After work on Friday, a few of my galpals were trying to decide if going to grab a drink was a smart idea. As I mentioned in last week's column, a large handful of my coworkers were anticipating a "Dadchelor" (aka father-to-be) celebration for the following day on a party bus. While we didn't want to go home at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday night, we also didn't want to be hungover.
Finally, we decided a drink or two wouldn't hurt and started discussing where exactly we would go. "Not to get super fancy, but doesn't the new place, The Imperial, have a roof top?" I was pumped. I'd visited this venue for the first time a few weeks ago and was thoroughly impressed. (I can't say I was in a state to visit the rooftop at the time though.) "Hmm. Was just thinking there may be a CIAA party there tonight." And just like that, my excitement dwindled. Let me explain why.
For four years I've listened to Charlotteans — from a variety of demographics, I might add — complain about the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) tournament, which consists of NCAA division II conference teams from primarily historically black institutions. Around the same time every year, my timeline becomes filled with flyers advertising parties that will be held all around the Queen City celebrating the tournament. While many friends and acquaintances are filled with the same amount of excitement as my coworkers had over anticipation of our party bus, others are simply annoyed by the inconvenience. Some are frustrated by the traffic, others by how packed every single bar is and let's be honest, others are simply uncomfortable with, or even scared of, the idea that so many black and brown faces gather in celebration of the event.
I picked up my phone and started Googling different venues Uptown, including The Imperial, where we could go. Nothing showed up on the Instagram or Facebook of the Imperial so I thought we were golden. I checked their business hours and confirmed they were open at 5 o'clock. I informed everyone I would call and see what was up.
After I didn't receive an answer, I decided I would just wait until work was over and walk there. When I stepped outside, the city was buzzing with excitement. My office had never been Uptown before, so I'd never experienced the CIAA vibes in the heart of the city. Hell, even Vapiano's, my favorite Italian spot, was bumping with music and packed from what I could tell.
As I walked down S. Tryon to The Imperial, I took note of every bar we could go to and whether or not a day party was in progress. When I turned on College Street to do the same thing, on the way back toward The EpiCentre, I noticed that Flight and Lucky's were both partying and charging covers. Sigh.
I walked up the stairs to The Imperial in a sweatshirt and jeans to ask the person standing outside if they were open. "We'll be open in like an hour, we're hosting an event and entry will be $20." Yeah, no one, including myself, was going to pay a cover for a drink or two. Even a coworker I passed that was just planning on grabbing Libretto's texted me to tell me everywhere in The Epicentre was packed. In a last ditch effort, we settled on Latta Arcade, commonly known as the French Quarter.
I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. Almost as nervous as I was in the days following the acquittal of the cop involved in the Keith Lamont Scott case. No, I wasn't worried about going to the French Quarter or drinking too much, but that someone, anyone, would have comments about the inconvenience of CIAA or about how unsafe/threatened they felt and "allude" to the reason being related to race.
A couple years ago during CIAA weekend, I was visiting a local bar that wasn't hosting a tournament party. A white guy, no lie, came all the way across the bar to tell someone right next to me, "There's so many black people in here tonight." Coincidence? Doubt it.
Even though I dodged those kinds of conversations Friday night, it wasn't long before my timeline was filled with commentary on any and every incident — I mean, incidents don't happen regularly in Charlotte, right? Before the weekend was over, multiple news sources had reported a shooting allegedly involving Young Dolph and around 100 shots fired. "We knew this was going to happen. SMH!" I read on someone's status. To which I wanted to reply, "Why exactly?"
Instead, I chopped it up as yet another "successful" CIAA weekend.