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Ridden Out On A Rail

An all-American weekend

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You come up with a good enough reason to bash Charlotte's government, and I'll be there with bells on, piling on well after the whistle blows. For the Hart-Witzen gallery, the whistle they'll always associate with the old three-story building they used to call home will be a train whistle. In the name of "improving" downtown, the venerable old gallery is scheduled to be razed to make way for a light rail station.

Anyway, the Hart-Witzen folk decided to make their building the exhibit this time around, covering any available wall space (and an old piano, a few doors, etc.) with paint. There was what you'd call more "fine," nuanced art, there was "artistic graffiti," and then there was some work that was pointed and painted, pointing out Charlotte's habit of losing downtown centers of culture so we might shuttle more people out to the "burbs more efficiently. Even though most of the artwork was aimed at the ivory towers a few blocks up the street, it might as well have been a million miles away as far as city leaders were concerned.

You know it's nearing football season when the asphalt barons come out of the woodwork, charging you $5 to $15 for temporary rights to a potholed, glass-and-syringe infected slice of pavement. Yes, it's Gameday Capitalism, and it's one of the reasons why Charlotte just loooves pro sports franchises.The only one of our franchises to currently have its own stadium, the Carolina Panthers, held the big annual FanFest Saturday afternoon at Ericsson Stadium, and it seemed folks were more than ready for some football (many were tailgating -- before a 5pm scrimmage, mind you -- at noon). As part of the fun, folks could walk around, gawk at the cheerleaders, get a few autographs, and generally do most everything they could do at a real game, except it was free (not including the parking, of course).

In that spirit, we present the First Annual Scene & Herd Fearless Predictions: Stephen Davis gains at least 1,200 yards and a dozen touchdowns, Julius Peppers approaches 20 sacks, and -- if Favre-Lite QB Jake Delhomme settles in -- the Panthers go 10-6 and make the playoffs. Oh, and somebody gets arrested.

Minor league ballparks really go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Tickets max out under $10, and a huge Coke and a hot dog will run you under five dollars. Speaking of dogs, Sunday was Dog Day Afternoon at Knights Stadium, wherein hundreds of folks brought their pooches to the park. (This led to some great moments, as when one lazy Knight settled for a double instead of trying for a triple and a whole mess of dogs started baying.)If the game's not enough, you also have Homer the Dragon and the Chick-Fil-A cow (evidently breaking Chick-Fil-A's longstanding ban on Sunday working/cud chewing). You have the ever-popular spin-around-with-your-forehead-on-a-bat-game, after which one has to run a short distance -- and, inevitably, fall on his or her face like it were nickel beer night (ah, fun with the inner ear!).

If you're really lucky, you also get exciting distractions like the local police department's K-9 unit. After a policeman put four briefcases on the ground, fans were told that "one of these briefcases contains explosives." Jesus. Talk about amping up the fun! Forget the post-game activities -- if that dog paws too hard at the wrong briefcase, we're gonna have midgame fireworks! Luckily, the mutt chose correctly, and The House That George Built was spared. We were then treated to a demonstration by a cute drug-sniffing dog, who, we were told, "would scratch and bark like crazy" when he found a briefcase with drugs in it. My question: who wouldn't?

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