Talk to the locals!
Charlotteans are very friendly, so don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. Some of the natives will probably sound a little funny to you, but just remember, "Shawlet" means Charlotte and "yella" means yellow.
A barber shop is one of the best places to talk to people and get a glimpse into the local culture. This is a picture of my barber Mike and his wife Trish at the British Barber Shop in Matthews.
Too rich for my blood
Southpark Mall features over 100 specialty stores. This mall appears to lean more to the fashion centre, but just about anything upmarket can be bought here.
UPDATE: I will no longer buy anything at this mall or any other by the same management (Simon Group) because another mall under their umbrella evicted a tenant based on the content of his store and applied this standard only to this vendor. If you're interested, write me an e-mail for more details.
One of my favorite ways of eating in Spain was what we called "tasca hopping." Both Zaragoza and Madrid (the only places that I have been in Spain) had areas which were filled with street vendors and small food establishments where you would buy small servings of various foods, called "tapas." At a buffet, we would call it "grazing," but in these two cities you could eat one item here and stay for another or move a few feet to the next delicacy. The music was often too loud and the areas tend to get very crowded as the evenings wore on but it was great fun. Charlotte now has a restaurant which serves tapas and I love it although each selection will cost what an entire evening might have the last time that I was in Spain. I actually have two favorites. The meat empanadillas (which as you Spanish scholars will recognize are small empanadas) are delicious with just enough Spanish seasoning to catch your attention and I usually eat an order or two of those because they help fill the stomach which helps keep me from trying everything on the menu. (In Spain, I could do that but in Charlotte I cannot afford it.)
My other favorite is the eggplant fries. They are delicious without calling up any memories or pleasant associations but I think that they also are especially attractive to me because they are about the only eggplant preparation which I genuinely enjoy other than mousaka and because they remind me just a little bit of the fried zucchini of which I have not been able to find a good version since I left Crete the first time, way back in the last century.
Tyvola at I-77
With two Marriotts and a Hilton plus a Jaguar dealership, you might expect that all of your dining options are going to be very expensive, and you would generally be correct. There is a McDonald's and a Sonny's Barbecue but there are also several very expensive restaurants. I was very pleased to see the opening last year of a little place owned by a Korean couple that offers breakfast and lunch at significantly less expense than the hotels and yet more tasty (and much more friendly) than McDonald's. They are open Monday-Friday from 7 AM to 3:30 PM serving breakfast and lunch. They also cater off-site and perhaps most surprising for such a limited operation, they have a salad bar with good variety and excellent freshness. Since they are so far away from me, I do not get there nearly as often as I would like but each time that I do I am increasingly impressed. The smoked turkey club is especially tasty and totally made to order. The salad bar is also a delight. The last time I was by there, I was early for a meeting nearby and it was after their posted closing time but I drove by just to confirm that they were still in business. The owner was sitting out front waiting for his wife to return from a catering run so I just stopped to chat. Although they had been closed for over an hour, he made a delicious barbecue plate for me.
Much as SoHo means South of Houston, NoDa means North Davidson. Since the previous year's trip to Asheville, where I was surprised by the Bohemian nature of the downtown, I was oddly drawn to such places. Don't worry, folks, this will not change me and make me a part of that lot. There are coffee houses, art galleries, and bars.
For those of y'all from Roxboro, Smelly Cat (the coffee house on the top half of the photo- please enlarge) refers to a song often sung at a similar coffee house on the internationally-known American programme Friends.
My good friend Mark, who is closer to my philosophy than that of the NoDa crowd, has read poetry at the Evening Muse (the purple-coloured cafe on the bottom half of the frame) for a university assignment. The truth is, I could hang with the poetry crowd with something like this:
There once was a man in Monroe
Built a weather-conditioned chateau
By his technical blunders
The dining room thunders
And the bathrooms incessantly snow
The only thing about NoDa is that it covers such a small area, basically on North Davidson Street between the 34th and 36th cross streets. With vacant warehouses all the way through to the Uptown line, there is the potential to expand this funky and Bohemian area much the way it was done in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom and in the Fan.