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City Portrait: Charlotte, NC

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Clear blue skies, temperatures in the mid-70s - it's a perfect day for a cruise through the surrounding counties of Rowan and Iredell and Mecklenburg to the largest community in North Carolina, the city of Charlotte. "Looking for adventure and whatever comes our way..."
I grabbed my new digital camera, a Canon D30, and headed out the door to my bike.

From Winston-Salem, I wind along highways 150 and 16, much of which is bordered by lovely rural scenery. Not so heavily traveled, these roads feature some pretty good curves too. It's a relaxing ride, not particularly challenging, but what's the hurry? Along the way towns like Spencer, Salisbury, and Mooresville have embraced their heritage and seem to have retained more of the atmosphere of the '60s and the '70s than most. I love this feeling and take a break to relax and observe the scene in Salisbury, Rowan's county seat. Over coffee at a sidewalk table, I watch people rushing through town and wonder if they really appreciate the beauty of their environs. Or is that only possible on a leisurely bike trip? I'm thankful I have time and opportunities to savor moments like this.

Back aboard my bike and three hours down the road I notice a green sign topped with a white crown. I've entered the Queen City, an appellation that's not some random nickname drawn from a hat nor is there any Freddy Mercury connection to speak of. The roots of the name go way back when...

Settlers traveling south from Pennsylvania founded Charlotte in 1748 and named it for the wife of England's King George III, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg, hence "the Queen's city." After a 17-pound nugget was unearthed nearby in 1799, the young nation experienced its first gold rush and the state of North Carolina remained the biggest gold producer in the United States for half a century until the strike at Sutter's Mill in California. A Charlotte branch of the U.S. Mint was established in 1837.

When retreating British troops occupied Charlotte in 1780, Lord Cornwallis, noting the fierce resistance of its inhabitants, called the place a "hornets' nest." That designation exists today in a couple of ways - in the name of the NBA franchise and in an artist's rendition on the city's official seal or crest.

And one year before all those illustrious signatories lined up with ink on their quills to sanction the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, the leaders in this territory had signed the Mecklenburg Declaration, a document that Thomas Jefferson is said to have used as the guiding light for the Declaration of Independence.

After the Civil War, industry blossomed in the area. Textile factories took the lead and once the hydroelectric power of the Catawba River was harnessed they sprang up everywhere. Approximately 600 textile manufacturers operate today within a radius of 100 miles.

Charlotte is booming again and boasts the tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta, the 50-story Charter Properties Office Tower. This time the engines driving the commercial expansion are banking (Charlotte is the third-ranking U.S. banking center) and the city's position as the air, transportation, and distribution hub for the Carolina manufacturing belt.

And although it's a little known fact, couch potatoes the world over owe a hefty debt of gratitude to Charlotte. Perhaps they should genuflect and point their remotes in the direction of Charlotte occasionally - for what would their lives be like if Mr. Herman Lay hadn't thought to produce his first batch of chips here?

The City
Amid the downtown canyons, my Tiger prowling the busy thoroughfares between homes and skyscrapers, sidewalk cafes and trendy shops, I decide to pull over for lunch and to get my bearings from the city map. Curious about my ride, a friendly soul at the table next to mine engages me in a conversation about our biking backgrounds and I learn we have much in common, principally our love for British bikes. When younger, he rode a BSA and a

Norton. In a short while I have a new "best" friend in Charlotte who's providing me with excellent suggestions about the things to see and do in town.

Continuing my tour and having a fine time exploring the different neighborhoods in Charlotte, I arrive at University Place on Harris Boulevard, a good location in which to hang out for a while. The view over the pond to the buildings beyond is gorgeous. Very unusual homes with impressive architectural details abound here and my camera was raised a number of times to preserve them for further examination.

After a while my bike roars across the city north to south on Tyron Street. A right turn onto Billy Graham Pkwy takes me out to the
airport area. Charlotte/Douglas International serves as the gateway to the Carolinas, offering non-stop direct service to nine international destinations including Bermuda, Mexico, United Kingdom, Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Netherlands. The airport connects over 160 cities with non-stop service, 500 flights daily, and 22 million passengers a year. Busy place. It's also an area photographers should gravitate toward to capture outstanding images of the city's skyline.

Mecklenburg County
Take I-85 to I-77 and cruise around Lake Norman, a huge stretch of water bordering Charlotte's western suburban landscape. I'm looking for a nice spot to take pictures of the lake, but it's not so easy finding public access here - the lakeshore brims with wonderful homes on expansive, private sites. But surprise! Behind the next curve there's a sign for Jetton Park. A sharp left turn brings me to the entrance and I rumble slowly through the park at 25 mph, the posted limit. All over mountain bikers, cyclists, motorcyclists, skaters, joggers and people walking are taking advantage of the beautiful weather. In the large parking lot at the end of the drive, I finally see what I'm looking for and stop to take my pictures from an excellent overlook.

Barbecue and Wings
With the day waning, the sun slipping lower and lower, the direction charted is the fastest way home. But after a couple of miles I notice six Harleys ahead and follow them off my route into Mooresville to see what's going on. My curiosity is satisfied when we pull up and park alongside at least 80 other motorcycles at a place call Lancaster's Barbecue and Wings. With my Triumph, I'm the exception here (Harleys are the rule) and it only takes a moment to be involved in a good biker chat. This meeting always takes place on Wednesdays and starts around six o'clock. As mentioned, Harleys are the majority, but all other bikers are welcome too. The food and drinks are delicious, the people are friendly, and the owner has a big, soft spot in his heart for bikers because he is one. Guys and girls, it's worth a stop if you're anywhere near here on Wednesdays. Riding, eating, looking, drinking, and talking -  that's an excellent motorcycle day anyway you stack it, in my book. I hated to leave.

That's the long and short of it. A great day filled with new impressions fondly recalled on my tour to The Queen City. See you on the road or maybe we'll hook up next Wednesday at Lancaster's.