southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Reflections on my Weekend in the Queen City

I went home to spend last weekend with my family in Charlotte. Charlotte has been for some time, and continues to be, a rapidly growing and ever-changing metropolis which hardly resembles the city I left for college in 1998.  I am not oblivious to the changes, for that would be next to impossible.  I see it, but somehow I don’t feel it.  For me, Charlotte remains that place which houses my childhood memories.  It can never change drastically enough to erase those indelible imprints on my soul.  Undoubtedly, it will continue its transformation from a Southern jewel to an international destination, but, for me, it will always be home.  Small.  Quiet.  Unassuming.  Tall pines and Sweet Caroline.

BBQ Is King

Shortly after landing Friday night, we went to the Bar-B-Que King – the same joint that has provided Friday night’s sweet satisfaction in our family for as long as I can remember – to grub on Western North Carolina-style BBQ, coleslaw, hushpuppies and onion rings. While the comfort food is perpetually gratifying, it is the comfort part that still resonates all these years later.  The pulled pork and coleslaw feed my body; the place itself replenishes my soul.  Like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, I wonder if I will ever be able to escape the irrepressible pull of this place.  Better question: why would I want to?

McCrory Is Driving This Car

Upon waking on Saturday morning – still in a hazy, sluggish state from the barbeque and hushpuppies – I grabbed the morning paper as is my unshakable habit. Plastered on the front page screamed the inescapable headline: “HB2 Repeal on the Table if Charlotte Drops Ordinance.”  At first glance, seeing the word “repeal,” I was heartened that this might be a positive development in North Carolina’s interminable fiasco.  Of course, after reading the second half of the headline (and the article), it became painfully apparent that Governor McCrory was only looking to write a new, darker chapter into this already odious melodrama.  In a move dripping with pure political calculation, McCrory is now looking to deflect blame for HB2 to the City of Charlotte as the instigator of the unmitigated mess in which the state currently finds itself.  This is not exactly a profile in courage.  I hope the Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, exhibits hers by standing up to our bully of a governor.

Picture this: there are two people driving along in a car. The passenger is simply talking to the driver when the driver suddenly runs of the road toward a steep cliff.  The driver demands an apology from the passenger before he will steer the car back onto the road and away from the rapidly approaching cliff and impending disaster beyond.  The driver is Governor McCrory.  The car, North Carolina.  Mutually assured destruction is the destination.

Winning Uncomfortably & Loving It

The highlight of the weekend took place at a scorching Bank of America Stadium where Chip Kelly led his undefeated San Francisco 49ers to battle my previously winless Carolina Panthers. Candidly, the Panthers were downright sloppy.  They turned the ball over 4 times, committed several debilitating penalties, had several blown assignments on defense, and made a couple boneheaded mistakes on special teams.  The Panthers also won by 19 points in relatively easy fashion.

While driving home, my dad and I were listening to local sports talk radio when caller after caller whined, complained, bed whetted and generally belly ached about the Panthers’ uneven performance.  As the calls mounted, I grew increasingly ecstatic.  I came to the thrilling realization that Carolina had reached the point at which they could win easily while their fans could simultaneously express frustration with the less than stellar play.  In the early days, we were happy if the Panthers made it out of the tunnel, let alone scored a point.  Now, our fan base thinks we are the 1984 San Francisco 49ers.  The immaculate transformation!  What an enviable and blessed position in which to be?

Who Are These People?

As I meandered through my parents’ neighborhood on my Sunday morning run, I came across a beautiful sight – make that several beautiful sights. These beautiful sights were similar in size, shape and certainly content, and they were situated conspicuously in the same place on the front lawn of each house that I passed.  The beautiful sights to which I refer, of course, are Donald Trump for President yard signs.  This might sound preposterous to those who know that I find Mr. Trump to be repulsive, uniquely unqualified, and a national disgrace (tip of the cap to Colin Powell on the last one).  All of this is no doubt the truth.

But a separate truth of equal significance also revealed itself: I was relieved to find out who these people are that support Donald Trump. Sheltered in progressive New York City, it is easy to ask oneself: who are these people?  Now, I have the answer.  They are hard-working, honorable, philanthropic, kind, generous, patriotic (and mostly sane) Americans.  What’s more, they are my neighbors (or my parents’ neighbors).  It dawned on me that they are only doing what they think is in the best interest of the country – nothing more, nothing less.  Of course, I vehemently disagree with this judgment and determination in the strongest possible terms.  My hope is that these same people do not view me as somehow evil, or worse, in light of my support for Hillary Clinton.

