Last week my boyfriend and I went to Common Market to pick up a bottle of champagne to celebrate the news that he had passed the North Carolina Bar Exam.
It was the same route we’d walked a thousand times before – down Pecan to Commonwealth – but to me the neighborhood seemed to buzz with more of its signature eclectic electricity than usual. Every table on Soul’s balcony was claimed. People congregated, wine in hand, around benches outside Twenty Two. Common Market’s patio was packed. For Plaza Midwood, this is just another Monday night but for me it was the beginning of our last month as residents of the best neighborhood in Charlotte.
A Saturday vibe on what was (for everyone but us) just another Monday night is a Plaza Midwood specialty. The neighborhood is awake while others sleep, outspoken when others are quiet and a vital counter to Charlotte’s culture as a whole. If Myers Park is Queen Charlotte’s crowned jewel, Plaza Midwood is her majesty after all the ornamentation is stripped away and the hair comes down, an unapologetic rebel against the misguided perception that this fast-growing, vibrant city is (or ever was) just a stodgy bankers’ town.
Money magazine called Plaza Midwood “an interesting mix of gritty and pretty,” and as my favorite local (now regional) writer Jeremy Markovich once put it: “Plaza Midwood is where Charlotte goes to forget it’s Charlotte.”
That, I think, was its appeal to me from the very beginning. At a time when I wasn’t quite sold on Charlotte, Plaza Midwood sealed the deal in my decision to move here. “This is where I’m going to live,” I declared the first time my brother drove me down The Plaza.
But I didn’t. I lived in Elizabeth first and then in Wesley Heights before finally finding my way into a too-small-for-the-price studio on Central Avenue two years ago. And I’ve loved every second of being here.
I love walking to Common Market late at night for a giant bottle of water and a bag of chips, my anti-hangover ritual after a night of drinking. I love strolling The Plaza with my mom on the phone. I love the emptiness of Central Avenue in the early-morning hours because that’s about the only time you can get across that street these days.
I love the motley crew of cyclists at the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride (rain or shine no matter what). I love the diverse food options lining Central Avenue like a United Nations of restaurants. I love the light balls that illuminate the residential side of Thomas Street around the holidays. I love Central Coffee more than I love most humans. I just love living here.
It’s not all good, of course. Traffic on Central is a nightmare. The train that crosses Central and Pecan is my nemesis and only crawls through when I’m asleep or in a rush. Life here can be loud and messy. A few weeks ago someone posted a photo of a used syringe camouflaged by fallen leaves to a Facebook forum warning parents and pet owners to be extra cautious on walks.
And beneath all the good and the bad, Plaza Midoowd carries an uncomfortable history of gentrification that’s spreading to neighboring lower-income neighborhoods. Forthcoming luxury apartment development is further changing the face of the area, for better or worse.
But I love Plaza Midwood for all of that because it is what it is, a neighborhood unlike any other.
After living here for two years and seeing more of what Charlotte is and where this neighborhood fits, I’ve decided to flip Jeremy Markovich’s words that originally drew me here. Plaza Midwood isn’t where Charlotte goes to forget who it is; it’s where Charlotte goes to be reminded who it was and always will be. I’ll do the same when I pop in to visit. Save me a seat at Central Coffee.