Part 3: The Car Diaries, Summer Tour 2015

Mike Grabman



I recently went on a tour of the Southern United States along with my wife and child. Here follows the final installment of that journey.


Tour Stop 2: Charlotte


My parents recently moved back to Charlotte, N.C. Between the move, one of my sisters undergoing a complicated pregnancy, and my mother's job, my parents haven't gotten to spend much time with my daughter Virginia. My father recently retired and my mother works from home.


So, with Charlotte only being two hours away from Greenville, I thought I'd take my daughter up to see them for the day. We woke early in our Greenville hotel, my wife fed Virginia before I dropped her off at work, and my daughter and I began our first solo trip.


Despite heavy traffic and the approximiately one million cops between Greenville and the state line, the trip was going pretty smoothly. (Thanks to the app Waze for alerting me to all the cops before I came up on them! Seriously, download Waze. Use it every time you drive. Speed traps are bullshit).  


The terrain was a nice reminder of how beautiful the area is. I grew up in Charlotte, but spent many summer days with with my grandparents on Lake Keowee. The familiar sight of the giant peach in Gaffney, S.C. unleashed a flood of memories of my youth, driving past it as a child and imagining that it was the final resting place of Roald Dahl's creation. Just past the state line, I was lured from my day dreams by cries from the backseat. It sounded like my child was hungry so, straying from my tight schedule, I made a pit stop in Belmont, N.C.  



I chose Belmont for a couple of reasons. Growing up Catholic in Charlotte, field trips were often taken to Holy Angels where we'd sing songs for and meet kids who were developmentally disabled. I also knew that Belmont Abbey College was there. Our high school religion teachers often espoused its virtues. It was with that in mind that my high school friends headed there for college. When Hurricane Floyd led many to evacuate Charleston, I found myself invited to a frat party there. I had never been to a frat party, often regarding frats as the epicenter of the late '90s, populated by guys who frosted their hair tips and listened to bands like 2 Skinnee J's. But, I decided that I had nothing better to do, and my high school friends were alright guys, so I picked up a couple of cases of crappy beer and drove on over. What I failed to realize is that at Belmont Abbey, the frats are in the dorms.


When I got to this party it was about 20 to 25 guys hanging around in a dorm room lit by lava lamps and Christmas lights, all of them hoping that the one guy who's girlfriend showed up would bring some of her friends around. Someone suggested we play drinking games and When in Rome... so, after winning a few in a row, I was asked by some members of the frat to be an honorary member. I declined.  


On the heels of this, an older guy came into the dorm, maybe 22, 23, and the party instantly got a little quieter. The guy came over to me and asked me my name, which I told him, and then asked me what dorm I was in. I'm beginning to think this is a little odd. I tell him I'm not in a dorm and I'm here just visiting some friends. He tells me that he's the RA and that there had been a noise complaint. I laughed and offered him a beer. I didn't realize, coming from the College of Charleston, that he was serious. And that's how I got kicked off the Belmont Abbey campus. So, with this in mind I figured, hey, why not Belmont?


Virginia still crying, I pull off the interstate and into a Hardee's. What I failed to realize in my short time there is that Belmont is still very rural. And this Hardee's—being one of the few places to eat—was packed with people. I pull into the parking lot to change my daughter's diaper and feed her, and notice people are giving me all sorts of weird looks. I decide that it is in my best interest to get out of the car and go inside and for a cup of coffee. Luckily, this seemed to alleviate the fears of either my imagination or the natives', as they stopped looking at me like I had kidnapped a child.  


Back on the road, we make it to my parent's house in Fort Mill, S.C. When I moved away from Charlotte in 1998, this area was in the middle of nowhere. I had been out here once as a kid to take part of the area's Little League All Star Game. When I was in high school the Ballantyne area was starting to be developed, but we used it mostly for 4-wheeling.  


My parents house is in a 55 years old and older community. And while my mother is happy to be there around all of her friends from when they initially lived in Charlotte, my dad hasn't quite figured out what to do with himself in retirement. My mom keeps suggesting all these clubs for my dad to join, but most of the clubs sound like the type of thing my dad would hate. For example, my mom will say, "Mike, why don't you join the bike club?!"  My dad's ears will twitch and he'll perk up and say "IS IT A MOTORCYCLE GANG!?!?"  And then my mother will shoot death-rays from her eyes at him.


The other problem is the fact that my parents built a brand new house there, giving my father no projects around the house to fix. My father worked as a civil engineer for 40 years and now has nothing to fix—so he's driving my mother insane.  


Virginia and I arrive and the house is lovely, but still needs unpacking. My parents are really happy to see Virginia and take turns holding her. My mom is fitting into her role as Grandma nicely, stocking the house with a bunch of toys for all the grand babies play with. One of my older sisters had been there the week prior and had dropped off a bag of clothing for my daughter as well. This presented another problem, namely, where the hell am I going to put this bag of stuff in the car? After the initial greetings, my parents took us out for lunch where I met up with an old friend who had made my daughter a needlepoint.  


After lunch, we made the drive back to Greenville in order to pick my wife up from work. Basically, I drove 4 hours out of my way so that my parents could see my kid for all of 3 hours. Still, it was totally worth it. I love my parents and am happy that Virginia will have such amazing grandparents.