Queen City Crane City

By Samir Shukla

It was a continuation of our family's migration. One final jump. The first big jump was from Amdavad to New York City, circa 1974. We shifted to New Jersey a couple years later and then made the final family jump from the North (Yankee land as one of my southern friends called it) down to the South (a bunch of hicks as one of my northern friends called it), from New Jersey to Charlotte nearly 40 years ago. We planted our roots in Charlotte, the Queen City.

Um, Queen City, you ask? Americans continue to yield in subtle ways to their former rulers, the Brits, such as not so subtle obsessions with Royal weddings, and in the case of the city's name, a southern town named after a British royal, Queen Charlotte. The town was named before the Revolutionary war. Charlotte the city turned 250 on December 3, 2018.

Charlotte, the Queen City, of late has become the Crane City. Construction is booming all around. Old, quiet neighborhoods are being gentrified, roads are expanding, and toll highways are on the horizon. This rapid expansion has been going on for the past couple decades. Much of the first 250 years, this little southern outpost lay sleeping, factories coming and going, civil war, civil rights, until a few decades ago when reinvention and foresight of business and community leaders sent Charlotte careening forward to becoming a larger, world-class city.

Charlotte can now be named with just the first name. There's no need for a comma, followed by NC. Just Charlotte will do, thank you very much.

The Queen City we have lived in for nearly 40 years is visibly a Crane City these days. A drive down or up on I-77 showcases a jumble of cranes building this or that and the other thing. It seems most parts of the city are in a building frenzy. It's a boom town booming further. It is situated just right, the largest city between DC and Atlanta, a short drive west and you are in the mountains, a short dive east and the Atlantic Ocean beckons.

Charlotte has become hometown for our family after the initial shift, followed by years of toil and progress.

People wind up in places that become home in multiple ways once they uproot from distant lands and set up roots in new lands. Sometimes the trek is made by an ancestor on a whim or out of necessity. Other migrations are calculated; still others are driven by escape from violence and economic instability.

A place called home doesn't happen overnight. A sense of abstractions like the aura of the surroundings and a state of mind melds with concrete ethos of house, buildings, food, economy, and opportunity that get soaked into the skin and bones, and a town where one moves to, becomes the hometown. We become part of the place we live in all the while we try and make the adopted place into our heritage, instill traditions, with the necessary invention and reinvention.

Somewhere after the migrations and travels, setting up roots awakens the soul. A place once rooted with a feeling of home and belonging gives grounding to those who call it home. These roots are especially and firmly planted when your children are born in the city.

There wasn't much going on in downtown Charlotte in the late 70's and early 80's. Slowly it turned around, evolved and now we have a vibrant downtown. The Blue Line light rail cuts through it, giving easy access to the activities downtown.

The rapidity with which Charlotte has grown in the past 20 years is extraordinary. Familiar venues and landmarks are remade or are completely gone and new ones have emerged.

The other night I sat in a craft brewery, sipping a cold beer, in a building on a street once abandoned by the city, most buildings on that street boarded up for years. When we first moved to Charlotte, I would not have thought much about this street. The same street today is no longer abandoned. Many people, young and old, families and couples, frolic about the street and others connecting it through the day and night.

This is an era where once unremarkable street corners around the edges of the expanding downtown have now become highly prized morsels of real estate.

But this is about more than real estate. It is about home or, more precisely, hometown. Rootedness is a warm feeling after uprooting from native lands years earlier.

On that cold December night, in that brewery carved out of an old industrial building, beer snug in hand, I thought of a time three and a half decades earlier. Back then I wanted to “someday" skip this town and go “somewhere" else. Now, I want to skip that “somewhere" else and stay here, in my hometown.

The beer goes down easy sitting in warm surroundings, while the giant cranes stalk buildings and cast shadows onto streets like an alien invasion, remaking my hometown.

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Samir Shukla is the editor of Saathee magazine. Contact - Samir@saathee.com