I Finally Met Chilly Willy in Charlotte
During the five and a half years I’ve now lived in Charlotte, I’ve written about many topics and interviewed numerous people. For some reason, though, when I cover nightlife, those experiences tend to be among the most memorable. I guess that’s because we hope that our nights out are memorable–epic, legendary even, as the serious partiers say. Last night I met a legend, Chilly Willy, for the first time.
I’m not sure how Charlotte’s most famous/infamous/mysterious homeless person/panhandler escaped me for so long. Some friends and I were leaving the EpiCentre last night, and while we were waiting for valet to bring the car, Chilly Willy comes strutting by on the sidewalk along College Street. At 2 a.m., this is a highly trafficked area as cabs circle the block to pick up patrons exiting EpiCentre’s many bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, which usually begin turning their lights on at this time.
Chilly Willy is something of a mythical figure. If you do a Google search for “Chilly Willy Charlotte” it will return all kinds of links to stories, photos, and videos of the man. It’s hard to gauge what is fact and what is fiction, which makes him even more intriguing. For a homeless man, if he is indeed one (he’s said to have been arrested more than a dozen times over the years for panhandling, public drunkenness, and disorderly conduct), he was wearing a stylish black pea coat. My guess is someone donated it to him. People seem to look out for Chilly, like the guy who walked up to him and handed him money without Chilly even asking. I think partiers consider him a staple in Charlotte’s nightlife scene, like Ed Hardy shirts.
Chilly was also wearing his trademark headphones and was carrying some type of camera. I couldn’t tell if it was a digital picture camera or mini video camera. Could Chilly be filming a documentary on his life? As my brother pointed out, maybe Chilly is someone who’s just pretending to be the person we think he is.
I don’t know for sure what his deal is, but he appears to have been intoxicated–he likely has a substance abuse problem. And like many homeless people, he may also be suffering from mental health issues. If that’s the case, an encounter with him becomes less of a laughing matter. And that gives Chilly an excuse.
What’s inexcusable, however, is the number of people I observed coming out of EpiCentre at 2 a.m. who’d clearly had too much to drink (which reminds me why I’m not out at 2 a.m. much anymore). I applaud many of them for hopping into cabs, which meant they weren’t driving. But seeing attractive women stumble and fall instantly makes them less attractive. I mean, everywhere I looked someone was helping a friend who was having trouble walking or keeping his/her balance. EpiCentre is a place where people often spend their entire evening and night going from restaurant to bar to nightclub–which can equate to a great night out for adults, but if they’re binge drinking at every stop, they end up looking like overgrown college kids. And worse than Chilly Willy.