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Monday, September 3, 2012

Welcome to Charlotte, a City of Quirks


CHARLOTTE, N.C. â€" Politicians, delegates, lobbyists, journalists and protesters were gathering on Monday in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, which begins on Tuesday. They will find an Old South gold rush town that grew up to be a New South banking center with tall, shiny buildings, artsy statues and a few quirks - from a statue believed to be modeled after Alan Greenspan's face to the “Disco Chicken.”

Here's what visitors need to know to understand “the Q.C.” (We'll explain what that is in a minute.)

1. Please don't use the “D” word. The place with all the skyscrapers is called “uptown,” not downtown.

2. Can't figure out how to get around? Here's a primer: Uptown is divided into four wards â€" First Ward, Second Ward, Third Ward and Fourth Ward. But in recent years, color-coded signs have popped up designating Uptown East, Uptown West, Uptown North and Uptown South. So First Ward is Uptown East, which is green. Second Ward is South, which is orange. Third Ward is West, which is blue. And Fourth Ward is North, which is red. Confused? Join the club.

3. At least it's easy to find the center of town. That's the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets, at what were originally Indian trading paths. You'll know you're there if you look up and see four bronze sculptures, one on each corner. The figures are called Commerce - a gold prospector on top of the face of a businessman that is said to be a likeness of Mr. Greenspan; Industry - a mill worker; and Transportation - a railroad builder. All three are looking at the fourth sculpture, called Future - a woman kneeling while holding up a baby. There 's a little hornet's nest underneath her.

4. So what's with the hornet's nests, which are on every police car and officer's uniform as well? No, it's not an artistic statement or an infestation warning. During the Revolutionary War, the British commander Charles Cornwallis called Charlotte “a hornet's nest of rebellion.” The name proudly stuck. More than 200 years later, when the N.B.A. came to Charlotte, the team was called the Hornets. But then the franchise moved to New Orleans and, to the dismay of some, kept the name. Charlotte now has the Bobcats, a team that last season produced the worst record in the history of the league. Message to the N.B.A.: Please return the Hornets.

5. Speaking of names, the statue in front of Charlotte Douglas International Airport of a woman who appears to be falling down, or just got punched in the stomach, is the city's namesake. Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the wife of King George III of England in the late 1700s and early 1800s (Charlotte is in Mecklenburg County). That's why she's balancing a crown in her right hand. You'll notice little crowns on signs all over Charlotte, which is nicknamed the Queen City. Or, as the young and hip like to call it, “the Q.C.”

6. That 17-foot-tall mirror-covered statue in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art uptown that looks like it came straight out of “Logan's Run” is called the Firebird. The statue is from the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle and was purchased by a museum patron, Andreas Bechtler. “When I saw the Firebird, I knew it was outstanding. I knew it would be great for the museum,'' Bechtler is quoted as saying on the museum's Web site. “The Firebird is joyful, uplifting and engaging. It makes you feel that life is good.” The Firebird's nickname? Disco Chicken, of course.

7. Charlotte is road-challenged, Part I: Uptown is the tiny pedestrian-friendly center of Charlotte, a city that act ually covers about 280 square miles. If you're driving, do yourself a favor and use a GPS unit. The city is maddening to those who think roads should have, say, one name instead of three or four. If you happen to be on Morehead Street, don't be alarmed when it becomes Queens Road and then Providence Road. All in less than a mile. Oh, and Billy Graham Parkway magically turns into Woodlawn, then Runnymede. Tyvola is suddenly Fairview, then Sardis. If you want to stay on Sardis, you have to turn right or else you'll wind up on Rama, which becomes Idlewild. Got that?

8. Charlotte is road-challenged, Part II: Those who are staying north of uptown in the University area of Charlotte or in Concord, N.C., (Texas, Maryland, Michigan and the 18 other delegations out that way, we're talking to you), leave a fair amount of time to get to the convention. North Carolina has a 10-lane highway running through Salisbury (population 33,500) but only a six-lane highway running north and south through Charlotte (population 750,000) that isn't going to be widened in your lifetime. Expect traffic.

9. Nascar's headquarters are in Daytona Beach, Fla., but everybody knows that Charlotte is the sport's real home. Most of the race teams are in the region, and the Nascar Hall of Fame is uptown right next to the Nascar office tower. Just weeks ago, Nascar made its contribution to the political process with a grand fund-raiser â€" for Mitt Romney. Nascar's chairman and chief executive, Brian France, along with two leading Nascar team owners, Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress, were among the hosts.