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Whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant…

I’m freshly returned from my first ever trip to Charlotte, NC.  A business trip.  Was it high on my wish list of travel destinations?  Of course not, but it was a welcome diversion… and perhaps more importantly, it was an ideal next step in expanding my comfort zone.  This was a five-hour flight, after all.

I’ll confess to a certain reticence concerning the South, and spying a large Nascar store in the airport as soon as I walked off the plane didn’t help.  (In fact, I was later to find that a Nascar-branded skyscraper was visible from my hotel room!)  I grabbed a cab and headed towards downtown.  It wasn’t long before I was experiencing first hand the heat and humidity that was to define my whole trip.  Near triple-digit temperatures and the crushing moist air made me wish I had brought my business casual shorts and sandals.  The good news is that I was in air conditioning more often than not during my 3+ days in town.

I don’t mean to sound negative though.  Aside from the weather and the almost comical lack of vegetarian food options (even the upscale Asian place served no tofu nor much of anything else veggie apart from a side of noodles), the trip was really valuable.  Not least because I found it all very inspiring.  Not just the change of scenery but even the general experience of travelling.  It really seems to get the creative juices flowing, or at least it does for me.  I remember my consulting days were rich in that department.

Christ, why don’t I do more travelling on my own time?  It’s exciting, that getting up early on the day of your flight, the nerves as you pack up and leave the house, that walk through the airport parking lot, all leading up to some great unexpected wide open.  It was the same preparing for Ireland as it was for anywhere else.  And then once you’re there,  I mean, my memory/concept of both work travel and vacations is wrapped up in experiences like the ones in Charlotte.  Walking around some neon-heavy outdoor marketplace on a night so hot and humid you can wear shorts.  Walking light because all my stuff is securely in the hotel.  There’s something to the idea of having so few possessions to worry about.  Just being out there without much more than the clothes on your back.  Even the rental car — when there is one — isn’t actually yours.  Somehow it makes you live in the moment more.  Really live.  No strings.  You’re simply there absorbing all the new sights and sounds, taking it all in.  And there’s a feeling of such independence that goes along with that too.  You, dropped into unfamiliar surroundings and left to fend for yourself.  You against the world.  Mano-a-mundo.

Speaking of consulting, that was definitely the vibe of the trip.  Preparing for it was not unlike reliving those old days.  Bringing a laptop, living out of a hotel, wearing my trusty work jacket (and digging out of it two crusty Dramamine vials that expired in 2006)… then keeping receipts for expenses and just remembering all the little details like that.  Well, it was my own white collar version of a washed up gunfighter dusting off his guns and coming out of retirement for one last ride.  Happy and sad at the same time.  I really need to get around to writing my old consulting stories here and just exorcising that once and for all.

I always enjoy catching the local news when I’m travelling, just to try to get a flavor for the place.  Usually I’ll watch the Fox affiliate, because even though their 24 hour cable station’s reputation is understood, the local branches like our own KTVU seem relatively independent.  Charlotte’s?  Not so much.  I’ll spare you the breakdown of every skewed story choice, story angle, and show of incompetence I witnessed.  You’ve got the Daily Show to do that for you at the national level.  Suffice it to say the anchors’ views — or perhaps in some cases the network’s views — were plain as day.  So much for journalistic integrity and unbiased reporting, eh?  Is “news” like that a bad influence on the local public, or is it actually a product of the existing public disposition?  I watched and thought no wonder people here think this way… it’s what they hear every day on T.V.  But I guess they might say the same for the more liberal Bay Area.

Anyhoo, Charlotte was nice.  We all stayed in/near what is kind of like the Metreon of that city.  A movie theater, an outdoor music bandstand, several restaurants.  We met up with a local coworker one night and walked around downtown for the evening.  Highlights included Crave, billed as a “dessert bar.”  Basically it was an embarrassingly trendy bar that also happened to serve food… to the tune of 26 gourmet desserts.  I bought two.  Because I’m a grown-assed man, that’s why!  Don’t question me.  Oh, and when walking near the ball park, we happened across The Breakfast Club: a full time 80’s dance club!  Sounds great, right?  Well, even though it was open on a Tuesday night, all we saw was a bouncer, and empty parking lot, and what looked like a half dozen prostitutes loitering nearby.  We passed.

So there you have it.  Another wall comes down.  This makes all of the continental United States and possibly even Hawaii “reachable” again.  Pretty exciting stuff.  I may not be that far from a European trip… eventually.

“In the face of such uncertainty, believe in these two things:  you are stronger than you think, and you are not alone.”

— Maya Angelou

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