I love a good skyline. Probably because my home-city, Minneapolis, MN has a good skyline. Nonetheless, when I go to a new city and am less than impressed by its architecture I usually don’t hold out much hope for the city itself. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but love at first sight is totally a thing I respect.
Charlotte, North Carolina has a nice skyline. When I saw it, I was immediately like, “Oh hey Charlotte…” I then chuckled because my 2006 Chevrolet Impala, my one and only road trip buddy, is named Charlotte, though he prefers to go by Charlie. It was sort of a meta moment. I was driving, so I didn’t get a good picture of the skyline, here Google it.
I don’t know, when you know, you know, you know? I have really good instincts. I’ve learned to listen to them and have learned from my mistakes when I haven’t. I had a good feeling about Charlotte and she did not disappoint. My first impression somehow reminded simultaneously of Minneapolis (the city nearest where I grew up), Des Moines (the city where I spent my college years), and Little Rock (the city that saved me when I lived in Arkansas). All three places are near and dear to my heart, so this was a really good vibe.
I’d done my usual “things to do in Charlotte” Google search. Since I didn’t have plans to stay overnight I wouldn’t be getting recommendations from a host, so I’d be limited to whatever I could find on my own. One of the suggestions from my Google search was Freedom Park. I like parks. I like walking and reading in parks, so I was sold.
I started my Charlotte adventures at Freedom Park. It was a solid choice. The park was beautiful. Not all the leaves had yet fallen off the trees and it was a gorgeous day so it still felt very much like fall even though it was the beginning of December. The park had a cool stage built on an island with a bridge connecting it to the mainland and the audience seating was across a channel of water. I’m sure they have some killer concerts here, or at least they could. I wandered around the pond enjoying the beautiful weather and chance to stretch my legs after the drive from Asheville. I walked past people training their dogs and mothers not much older than myself pushing babies in strollers. I also passed an elderly man on his own and a couple in their mid-thirties.
Once I’d finished my loop around the pond I decided to continue on the trail past the parking lot and see where I ended up. Turned out there was a playground off to the right a bit. I love swinging, but not as much as my friend Anna, who I met working at Camp Ramapo last summer. I was going to be staying with Anna that night, so I thought it’d be appropriate to go swinging and then tell her about it later. So I went swinging. Then I noticed a separate playground off to the left of the one where I was. On my way to check that out though I noticed the train. Was it to play in? I had t find out.
Alas, it had a bridge leading inside it and I could stand in the conductor area, but that was about it. Oh well, still pretty cool. So I headed to the other playground. There were volleyball courts and soccer and softball fields in the distance and at this other playground there was a sign saying something about how this playground had been sponsored in part by or was in some way influenced by the NFL, which sounded cool. There was an obstacle course, a bouldering rock climbing 3D pentagon shaped thing, a 40 meter dash on astroturf, and a spinning circle wheel thing I was supposed to balance on.
When I got to this playground there was a couple and their one to two year old daughter there. I felt slightly awkward, but hey, I look young, so I hoped they just thought I was some really lame high school kid hanging out at a park by herself. I ran through the obstacle course half-heartedly so I wouldn’t look quite as lame. I ran over the half rounds, dodged around the pop up bags, climbed up and over the up and overs, crossed the rope bridge, ran through the ladder drill and sort of ran up the running ramps.
Then I headed over to the other end of the playground to the other placard thing. There were a few of these around the playground, explaining what each part was and how to use it. This one told me that the button I’d just pressed reset the timer and that when I ran through the pylons it would time me on the timing clock. No. Freaking. Way! Being a kid is so much cooler these days. I’d already pressed the button, so I hiked up my skirt and bolted 40 yards to the other end of the playground. I have to admit it’s pretty exhilarating to run and watch the timer run with me.
As soon as I’d finished and looked up at the clock I thought, I can totally beat that. At this point the couple and their kid were leaving, so now was the time to lay it all out there. I went back to the starting line, hit the timer reset button again, and ran like the wind and it was wonderful. I beat my original time by .7 seconds, which I found impressive and felt a slight twinge in my left knee that second lap, so decided not to do it again. Running in chucks with a backpack on wasn’t the best idea? Meh. Whatever. I was fine.
Now that the family was gone it was time to give the obstacle course another go. The running ramps are way more fun when you go all the way up and down them at full speed! I then climbed up one section of the boulder wall. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage not to fall if I tried to underhang on the next section and as there was no crash pad, that seemed like a terrible idea. So I didn’t do that.
Then I went to check out the circle thing. Imagine a donut. Now flatten it out. Make it out of hard plastic instead of anything edible. The ring of the donut is about eight inches wide and the hole’s diameter is about four feet. Now angle the donut about fifteen or twenty degrees from parallel to the ground and make it spin around like a record. That is the circle thing and according to the placard, the purpose of the circle thing is to test your balance. My first try I started walking and the donut was spinning super fast so I stopped walking. I tried again, determined to make it all the way around the donut at least once and started by walking very slowly. I swear, the angle made the donut speed up anyway, but I did make it all the way around. I figured I’d probably kill myself if I kept on playing on this one so I called it good after that. I have no idea how children manage not to break their faces on that thing. Maybe they do.
I left the park convinced that the world would be a much better place if playgrounds for grown-ups were a thing. Not like an amusement park, or anything like that, just like, giant, adult sized slides and monkey bars and obstacle courses and things like that. When I mentioned this to Anna later she added that ball pens and trampolines would also be awesome and I totally agree.
Next I just wandered around Charlotte for a bit and then it was time to be on my way again. When I arrived in Carrboro Anna and I went to Carrburritos where I had one of the best burritos I’ve ever had. It was amazing. There were so many different vegetables in there and it was massive. I got full after eating half of it plus it came with a side of chips and salsa. The best part was it was about the same price as Chipotle, but better and more food. After dinner Anna and I wandered around Chapel Hill. We went to The Bookshop where Anna picked up her very own copy of The Alchemist. We stopped by Arcade a bar that is also, you guessed it, an arcade. We played a few games with the quarters we had. I totally dominated at Ms. PAC-MAN. Ok, not really, but I did make it to level three. So there. Then we went to Ben & Jerry’s for dessert where I had a Half Baked milkshake. I’d never had Ben & Jerry’s in milkshake form before. I must say it was delicious.
The next day, my fourth day in North Carolina, I spent the morning doing I don’t know what, something. I was supposed to be being productive but that didn’t really happen until just before lunchtime. I was productive after lunch through to dinner time and then Anna, her boyfriend Mikey, and I went to The Loop for dinner. I had the pesto based grilled veggie pizza, which included zucchini, squash, onions, portabello mushrooms, calamata olives, roasted red peppers, and tomatoes, except I got mine sans the olives. I hate olives. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. The crust was the perfect blend of crunchy and soft and all the toppings together made the pizza very flavorful. Again, it was more than I could eat in one sitting which meant leftovers which are my favorite and it was even good cold the next day.
We finished the evening with a movie night and watched Whip It, directed by Drew Barrymore, and starring Ellen Page. I LOVED it! It’s about how Ellen Page’s character, Bliss, finds and joins a roller derby team. It’s wonderfully simple and mostly predictable, but I still loved it. I might just love Ellen Page, but whatever. I’d totally watch it again.