finding the city's heart

September 7, 2012 - 9:11am -- fraser

I don't know if we're basking in an afterglow of the crazy week that was the DNC, but Charlotte certainly showed off for the world this week.  Every day, I descended into the depths of the Epicenter, which had been claimed by MSNBC.  It was fun to feel all the energy of the crowds and to eaves drop on conversations about where people wanted to eat, drink, and be merry.  It was also cool to hang strike up random conversations with random people, so many of whom were from the QC volunteering or working or just down to soak up the atmosphere.  It encouraged my curiosity about what locals really think about Charlotte (what the hell is a "local" around here?).

One person, who'd just moved here five months ago, said she's been "looking for the heart of this city, what it means to be from Charlotte."  I needed to hear more.  She said that it looked to her like the neighborhoods had some real sense of community, but it was hard for her to know where to find the pulse of the city or where the heart is that pushes the pulse (see what I did there?).  

After the years of development and redevelopment, defining this city's culture is challenging when there is so much new stuff everywhere.  Not that I have a big problem with new stuff, but it lacks a history that gives soul to buildings and streets.  I'm not just talking about a history where cool things happened, but a history where people shared the experience of cool things happening, the kind of history that forms community.  Because of banking, it's probably safe to expect the city to feel like a bank lobby: clean and neat, though generic.  But it's just that image that messed with my head, though.  

Last week, I went into a bank, just outside of Uptown, that was in an old house.  I never would have found the bank if I hadn't thrown away the new checks the bank sent me when I cleaned out my car for the first time in a year.  My time in the bank was not just a transaction; it was a conversation.  The teller asked me where I'm from and I returned the question.  Next thing I knew, we were telling stories and making jokes and talking about music and farming and vegetables.  THAT kind of a bank lobby might not be so bad, but the thing was that the conversation started with us telling our stories to each other.  I'm sure the architecture made a difference, but I'm also certain that telling our stories (get it? I was talking to a "teller") made me, at least, feel like I had a place in the world.  Something important happens when we share who we are with other people and it creates a new shared history.  

Maybe finding the heart of the city, any city or community, has something to do with our willingness to bare our own hearts.  When a bunch of people do that, looking for what it is we share in common, it has some weird and mystical kind of effect on us, like we're all the missing pieces of each other's puzzled lives.