by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & On Size Mattering & r & & r & I should have planned things out a little better. I guess I just assumed I'd be able to find something to do in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was there for a day, on vacation between two places I really wanted to go. I figured I'd just hit town.

It's the 19th-biggest city in America, for God's sake. Bigger than Seattle or Portland and about the same size as San Francisco -- all towns I'm perfectly content to stumble around in. I always find something brilliant and novel to marvel at in those towns, I thought -- I'll find something here.

I totally didn't. In six hours of searching. I found one awesome art gallery.

I was diligent in my search, believe me. As an 18-to-35-year-old, I know exactly how to put my finger on the cultural pulse of any American city. Not only did I Google, I made sure to find a) the best coffee shop in Charlotte's hippest neighborhood and b) the American Apparel. It was a mess. To the question, "What is there to do in this town?" the barista at Smelly Cat Coffee in NoDa offered five minutes of hemming and hawing ending in something equivalent to "not much."

The clerk at American Apparel -- near the Neiman Marcus in Southpark Mall --looked confused. "What do you mean?" What do people do for fun? Where to they hang out? Where do people go see music? Art? Buy drugs? Anything? She said that some people go downtown, though she had never committed to doing that herself. Downtown, I'd already learned, is 15 skyscraping office towers and a Quiznos. Which was closed.

There's this sense that big towns carry a certain degree of cultural relevance innately, drawing the hip, creative kids from surrounding smaller towns. There's the implicit argument also that in order for a town to be culturally relevant. it has to be big.

I'd always felt that was simplistic without really knowing how to make a counterargument. But now I know the rejoinder: "Charlotte, North Carolina."

Granted, this is only one example. Not enough to offer any real insight into how to build a scene or attract the right people. It's more than enough, though, to counteract the twit who says a town's size has some bearing on its cultural footprint. Whenever someone -- probably over a shared clove cigarette outside a bar somewhere -- makes that assertion, reply to the effect of: "Charlotte, North Carolina, asshole."

Mardi Bras

Through March 3
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