Tue Aug 5, 2003 4:26:54 PM
Trip to Charlotte

My wife and I spent last week at the Westin in Charlotte, North Carolina, at a conference for her job. As cities go, Charlotte is nice: it sprawls, true, but they either left or regrew an awful lot of trees, and the downtown (known as "Uptown", presumably to confuse us Yankees should we invade again) seems to have a fountain or two on every block.

The hotel itself continued the theme by being very nice, especially given that someone else was paying for it. They have something they call The Heavenly Bed, and it's a pretty indicative name: good box spring and mattress, pad, lots of 250-count sheets, comforter, three kinds of pillows, and a bedspread so nice that we didn't yank it off and chuck it in the corner like we do at every other hotel. Apparently, when they first introduced it, they got so many inquiries about buying one to take home that they started offering them for sale. This was no doubt inspired by the way hotels offer to sell you one of their nice bathrobes to stop people from stealing them, thereby turning a shrinkage loss into a profit center. Hmmm... maybe restaurants should offer to sell pepper shakers....

Originally, Molly was going to go to the conference by herself, and I was going to stay here with Joe, but it turned out my Uncle Bob was in Charlotte that same week, so we all went, and while she wrapped herself in a sweater for the over-air-conditioned sessions, Joe and I hung out poolside at the home of Uncle Bob's good friend Don and his wife, Gabby. They're incredibly nice people, and very interesting to talk to. One day Gabby put up a swing on their deck for Joe to use, and we couldn't get him out of it. He spent literally an hour whooshing back and forth, occasionally exclaiming, "Whee!". When we returned the next day, Joe pointed out back toward the swing and demanded, "Whee."

The drive back was nice, too. We broke it up with a stop in Durham, NC, where I lived for a brief period right after college. We started at the tiny church I used to go to, Holy Cross. We were running 20 minutes late, so we had to go to the overflow room (an innovation since I was there last; we used to just pack everyone in), which held just us and a grandmother with a 16-month-old. The adjoining room had lots of toys, which Joseph went through in search of all the ones that made noise. Come to think of it, it's just as well we weren't in the main church, since by the end, he was running laps around the seating saying "Daddy!" over and over.

I managed to find one person I remembered from when I'd been there, and he brought me up to speed on a lot of changes. It turns out the pastor when I was there, Fr. Bruce, is now at a church in DC — possibly St. Augustine's. Other people I remembered were still part of the parish, but August is prime vacation time, so they weren't there that day.

We wandered around a while, looking at my old apartment from the outside, cruising down Martin Luther King Parkway (not Boulevard, for some reason), which had been under construction during my time in Durham, thus providing many opportunities for unorthodox, postmodern hiking. After a failed attempt to locate Duke Gardens (or Plantations, or something) and its calla lillies, we found ourselves on Ninth Street, so I switched the object of my quest to the Ninth Street Bakery, which I remembered fondly. It turns out that shortly after I left, it became Elmo's Diner, but the food was still good. And it wasn't until after we were seated and grabbed a logo mug full of crayons for Joe that I finally made the mental connection with another Elmo — The Red One.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, if excessively drawn out by Sunday-evening I-95 congestion. We waited some of it out (at Joe's behest) at an Italian joint near Fredericksburg, where he had macaroni and cheese yet again. (I think I'll write up our Charlotte restaurant experiences in a later entry.) We skipped dessert — too much restaurant food for one week. It's good to be home.