It took a minute to register.
In fact, it didn’t hit me until my friend stopped to ask, “Did that guy just call me a freak?” Indeed, he had.
To be exact, as he passed us he’d said, “All these freaks around, like this kid.”
We were in Uptown for the second Buskapalooza, an organized busking event put together by April Denée to raise awareness about her upcoming documentary Busk! We’d been on the street less than five minutes.
The man was with his wife. They both looked to be in their mid forties. She didn’t say anything, or at least refrained until we were out of earshot.
My friend, who fronts a local punk band, has blue hair, which was enough to qualify him as a freak in this man’s opinion.
Now, I know this is merely an isolated anecdote and that a middle aged guy walking around Uptown thinking anyone who looks vaguely different is inherently a freak isn’t the most shocking of realizations. Yet, I can’t help but feel that it’s more emblematic than I’d like to believe.
Since moving to Charlotte several years back ,I have noticed that it’s a city struggling to find its identity. It grew unexpectedly fast and is more spread out than many cities with a similar number of inhabitants.
People seem inclined to stick to their section of the city, their neighborhood. I’m guilty of it as well. There are parts of the city, like Uptown for example, that I don’t routinely visit and often go out of my way to avoid.
That’s been changing to some extent recently, in part due to this job and in part due to a conscious effort to take advantage of more of what my city has to offer. The results have largely been positive.
I can’t help thinking that if more of us mixed up our regular routines and sought out neighborhoods and events we normally avoid, Charlotte would have more of a well-defined soul, would feel less scattershot and disjointed.
We’ve been looking more closely at ourselves in recent months with the 2012 DNC coming, and one common question that seems to pop up again and again is, how we can make Charlotte a more supportive place for the arts and for young creative types in general. Mayor Anthony Foxx recently spoke about the problem of creative loss and how to go about remedying it at a Charlotte Creates brainstorming event.
It seems that we’ll continue to have this problem until these aspects of our city are more fully embraced by the economic, if not cultural, base of our city.
That’s one of the reasons events like Buskapalooza interest me — even if there are Charlotteans who see anything even remotely removed from the status quo as a negative introduction to the city. If these individuals are to be won over at all, it will be through initiatives like this one, to put local, unaffiliated art in front of them on a more regular basis.
That may be the only way that some people begin to realize that if they drive out all the so-called freaks, not only will Charlotte be more mundane, it will also be the kind of place where no one under the age of 40 wants to live.
Of course, this goes both ways. Everyone is somebody’s freak. Making an effort to see how the other half lives is necessary on both sides for positive change to occur. That can be as simple as hanging out in unfamiliar environs, if only as a start.
The freaks and the bankers no doubt have more to teach one another than is immediately obvious. The sooner those interactions begin to occur the sooner Charlotte will improve for everyone.