7. Get your pulse racing at United House of Prayer's Gospel Shout concert.
Every spring, the United House of Prayer showcases an event that gets even the most debauched heathens in the pews: They bring out the trombone choir for the annual Gospel Shout concert. Though they turn it out for the concert, they also play throughout the year. The band sounds like jazz, blues and gospel on steroids, and is funky beyond compare. Steeped in history, culture and soul, if you aren't on your feet, check your pulse — you just might be dead. 2321 Beatties Ford Road. 704-394-3884.
8. Don your best gold (and blue) at Johnson C. Smith University's homecoming.
Charlotte's only historically black university is doing big things: winning multi-million-dollar grants, opening the Mosaic Village retail center and expanding community outreach. If you haven't yet explored campus for a public lecture or cultural day, the best reason to go is the homecoming parade in the fall. Royal courts, intricate floats, booming bands, step shows, majorettes, tailgating and trash talk. Oh, and a little ol' football game, if you're interested, between some of the longest-standing rivals in the state. Go Bulls! 100 Beatties Ford Road. 704-378-1000. www.jcsu.edu.
9. Rub shoulders with a parade of humanity at Niki's Food Shop.
Get this through your head: Niki's doesn't need you. The west-side institution closes up early, 3 p.m. weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays, and you'd better not play it close if you want a chance at a burger as big as your head. Breakfast time is jam-packed, too. The menu is straightforward Americana through the lens of a classic Greek coney, with a homey selection of vegetable sides to boot. It's a great place to rub shoulders with everyone from Carolina Panthers to carwash guys. Niki's may not need us, but maybe we need Niki's. 3300 Beatties Ford Road, 704-398-2638. www.nikisfoodshop.com.
10. Inhale Laurene's mac'n'cheese — it will make you hurt somebody.
It's no easy decision to part with the secret of Charlotte's best macaroni and cheese. We struggled with fears of longer lines, higher probabilities that the tray of deliciousness will have been scraped by the time we arrive. But, greater good. Laurene's Cafeteria is large, bright, clean and friendly, with '50s-inspired decor and flavorful Southern cuisine, including fried or smothered chicken, meatloaf, fish, cabbage and cornbread, as well as (drumroll, please) red Kool-Aid spiked with pineapple juice. For two dollars and change, you get a hefty portion of the aforementioned mac, along with flashbacks to mythical church picnics you may have never even experienced. This is authenticity in your mouth. 1821 Bishop Madison Lane. 980-237-1180. www.perkinsusa.com.
11. Talk to Mr. Quillie and leave with more than clean laundry at People's Dry Cleaners.
From the outside, it's not entirely apparent that People's is still in operation. The rather shabby building has ancient signage fading in the windows and an adjacent annex that's perpetually chained tight. Inside, a glass display case shows gospel cassettes for sale. (You read that right.) Even the number listed online is disconnected. But Quillie Smith III, who also supplies custom hats and alterations, is a walking repository of Charlotte history, and in the 30-odd years that People's has served the west side, he's seen a lot of it get made, made up, pushed down and re-emerge. If you have a couple of hours and a few dress shirts on hand, stop in. You won't be sorry. 1930 Beatties Ford Road. 980-333-8184.