Let's Get Dirty
If Charlotte really wants to make headway with Hollywood, it’s going to need some skeeze
I Have been to Baltimore only once, and I have never seen The Wire. But thanks to my friends who have seen The Wire, I know the following two things:
1. Baltimore is just like The Wire.
2. Everyone’s favorite character on The Wire is Omar.
Back in October, we threw a bachelor party for a friend of mine who lives in Washington, D.C. We rented a bus to take us up to Baltimore, and the bus let us out on the corner of Custom House Avenue and East Baltimore Street in the Inner Harbor, where there are two straight blocks of steak sandwich shops, hobos, and cover-charge-free strip clubs. We all have pledged not to disclose what happened next. But I can say that I had my eyes squeezed shut and my ears plugged up and I sat on my hands the entire time.
(Side note: You want to know what Time Warner Cable Arena and East Baltimore Street have in common? The price of a Coors Light.)
And that got me thinking: Is there any street corner in uptown Charlotte where you could lumber off a bus and be hit with a heavy dose of lewd? The EpiCentre? Naw. If East Baltimore Street is Times Square 1975, the EpiCentre is Times Square 1995.
Morehead and South Tryon? That’s South End. And the Ascot Inn and its heart-shaped Jacuzzis are gone. North College between Sixth and Seventh? Er, once I saw a woman on a swing through the window of a bar there. But she was fully clothed. And Spirit Square is across the street, so, meh.
So no, Charlotte cannot out-skeeze Baltimore. Which means we will never have a show like The Wire based here. We are not gritty enough. (At least not inside the I-277 loop.) We don’t have enough easily visible corruption here. Even when the Democratic National Convention was in town, when a lot of people thought the stuff was going to hit the fan, some of the protesters went out of their way to thank the police. The protesters! Going all Wes Mantooth! I hate you, but dammit if I don’t respect you.
If Baltimore is The Wire, Charlotte is The Insulation.
There is a lot of talk about Charlotte’s burgeoning film scene. There’s a movement to build a studio here. The folks who make TV shows and movies here often say Charlotte is a great place to shoot because, the state’s tax incentives aside, Charlotte looks like a lot of other places. It resembles Washington, D.C. Or Boston. Or the Capitol of Panem. But most of all, Charlotte looks like Charlotte, and the problem is that Charlotte isn’t effed-up enough to be the backdrop of some groundbreaking new show or legendary movie. We get NASCAR. We get Ricky Bobby and Cole Trickle. Remember the opening scene of Days of Thunder? There’s some decrepit wooden shack with a tin stove pipe emitting smoke, and it’s set up in the hills somewhere, and then the words come up on the screen. “Charlotte, North Carolina.”
So people, if you really want to land a movie studio, if you want Charlotte to start appearing as Charlotte on TV and in the movies, we need to dirty this place up. Throw cigarette butts wherever you damn please. Pass tax incentives to lure strip clubs into the center city. Dig out a harbor, reroute the Catawba River uptown, then build a rickety bridge and throw stolen goods over the side. The water should smell like dead fish and cheap aftershave. That would help.
Also, we need some sort of scandal involving the police, a mayor, drug money, a bar with a back room, and German bearer bonds. And the head of Alfredo Garcia.
Let’s do this, Charlotte. Let’s tear this place apart. If you destroy it, Omar will come.
Jeremy Markovich writes the Way Out column monthly for Charlotte magazine. Find more at his blog. He is also a producer for NBC Charlotte.