The Banks

Years ago, when I settled here not long after college, it didn’t take long for me to understand the impact that banks have on this city. At the time, the two biggies were First Union and NationsBank, and the former was doing most of the hiring. One of my college buddies landed a sweet gig at First Union, and we were amazed and jealous when he bought a $700 couch. No one else could have afforded that. The bank made that possible.

When we went out to places like Selwyn Pub or Providence Road Sundries, it became a game to guess the employer of groups of other guys. It was pretty easy to tell the city slicker NationsBank types from the more frat boyish First Union-ites.
A few years later, a BofA corporate communications exec invited me, the rookie editor of this magazine, to LaVecchia’s for drinks. Also at the bar were an Observer editor and a BofA corporate real estate exec. The editor was new to town, and BofA liked him, thought he was “smart.” I got the feeling they were courting him—not so he’d assign positive stories about the bank, just so he’d stay in Charlotte. The editor and the real estate exec got to talking about the city. I tried to interject a couple times but quickly realized I was there to listen, not talk. The editor was complaining that Charlotte had no “edge” to it. Where he came from, politicians punched each other out and there was a sensational story lurking around every corner. Where he came from, the mayor was larger than life. Here, he said, he wouldn’t recognize the mayor if he saw him on the street. Nothing happens here, he said. There is no news.

The BofA exec was a little taken aback by this. “That’s because we’re doing it right,” he said. “They’re doing it wrong. We’ve tried to create a city that is economically viable,” he said with some animation, grabbing finger number one, “and pleasant,” grabbing finger number two. Then he repeated himself.

By “we,” he did not mean the citizenry and its public officials. He meant Bank of America. As far as Bank of America was concerned, it was running the city.

That may or may not be true. But there’s no denying the impact that Bank of America and Wachovia have on Charlotte. They, in fact, define the city. But for people who don’t work at either of the banks, they remain these mysterious sort of monoliths. With our cover story in this issue (“Bank vs. Bank,” by Melissa Hankins, page 86), we attempt to show what it’s like inside the walls. And of course, we have to have a little fun with the banks’ rivalry.

By now, every magazine in the country has done some sort of “Green Issue.” We discussed the idea in our offices, but we decided that the topic is too broad and too important to limit to one theme issue. Instead, we hope to start writing about environmental issues on a regular basis. Our first step: We’ve added Green City to our stable of departments. For “Worth the Waste” (page 71), writer Mike Giglio pitched in on a county recycling truck for a day. It’s no heavy-handed tale of why you should recycle (you do recycle, don’t you?). Instead, it’s a fun and informative look at what it’s like to be on the front lines of the green effort, not that driver Reggie Blount thinks of that way. To him, it’s a job, albeit a good one. Although he would like to point out to all of our readers that dirty diapers are not, in fact, recyclable. — Richard Thurmond,