Friday, March 11, 2011

Charming Charlotte

Bowl Trip

Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 9:23pm
Anna and I were among the throngs of WVU supporters who invaded Charlotte this weekend. It began on Friday, as we headed south on I-77, with a stop at Tamarack (a designated “pit stop” for bowl-bound Mountaineer fans). This trip was a good first test for the Garmin Nuvi GPS device Anna surprised me with on Christmas (thank you very much!).

We arrived at our hotel on the south side of Charlotte. The hotel had a complimentary shuttle van to the nearest Lynx station. Lynx is the name of the new light rail commuter train service in Charlotte, and I was eager to use this new option which had not been around during our last visit in 2002. Light rail service (in this case, futuristic trains powered by overhead wires using former freight train tracks) might be a good way to ease our energy problems.

We quickly figured out the ticketing system (which doesn't amount to much—this is no DC Metro system) and rode uptown to the big bowl game pep rally. The Pride of West Virginia performed, the captains and the coach spoke, and we (the overall crowd) represented the Mountain State well, with the vast majority of fans present. Since this bowl game was being played in North Carolina, I had been expecting a lot of Tarheel fans to be present at the official pep rally. However, Anna astutely pointed out that most WVU fans were traveling from further away, and thus were in town on Friday afternoon/evening, while many UNC fans would simply make a day trip on Saturday for the game.

After the pep rally, we walked around downtown, and thought about going to a place called “Whiskey River” owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. However, the line was long, so we opted for a nearby franchise of “Howl at the Moon.” We had seen “Howls” in other big cities, but had never yet tried it out. They bill themselves as dueling rock'n'roll pianos, and looked like they would be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, at least this one did not serve food. However, they told us at the door that we could bring food in from other places. The waitress told us about a place called “Jason's Deli” which indeed had great food. We really loved the show of the talented musicians who dealt with the crazies in the crowd, and everyone seemed to be singing and having a fantastic time. Again, the WVU fans overwhelmed the place, and the piano players were forced to play “Country Roads” at least three times just while we were there (no doubt more before they closed that evening).

On Saturday morning, we got our gamefaces on (bowl games are the only time I let Anna put one of those face tattoos on me). We rode the Lynx uptown for a pre-game meal at Jason's Deli again. It has to be a great meal for us to repeat a restaurant twice, but Jason's was worth it. Great food at a great price! We then walked to the stadium.

Once inside, we were quite proud of the turnout by WVU fans. Everyone had been expecting us to be outnumbered by Tarheel fans, given the disappointments this season. By our own unbiased observation, easily half the crowd was clad in WVU regalia. West Virginia was well represented by the Mountaineer Nation. Our crowd was loud and proud--this was not a home game atmosphere for UNC, despite being in their home state.

The game was exciting, and could have gone either way, but as everyone knows, the Mountaineers prevailed. After the game, we walked up Tryon Street (the main drag) to the local science museum called “Discovery Place.” The current special exhibit was about Pompeii, the Roman city buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. When Anna and I took Amtrak to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit in 2006, this Pompeii exhibit had just left the Field Museum there (and Anna got a great reduced price on a Pompeii t-shirt in the gift shop). Since both of us are history buffs, we were glad to finally catch this major exhibit.

Archeologists have been uncovering Pompeii since its discovery in the 1700s. Its preservation has allowed a unique vantage point on Roman life. We were amazed at the emphasis on “fast food” in that era, but the fish paste sauce they craved did not sound very appetizing. Their commercial laundries were also unusual—they used urine to get ammonia needed for getting togas white. Other interesting items on display included Roman coins, house frescoes, graffiti from city walls, fishing tools, etc. Pompeii was quite an advanced society, and I'm sure they never dreamed they would be so well studied in the 21st century.

Probably the most fascinating display were the plaster casts made of the bodies of those who died in Pompeii. The volcanic ash covered everything, including people, and then eventually became hardened. The bodies would eventually rot away, leaving an empty cavity. By pouring plaster into the hole, a complete replica of the person's body could be made. To see these Roman citizens from nearly two thousand years ago was haunting.

After the museum, we ate dinner across the street at a place called the “Fox and Hound Smokehouse and Tavern” where the WVU fans were treated to big screen TVs on sports stations touting the dual victories in the bowl game as well as the basketball team's win over #13 Ohio State in Columbus. All in all, it was a great day to be a Mountaineer!

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