Combining recognition of our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary and the fact that we managed to take no vacation at all this summer, my wife and I went out to lunch together last Saturday. Celebrations tend to get progressively more modest as we age. For our thirtieth observance in 2012, we’re thinking of going to a parade.
To spice up the event, we chose a restaurant in the trendy redeveloped district just north of Charlotte called NoDa. NoDa is short for North Davidson Street, and a better choice we figured than SoFa (south of Farley Street), NoWay (north of Waverly Heights) and WeWee (west of Weeden Avenue). The residents of NoDa are mostly young professionals, artists and assorted hipsters who have gentrified this part of town with galleries, cafes and shoppes. They live mostly in lofts, where I believe they sleep hanging upside-down from the ceiling.
I obviously don’t know much about the hipster culture, except that if I were the proper age, I would aspire to be one myself. But I am fascinated by foreign peoples, so we decided to imagine this outing was actually an overseas adventure to an exotic land. The tattoos were simply a melanin adaptation of local inhabitants, and the plaid porkpie hats were a costuming choice mandated by distant forefathers and their abandoned trunks of vintage clothing.
We took the MapQuest-suggested route and quickly found ourselves at the interstate exit for Davidson Street. As soon as we hit the bottom of the ramp, we saw our first native, the driver of a retro Ford plastered with bumper stickers for alternative bands. Research we had done before the trip indicated the natives love it when you flag them down and ask them to pose for a picture. Actually, it turned out that they “love it” in quotes, which meant they actually hated it. Pinto Guy gave us a dismissive shake of the head and chugged off before we could set up our camera.
We followed the ordained route into NoDa, which circled us through an industrial area. Soon the abandoned warehouses gave way to older brick buildings with amateurishly painted storefronts and lots of newly installed no-parking signs, and we knew we had arrived.
There were two sites we particularly wanted to visit. One was a funky yarn store my wife was interested in. It seems knitting has become not only a way to create thoughtful gifts for friends and relatives, but also an ironic statement on how life weaves together different strands of being and yet all you end up with is a washcloth. The other location was the Crepe Cellar, just across the road and, not surprisingly, nowhere near a cellar.
We went first to the Yarnhouse, which had a sign that looked more like “Yamhouse.” (To me, a specialty shoppe featuring sweet tubers was only slightly less likely than one with yarn.) The front door opened onto a narrow retail space jammed with tufts of thread, knitting needles, four middle-class ladies slumming for crochet supplies, and one actual male hipster manning (I use the term loosely) the cash register. The only redeeming features I could make out were a sign on the wall claiming the business had free wi-fi, and a half-box of Dunkin Donuts, leftovers from an apparently retro grand opening ceremony held earlier that morning. Other than that, it was fiber arts as far as the eye could see.
I cowered in a corner while my wife shopped among the bins. I tried to look interested when she’d occasionally show me a particularly noteworthy aggregation of wool. I’d comment that it was “nice,” observe whatever feature that seemed to set it apart — “that label has a really unique font,” was one of my best – then return to my refuge near the crullers. A sign near the back directed customers to “notions,” but the one I had in mind (leaving the store) was nowhere to be found.
The most amusing part of the half-hour to me was when a confused local, obviously from the original neighborhood, stumbled in looking for one of those portable sewing kits used to make quick repairs on shirt buttons. With no visible piercings and an entirely too sensible haircut, he was obviously not among the shop’s target demographic. When he had the nerve to ask the cashier where he might locate such a kit, he was told “nowhere in NoDa. You might try the CVS drugstore. We don’t carry that kind of thing at all.”
Now if he wanted to knit himself a shirt from scratch, and use genuine virgin alpaca to do it, this would be the place.
We managed to get out of the shop with only a small purchase. Now, we had to cross the street to get over to the restaurant. It’s a pretty highly trafficked road but, as I learned during trips to the crowded cities of South Asia, it’s best to observe how the locals get past the cars, and mimic that behavior. (Taking hostages is most common on the mainland of the Indian sub-continent, while automatic weapons fire and elephant-riding are favored in Sri Lanka.) A couple of young women in low-slung pants and mauve hair walk out into the roadway completely oblivious to oncoming motorists. They have a right to be there, and besides, wouldn’t it be so ironically sweet to be struck dead by passing SUV?
The atmosphere in the restaurant is even more intimidating than the yarn store. It’s plain that no matter what we say, what we do, or what we buy, my wife and I are among the tragically unhip. It’s a very dark interior, mostly deserted, yet we’re still seated in a far corner where we won’t embarrass anyone except ourselves.
Our waitress brings us a menu and takes our drink order. What do people drink in this strange and foreign land? Mercury? Sap? The blood of tourists? It’s too dark to see the menu, so I lamely ask for a glass of water. My wife spots a sign on the wall advertising the grapefruit margaritas, and has one of those. I’d try a sip, but my Lipitor bottle specifically forbids grapefruit, and I don’t want to die in a “gastropub.” The waitress would thank me for giving her such a great story to tell her cool friends; still, that’s a high price to pay.
Speaking of high prices, my eyes finally adjust to the light enough that I can see the menu. Most items are followed by a single two-digit number, no decimals — always a bad sign. You obviously have to get the crepes at a place called Crepe Cellar, so we agree to order several different items and split them. Beth has the Spinach and Wild Mushroom Caramelized Shallots and Goat Cheese crepe while I ask for the Pesto Brie Hand Cut Pommes Frites, also known as French fries. These are priced at “6.5,” so I mentally scramble through my wallet looking for leftover euros. Hopefully, they take the exotic-sounding ”Visa.”
On the back of the menu, there’s a little blurb describing the restaurant: “Cozy up to butcher-block tables to share a pint aside aspiring artists and hip-hop junkies. Open windows stir up the conversations of women dreaming and scheming their love lives, and candlelight basks across the faces of a first date match.” Unfortunately, no mention of a men’s room, which I’m starting to need. (Later, I find a small, very dark room behind the bar and what I hope was a urinal, not crepe-maker.)
The food arrives and it’s generally good, though the pommes are a little too frite-y. Portions are large so at the end, we want to ask for a take-out box, yet I know for a fact that’s not what Pinto Guy would do, and I’d so much want his approval if he were here. I offer up the credit card, leave a way-too-big tip trying to impress my emo-haired Giselle, and we slink out the door.
We return to our car, satisfied that we’ve had enough excitement in a two-hour trip for it to qualify as a vacation. At least for a couple of middle-aged adventurers in Hipsterland.