Visiting Charlotte like a fish out of water

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/23/19

The entertainment industry has forever and successfully mined a deep well of “fish out of water” stories.

From “The Odyssey” to “Gulliver’s Travels,” “A Connecticut Yankee In King …

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Visiting Charlotte like a fish out of water

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Posted

The entertainment industry has forever and successfully mined a deep well of “fish out of water” stories.

From “The Odyssey” to “Gulliver’s Travels,” “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” to “The Wizard of Oz,” “E.T.” to “Crocodile Dundee,” storytellers have long loved placing their protagonists in unfamiliar or uncomfortable surroundings and letting them sort things through.

It’s an effective dramatic device for building tension and generating laughs.

Even Tarzan saw action far from his familiar jungle haunts in the 1942 film “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” which includes a memorable scene where Johnny Weissmuller’s jungle hero, arriving for his first visit to North America, peers out the window of his plane and declares the skyscraper landscape a “stone jungle.”

The perennial popularity of the “fish out of water” motif tells us it’s not just screenwriters who love it; audiences do, too.

But where its entertaining to watch Tarzan or Crocodile Dundee navigate (and conquer, of course) unfamiliar terrain, being a real-life “fish out of water” sometimes falls short of being fun and entertaining.

I’m thinking about my recent visit to Charlotte.

No rube, I’ve traveled some. I’ve lived in other states. I have a passport (the terrible photo verifies it’s authentic) and I’ve visited other countries. After our recent walk around Disney’s Epcot, where we dashed in and out of countless international pavilions — Mexico one minute, Germany the next — I felt like a veritable globe trotter.

I’ve also spent a good deal of time in Charlotte, though prior to my wife and I driving there for a concert a couple of Friday afternoons ago, I hadn’t set foot in the Queen City in nearly 20 years.

It’s grown a bit since I last visited. For a 10-year span in the early part of the 21st century, Charlotte was the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan area, growing from 2004 to 2014 to include 888,000 new residents. North Carolina’s most populous city, Charlotte is also the second largest (Jacksonville, Florida, is the first) in the southeastern U.S.

Before we got to the big city, we drove through a lot of smaller ones — Carthage, Biscoe, Albemarle, Locust and Mint Hill — on the mostly-rural stretch of N.C. Hwy. 27, enjoying the fresh scenery, especially the lush and pretty path we followed through Uwharrie National Forest.

Without any accompanying fanfare, we quietly crossed into the Charlotte city limits and things immediately began to feel different.

Of course, there was traffic, which I expected, especially on a Friday afternoon. I’m accustomed to heavy traffic — which you can find that just about everywhere now; and I’m fully comfortable driving in it — but the Queen City traffic seemed especially dense and cutthroat.

We hadn’t been in Charlotte five minutes before somehow — and I haven’t a clue how — I enraged another motorist. I know I did because he demonstrated his displeasure with me (or life in general, I’m not sure) by pulling alongside our car and offering us a lingering look at one of his up-pointed fingers before he hit the gas pedal and quickly darted away like a hummingbird, leaving us wondering in his wake what highway faux pas we’d committed.

We were early for the 7 p.m. show so we decided to kill some time at North Carolina’s only Ikea. We got there without further offending anyone, but after we parked and stepped foot onto the enormous parking lot, we were greeted by two low-flying helicopters repeatedly encircling the area overhead.

Maybe I was still a bit on-edge from the road rage incident, but the disconcerting noise of the aircraft and their odd and repetitive flight patterns had me feeling like a fugitive, or wondering if they were searching for a fugitive. It wasn’t conducive to relaxation.

Ikea’s meandering furniture displays were a welcome distraction.

When we exited the superstore an hour or so later, the mysterious helicopters were gone — for good or to refuel I could only guess — and we seized the quiet moment to flee the scene, too, setting our navigation for our ultimate destination, the Spectrum Center, which our app told us was 10 miles away, or, incredibly, a 30-minute drive.

Through more heavy traffic we traveled, eventually getting to the 20,000-capacity arena and circling about it for a few minutes looking for a place to park. We found a parking lot close enough that only cost $15, but I would have paid double that just to be done with the traffic.

The show ended around 11 p.m. We’d toyed with the idea of spending the night in Charlotte, but road/hotel-weary from our recent drive to and from Disney, we’d scrapped that plan in favor of a late night drive home.

But first we had to get out of Charlotte and that proved nearly as challenging as driving into Charlotte, with the late Friday night traffic still heavy as the clock approached midnight. It was, thankfully, too dark for me to tell if I angered anyone else.

We drove as fast as we could home, the Uwharrie Mountain range dark on our return trip and not nearly as inviting as it had appeared that afternoon. Or maybe I was just still carrying a lot of tension from the big city.

Around 1 a.m., we pulled into our driveway, thoroughly tired of driving, tired of traffic, just tired; but relieved to no longer be a fish out of water.

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