I understand that politics are emotional, and emotions are personal. This reality notwithstanding, we have to find a way to remove the personal from our politics.  Otherwise, our (already) great country will be lessened in a very profound and ultimately sad way.  In addition to the Trump signs, these folks had a second sign in their yards: a Panthers sign.  For me, it underscored the indisputable truth that there is more that binds than divides us.  Our commonalities far exceed and outweigh our differences.  In the end, we are all in this together whether November brings a President Trump or a President Clinton.

Moving Forward

Last weekend spent in Charlotte with family and friends was truly a blessing. In addition to my mom and dad, I was able to spend time with my sister, my niece (Chloe), my grandmother, tailgate partners Aunt Trena and Uncle Ray, and 80,000 of my nearest and dearest at Panthers Stadium.  It was made all the richer by the disparate, yet equally enlightening experiences described above.  North Carolina is a majestic place, warts and all.  The good thing about warts is that they can be removed.  To be removed, however, they must first come to the surface.  Lord knows they have surfaced.  With our wounds now out in the open for the world to see, it is time to come together to solve our problems and not simply sweep them under the rug.  It is my fervent hope that we North Carolinians, despite our feckless political leadership, have the courage to do just that.

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September 21, 2016 Posted by | 2016 Presidential Election, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte, Charlotte Ordinance, Donald Trump, Governor McCrory, HB2, Hillary Clinton, North Carolina, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a Panthers Fan: Coping With Success One Day at a Time

There is this something, perhaps its intuitive, about being a fan of a small-market team that produces the unshakable feeling that the odds are stacked against you. Somehow, someway, the playing field is not level, our chances are uneven.  Obviously, we tell ourselves, the mega-markets of New York, Chicago, LA, Miami, and a handful of others, possess an infinitely greater probability of success year after year simply by virtue of their size, resources and mystique.  The media, we surmise, only want to see the teams from these sparkling cities in the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals.  Podunk, backwoods, neanderthal Charlotte, North Carolina?  Never!

Particularly as it relates to the NFL, with its hard salary cap, this inherent feeling of institutional injustice is not only unfounded, it is irrational. Nonetheless, I, as an otherwise rational human being (if I must say so myself), am powerless to its firm grip on my soul – indeed, it is wedged deep within my sports psyche.  What’s worse, this way of thinking flies in the face of an abundance of evidence to the contrary, which I conveniently neglect to consider.  Things like facts and evidence are not allowed within shouting distance of the protective sports bubble I’ve so masterfully crafted.  In this way, I am very much like the Republican primary.

If I did consider empirical data, which I don’t, I would not have to look terribly far to find copious examples of small market teams reaching the pinnacle of their respective sports. The reigning “world” champions of Major League Baseball hail from none other than tintsy-wintsy Kansas City, Missouri.  Kansas City is so small that people often mistake it for being in the “great” state of Kansas, which must be quite a blow to one’s ego.  You literally have to show people on a map that Kansas City is in the Show Me State.  Kansas City should be called the Believe Me City.

With a population of roughly 470,000 people, it ranks as the 37th largest city by population in the United States.  Charlotte, by contrast, is the 17th largest city with a population of roughly 810,000 hard-working, good-looking and sweet-talking folks.  Charlotte throttles Kansas City in the population rankings, but lags far behind in World Series rings.  Of course, Charlotte does not have a baseball team, which is not helpful in this fight.  The point, though, is that Kansas City, with all her faults (and she has many), provides a prime example of a really small-market team sitting at the apex of a major sport.

Easily my favorite team not based in the Carolinas is the San Antonio Spurs. With their 5 NBA titles, all since 1999, the Spurs have achieved a level of excellence and consistency that is virtually unparalleled in recent NBA history.  Like Tim Duncan from the elbow, bank it: death, taxes, and the Popovich-led Spurs being in the playoffs.  While San Antonio is larger than Charlotte, it is not exactly a sexy landing spot for free agents.  In fact, it most likely ranks 3rd in its own state, behind Dallas and Houston.  Apparently, the Riverwalk and top notch Tex-Mex are not enough to attract the modern, sophisticated NBA player.  And, most damningly, of course, San Antonio is located in Texas, a hard sell by any standard.  Moreover, San Antonio only has one professional sports team to its credit.  Despite these many obstacles, the Spurs are one of the most successful franchises in American sports history.

