In the space of one afternoon in July 1994, I decided to pull up my stake in the state where I had spent much of the previous 27 years -- in Maryland -- and move to North Carolina. I was a self-employed writer and musician at the time with little more to my name than a paid-off car, a few guitars, and a head full of steam to reinvent myself someplace different. I didn't choose Mecklenburg County and Charlotte at random. I had aunts and uncles here, and a grandmother. My mother (a native of nearby Lincoln County) once served as press secretary for Rep. Charles R. Jonas during his 20 years in Congress.
I had visited Charlotte many times and remember saying to myself more than once that if I was to live someplace else other than the DC area, it would be here. The weather was nice, the people were friendly, and the area was growing. I knew Charlotte/Mecklenburg was a community with a lot of history and heritage standing behind it. Southerners in general are a proud people, and I was acutely aware of being sensitive to their way of doing things, and saying things. Some of the stronger Southern accents mystified me at first, but I congratulated myself on how well I adapted to understanding them. Or so I thought.
Only a month or so into my life in Charlotte, I met some friends who invited me to meet them at a place to hear some live music after work. I was still finding my way around town with a map that had been folded so many times that it looked like a piece of origami, but my new friends (both native Charlotteans going back several generations) assured me that the directions to the live music venue were easy. All I had to do was take a few right turns, head a mile or two down another road and then turn left onto O' Ponval Road. The club, my friends explained, would be right there on the left. I made all the right turns, but where I expected to see O'Ponval Road, there was no sign for it. I crossed over I-77, and knew I had gone too far, so I doubled back. No O'Ponval. I turned back again, and wound up somewhere on South Boulevard. Doubling back yet again and now 20 minutes late, I finally gave up and decided to ask someone where I had gone wrong. I stopped at a gas station, and spotted a friendly-looking older woman who was attending the cash register while she thumbed through the latest issue of People magazine. "'Scuse me, ma'am," I said. "Can you tell me where I can find O'Ponval Road?" "Yes," she drawled. "Go up a half-mile, and you'll run right past it. Whatcha lookin' for?" She's really helpful, I thought. What a town. "A place called Murphy's," I said. "Oh yes," she nodded. "It's right there after you turn. You'll see it."
Thanking her and thinking I must have just not seen the sign in the first place, I headed back down the street. Still no O'Ponval. I wondered aloud if I really needed to continue denying my need for eyeglasses, and where else would an Irish pub like Murphy's be more at home on such an Irish-sounding road like O'Ponval? Wait. I can't recall whether the green-and-white reflective sign was on a pole or hanging by a stoplight, but I clearly remember thinking that I had a little work to do on my Southern language skills when I realized the street I had already crossed about five times was actually called OLD PINEVILLE ROAD but just wasn't pronounced like an acting coach (or Kelsey Grammer) would say it back up North. After a quick left turn, there it was: Murphy's on Old Pineville. It was the first of many bumps in the road on my journey to becoming an honorary Southerner, a feat which my truly Southern wife tells me I may never actually attain. Not long after my trip to Old Pineville Road, I went to visit some relatives in nearby "Chairval," and got lost again. But that's another story.