atlanta too.)

Not long after we married, my wife and I were driving through the Carolinas, and as we approached Charlotte I once again laid out my strong anti-Charlotte position for her benefit.

“It doesn’t seem so bad to me,” she said as we passed beneath the shadows of the great glass buildings where bankers were going about their bankerly business.

“Pshaw!” I said.

“I’m hungry,” she said. Do you know any good places to eat in Charlotte?”

“How would I know?” I said. “I’ve never been to Charlotte in my life!”

I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget the expressions on my wife’s face at that moment. A look of astonishment gave way to an angry scowl that shaded into a squint that said, if I read it right, “What have I done? I have just attached myself intimately and irrevocably to a man who speaks very articulately of things he knows nothing about.” I could see the wheels turning as she wondered how many of my other well-considered opinions had not basis in reality.

I am happy to report that I have mellowed on the subject of Charlotte, North Carolina. My prejudices were no match for the reality of the place, which is actually quite pleasant and populated by fine people who have plenty of other hopes and dreams besides trying to be the next Atlanta. Incidentally, I’ve decided Atlanta isn’t so bad either.

Bonus Fact: Charlotte is the largest city between Atlanta and Washington, DC.

Bonus Story Recommendation: In his short story collection Here We Are in Paradise, Nashville writer and Charlotte native Tony Earley has a brilliant story called “Charlotte” that I commend to you. I also commend to you everything else that Tony Earley has ever published.

  • Mark Geil
    2:55 PM, 27 January 2011

    I grew up in Raleigh, and we tended to have a bit of an inferiority complex about that so-called “Queen City” to our west. Naturally, that turned to the same sort of unjustified bitterness you describe. We would try to puff ourselves up, comparing not the populations of Charlotte to Raleigh but the more accurate populations of Charlotte to Raleigh+Durham+Chapel Hill. Now that I mention it, though, we also disliked Durham and Chapel Hill. All that angst for one fair city!
    Charlotte is fine, I suppose, except on “Race Week” when interstate traffic crawls. It always seems to be Race Week when we drive through Charlotte.

    Ironically, I now live in Alanta. I started in the city that’s jealous of Charlotte and wound up in the city Charlotte is jealous of.

  • Michelle R. Wood
    6:38 PM, 27 January 2011

    But Mark, those who live in the eastern part of the state despise all who live west of I-95, mostly because of the perception that the Triangle views everyone east of the Interstate as analogous to the Darlings off of “The Andy Griffith Show.” On the upside, eastern North Carolinians can always look down their noses at the hillbilly mountainers in the far west. To quote Qui-Gon Jinn (which I can’t believe I’m doing!), “There’s always a bigger fish.”

  • Andrew
    3:40 AM, 28 January 2011

    Some people have stronger reactions to “place” than others. A heightened sensitivity to place enables the fiction writer to create his own setting–a crucial component of fiction. In some fiction, setting can even become a character.
    That might be a topic for another post: How important is setting in your favorite works of fiction? What role does setting play in those works? Are there examples of fiction in which setting is not relevant?

  • Michelle R. Wood
    3:08 PM, 28 January 2011

    Actually, Rebecca LuElla Miller has a post on that very subject over at her Rewrite, Reword, Rework blog. Off the top of my head, I think Thomas Hardy’s books are prime examples where the setting shapes and influences the story, becoming almost a character unto itself. In The Return of the Native, the moor is frequently described and cited as an influence on the behaviors of the other characters; it is the location where the prime action takes place, and serves as a metaphor for much of the struggles Hardy wishes to express in the novel.

  • Mark Geil
    4:32 PM, 28 January 2011

    Michelle, I shall ever revere Eastern North Carolinians for their lasting contribution to society, the world’s finest barbecue. Wilbur’s… Kings… hallowed names all. Pig-pickin’, anyone?
    I suppose that’s another thing I dislike about Charlotte. Their barbecue is terrible. Sullies the state’s name.

  • Shelley
    5:35 PM, 5 February 2011

    I’m smitten with Charlotte. She’s my new favorite friend. Had the pleasure of moving my son and his lovely girlfriend to the queen city last fall. Within 24 hours of being there, I knew this was the place for me. My long range plans are to relocate to Charlotte. I found her Charming, Lady like, welcoming and everything we should all aspire to be. So as soon as we get our ducks in a row, I hope to make my way south from good ol’ MIchigan and plant myself firmly in this wonderful city.

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