CHARLOTTE, September 3, 2012 – The rarest sighting at the DNC this week might be a citizen of Charlotte.
Charlotte security cartoon by Kevin Siers
Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democratic National Convention, has stated on numerous occasions that the Charlotte DNC will be “the most open and accessible” convention in history.
Open, perhaps. Accessible, it is not.
Delegates and visitors staying in uptown hotels may be less aware of the city’s approachability, but residents have no doubts.
At noon, Tryon Street became a gala party with a pre-convention celebration called CarolinaFest. Thousands of visitors strolled the streets and participated in a six-hour music festival.
Media outlets seemed confused by the fact that “downtown” in Charlotte is known as “uptown.” The explanation is simple. Years ago, city officials determined that “downtown” had a negative connotation for an up-and-coming city of the new South. “Uptown” was more optimistic and positive. Locals have become accustomed to the terminology, which has long represented the city’s efforts to showcase its image.
TWC Arena get ready for DNC
Despite the party ambience however, the city center of Charlotte has basically shut down.
Driving into uptown Charlotte on Saturday evening was more or less normal. By Sunday morning, the city had become an island of law enforcement, concrete barriers and orange cones funneling traffic from two and three lanes into one.
The scene was reminiscent of a scene from a science-fiction movie.
Beyond the security perimeter streets were virtually empty. Major arteries in and out of Charlotte had minimal traffic.
Many people who work in uptown offices were told to either work from home or take vacation.
True, Monday was a holiday and things could change when the business week resumes on Tuesday, but to say that access to the uptown area is limited is a major understatement.
One of the difficulties is that many law enforcement personnel who are assisting with security are from other cities and are unfamiliar with Charlotte. Motorists trying to find their way around the barriers and closed off streets frequently get information from officials who have no idea where or how to direct the traffic.
That only adds to the confusion.
Scurity in Charlotte is pervasive
The light rail system, called LYNX, which normally operates from the Matthews area outside Charlotte into the heart of the city, was fully operational on Sunday. By Monday, transportation service on the trains had been shortened to several stops before its usual terminus, dropping off passengers at the Westin Hotel which is a considerable walk to Time Warner Cable Arena where the DNC is taking place.
One block west of Tryon Street, at the southern end of Church Street, which parallels Tryon, a place called the Huffington Post Oasis seemed to be the most heavily guarded building on Sunday. Dozens of uniformed police lined the exterior of the facility which was the creation of Ariana Huffington. Huffington began the concept in Denver as a way for visitors to escape the hoopla of convention activities throughout an urban center.
There was no way to determine whether the added security was due to a major celebrity or dignitary inside or if there had been an external threat of some kind.
Many Charlotteans have long claimed that they planned to be away from the city by making the week of Labor Day holiday an excuse for a vacation. With the Monday holiday, it was difficult to determine whether the absence of normal activity was the result of a long weekend or the influx of visitors or a combination of both.
One thing that is clearly discernable however, is the massive security lockdown that has made Charlotte unrecognizable to its residents.
Certainly with President Obama, other high level officials, politicians and a myriad of celebrities who are, or will be, present throughout the week, such measures are necessary.
That said, there is almost a quality surrounding this contemporary city which has taken on the ambience of a medieval walled city.
Parties will be countless and joyous. The convention will be a global media event. Delegates and visitors will savor a three day celebration leading up to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium which will attract tens of thousands of supporters.
But there is also a cold reality that has turned Charlotte, NC into armed encampment that in no way resembles its beauty, its character or its true personality.
As I said, Open, perhaps. Accessible, it is not.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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