It is a hot July 80 degrees here in Ohio, so we make a silly decision. We head to Charlotte, North Carolina, where it is even hotter. We are going to see our daughter, who moved there a few months ago. The biggest part of our drive is through West Virginia. The scenery is beautiful but hard to study while you are driving on very winding roads. This is a state where you will find roads named Possum Hollow Road. A driver of a black SUV is going way over the speed limit. He is whipping from lane to lane. He cuts right in front of a semi truck as if the semi could stop on a dime. I’d like to get a look at the SUV driver. I suspect it is Charles Bronson because he has a death wish.
We stop for gas at a busy service center trying to be the Breezewood, PA. of West Virginia. We get some sodas and go to the register of the convenient store. A jittery bouncy toothless woman with a teenage girl’s body and an eighty year old woman’s face says,”What do you mean you’re all out of fountain energy drinks.” The young man at the register looks at energy woman and says to us, “It’s going to be a crazy day; ya all have a great day now.” A tavern sits next door with a sign that states, “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a shot and that’s close.” A strip club called, “Southern Exposure” is on our left as we reenter the highway.
We drive through Virginia only for a small section. It needs no welcome sign; you are greeted by a state cop parked in the intersection every square mile. Virginia is for lovers and speeding fines. I was once stopped in Virginia and had to pay a big fine because I had a radar detector. I was treated like I was trying to bring a kilo of cocaine into Virginia. I am growing weary of left lane bandits who ride in that lane while driving under the speed limit. The driver of a car ahead of us has his arm sticking in the air. He is giving the I love you sign and does it for about three miles. I’m happy to see he has Ohio plates but wish he had both hands on the wheel.
You know when you have arrived in North Carolina. You’ll see places like an Exxon station featuring peaches, peach pies and a butcher shop. It’s also where you’ll find restaurants that don’t understand the reasoning of unsweetened iced tea. Charlotte drivers putter off from a red light but once they are on Jeff Gordon Expressway or Dale Earnhardt Boulevard divers seem required to drive like they are on a NASCAR track. Highway 3 is named after the car Dale was killed in. Your GPS system will also be confused by twelve roads named, Sharon. Sharon Road, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity, Sharon Road West, Sharon Lakes Road etc. They are all named after a region in the Bible. A coastal plain in West Israel, extending from Tel Aviv to Mount Carmel.
You will find every denomination of churches in Charlotte. The biggest growing one is Elevation which is a mega church auditorium. Its thousands of members are referred to as Elevators by outsiders. The church takes in $25 million a year from its 17 locations with 9 being in the Charlotte area. It is one of the fastest growing churches in the USA. Senior Pastor Steve Furtick and his wife built a 16,000 sq. ft. house with 7.5 bathrooms on 19 acres of land in Waxhaw, NC, a suburb of Charlotte. The house and land are valued at just under $1.8 million. The church will have a hard time changing the world as the pastor’s wife has told members they shouldn’t have friends outside of fellow church members. Former employees say they were paid low wages, worked long hours and were expected to give total access to their personal lives to church leaders.
We finally reached our daughter’s apartment building. In her parking lot a young boy plays unsupervised. He climbs a hill sits in a wheeled office chair and flies down the hill. Somehow he avoids crashing into parked cars. I later see the chair parked next to the garbage dumpster. It is hot out so our daughter takes us to the apartment complex’s pool. In the pool, two teenage Spanish-speaking couples are dancing to Spanish music. One couple gets in the pool and the boy tries to make out with the girl. She says in English, “Chill out there is kids in the pool.” He replies, “Oh come on baby.” She sings, “You say, “Hello.” He sings back, “And I say goodbye.” A big part of the apartment complex is made up of Latin American immigrants. I learn that there are currently over 3,000 international refugees from over 40 different countries living in Charlotte. The middle schools here teach over 12,000 students who speak over 160 different languages. Between 2004 and 2014, Charlotte was ranked as the country’s fastest-growing metro area, with 888,000 new residents.
In 2012 there was a rally to protest the growing Latin American population in Charlotte. The rally was organized by Neo-Nazis and the KKK. These groups were confronted by a counter demonstration by the Latin American Coalition. These counter-protesters dressed like clowns and brought squeaky toys, whistles, noise-makers, red noses and flour–every time the Nazis and Klan mentioned “white power” the counter demonstrators sprinkled white flour in to the air. The “Send in the Clowns” action worked and the white supremacist realized they were being drowned out and mocked as clowns and left. The Latin American Coalition said, “While racism and hate are serious business, hate groups coming to our city is just ridiculous. The type of rhetoric these groups espouse does not work to move our country forward. We reject such divisiveness. Take your hate somewhere else, there’s no room for hate discourse in our community.”
My daughter’s boyfriend drove us to a nearby South Carolina flea market. There were lots of Latino vendors. We see fresh veggies including cactus, chili pepper plants and green beans a foot long. A black man buys a speaker from a white vendor wearing a shirt with a rebel flag on it. A biker is buying a $5 helmet. I wonder if he thinks a $5 helmet will protect his head. Probably more than the silly do rag he is wearing. I love seeing a white man vendor speaking Spanish to a woman wearing a Guatemala t-shirt. A Hispanic elderly woman is selling Tupac and Fred Sanford t-shirts. Upon leaving we pass a giant fire station. Probably needed with the mix of 100 degree heat and abundance of fireworks wholesalers.
We learn that downtown Charlotte is called “uptown,”much to the confusion of tourists. The city of Charlotte now has over 199 neighborhoods. The very first Family Dollar opened up in Charlotte in 1959. Within 10 years, it turned into a 50-store chain. By 2013, 78,000 Family Dollars had emerged in 48 states. One every 3 miles in Ohio it seems. Charlotte’s Museum of History shut down. It ran out of money as people were not willing to pay to visit it. A young Charlotte resident commented on the closing saying, “Charlotte has a past. It’s just not living in it.” We leave knowing we will miss our daughter but I am comforted by that comment and the peaceful, humorous direct action confrontations of the Latin American Coalition. I am grateful that our daughter is only an eight-hour drive away. I feel for those immigrants in Charlotte that are thousands of miles away from their families. Our daughter has found a new home and we hope young people like her will make Charlotte a welcoming community.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” -FDR