And then there are the Green Bay Packers.  That storied NFL franchise that has 4 Lombardi trophies (the damn thing is named after a Packers coach), including the first two, and 9 other league championships in the pre-Super Bowl era.  This is the same Green Bay, Wisconsin that is not only small (just north of 100K cheeseheads), but is cold…really cold.  Lambeau Field did not earn the “frozen tundra” moniker for nothing.  Far worse than these two obvious blights on its record, Green Bay is mind-numbingly dull and boring.  It is about as lively as a Ben Carson rally.  Yet, despite these now three major strikes, Green Bay has far from struck out.  After all, the Packers have been a fixture in recent playoffs history, remarkably having made them the last seven consecutive seasons.

Up until now, my “red-headed stepchild” outlook on the sports world – and with respect to my own teams in particular – has been especially useful. Growing up in Charlotte and being an avid – ok, borderline insane – fan of our teams, I was able to rationalize, and to effectively explain away, the consistent losing as being a function of our small-market status.  The little brother syndrome with which I was imbued provided a convenient mechanism to cope with unending defeat.  Interestingly, it was almost as if the losing became a badge of honor – somehow making me a better, tougher, more resilient person as a result of my being able to roll with the proverbial punches.  I have spoken with friends from Philadelphia who confirm that this is a real thing.

Let me be clear, however: there have been intermittent periods of success by my teams that I not only appreciated but also celebrated (with the best of ‘em). After all, Super Bowl 50 will not be the first rodeo (thanks, Peyton) in which the Carolina Panthers have danced.  No, the Panthers lost the 2004 Super Bowl to New England in dramatic (read: agonizing) fashion after John Kasay shanked a kick-off out of bounds handing the ball to Tom Brady at the 40 yard line, which led to the inevitable game-winning field goal.  But, the truth is, I did not genuinely believe that we had a shot against that juggernaut of a Patriots squad.  The Jake Delhomme-led 2003 Panthers were good, not great, catching fire at the right time to finish 11-5, and then embarking on an incredible run to the Super Bowl.  It was more lightning in a bottle than anything else.

The Charlotte Hornets have, for the most part, been a study in mediocrity. Typically, they just miss the playoffs or just sneak in – either way, providing a quick and clean resolution to their season.  They currently sit in 9th position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the first team on the outside looking in.  A fairly apt metaphor for their schizophrenic existence in Charlotte (and New Orleans, but that’s a different story for a different day).  As previously mentioned, Charlotte is not yet in the big leagues with the respect to baseball.

So, on the eve of Super Bowl 50, what do I make of the essentially flawless 2015 version of these Carolina Panthers? Being a fan of the Carolina Panthers this year has been the easiest job in the world.  Now I know what it feels like to be Steve Kerr.  The anxiety and “bundle of nerves” approach to game day has been replaced by supreme confidence and, according to my friends, a somewhat obnoxious swagger.  The Panthers are 17-1 and many of the wins were recorded in blowout fashion.  When there has been a close game, the “here we go again” sigh of resignation has been discarded in favor of actual positive thinking; in fact, I am all but certain that these Panthers will make the key play at the right time to secure the win.  All but once, they have.

Setting aside the perfectly imperfect 17-1 record, this year has made being a Panthers fan way cool. Famous, but previously on the down low, Panthers fans such as Steph Curry and John Isner are flying their Panthers flags high and proud – from Twitter to the Australian Open to the shoes of Tripoli.  And new Panthers fans have flocked in droves to a bandwagon that has already exceeded capacity and is now bursting at the seams.  Turn on the TV and one cannot escape the dazzling smile of Cam Newton, who by now must have overtaken Peyton Manning as the king of commercials.  A victory no one could candidly say they saw coming.  We are the cool kids on the playground; we are Marco Rubio following the Iowa Caucuses.  And we are favored to win Super Bowl 50!

I always thought that if one of my teams reached the Promised Land, life would be instantly more gratifying and infinitely easier. I would know exactly how to act; I would have all the answers.  Boy, was I wrong?  To the contrary, I do not know what to do with myself, and have absolutely no answers…none.  I am quickly coming to the realization that I am not comfortable playing the role of Goliath.  I keep looking around for my slingshot.  Absent a slingshot, I need a comfortable couch and a good shrink to help me cope with the sudden and overwhelming success.

Of course, my favored Panthers could be upset by Methuselah Manning and the daunting Denver defense on Sunday night. Ironically, if that were to happen, all might be right in my world again.  But, if we do win, as goes the predictions, I will be left to pick up the pieces, learn to cope with the unexpected success, and take it all one day at a time.

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte, Charlotte Hornets, NBA, NFL, Super Bowl 50, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment