June 3 – 14, 2021
Ten days after our return from Henderson we climbed aboard an American Airlines flight to Charlotte for another 11-day trip. Our first time on a plane since March of 2020 (when we cut a trip short to return home due to the pandemic), we were curious to see how Covid caution would impact the journey. In the end, not much as the airport was crowded for our 7:00 am flight, so much so that we were thankful for having paid for TSA Pre Check privileges through the GOES/TSA program.
The GOES part expedites re-entry into the USA from abroad and we got to take advantage of it several times in the past. These programs really do speed up processing in the airport and with TSA Pre Check, not only do you have a dedicated line for screening, you also don’t have to take off our shoes and haul your laptop out of your carry-on baggage.
One casualty of the pandemic, and Uber/Lyft’s campaign to fight off California’s attempts to provide better compensation for their drivers was that a usual fare of roughly $25 dollars to the airport was now quoted at $35. I was also concerned about our 5:00 am pickup time and the ability of Uber/Lyft to find a driver. And so, I pre-ordered a fixed price ride with Yellow Cab for $23.50 and all went well.
The airline industry is still in a bit of turmoil though as witnessed by our flight being changed a couple of times, the last just before with the result that our seats were separated. I paid for my flight, and we used miles for Joanna which always creates a problem as American does not allow one to combine a paid flight and a mileage flight into one larger ticket. So, when flights get changed, seats get changed and often, you can’t count on your original seat configuration staying the same.
With me on the aisle in row 20 and Joanna in a center seat in row 18, at the gate they advised there wasn’t anything they could do and we’d just need to ask if our seat mates might want to switch. I boarded first and was disappointed when a couple grabbed the two seats next me; obviously that wasn’t going to be an option. Joanna boarded and took her middle seat two aisles up and then we waited. And waited. They’d announced that the flight was full, so we weren’t hopeful and then the next announcement we heard was that boarding had been completed and close the cabin doors. I quickly moved up to the now vacant seat next to Joanna to enjoy our flight in relative comfort.
We did have to keep our masks on the entire flight, not as arduous as it sounds with lots of time off when eating or drinking, which one can stretch out a good amount. Except for a complimentary bag of pretzels, no other food was offered for purchase and given the number of air rage incidents that have occurred with folks refusing to wear their masks, no alcohol was sold.
We landed on time in Charlotte, claimed our luggage and made our way to Hertz for our rental car. I’ve got gold status which means you don’t have to check in at the counter, a great time saver and you get to pick your car from a selection they’ve designated. This is a total bonus as I’d rented a compact car and was able to drive out with a Nissan Altima, a sizable improvement, for the quoted price. Which by the way, as many of you know, was expensive given the state of the rental car industry. Hertz itself had to declare bankruptcy last year and it along with most companies had liquidated a lot of their inventory, so supplies were short and prices high.
For this length trip I could generally expect to pay about $500 but this time around Hertz came in at $837, a bargain compared to the $1,200 I was quoted through Costco Travel, usually the cheaper option. If you are considering renting a car later this year, keep this in mind when you are budgeting for the trip. Hopefully, rental companies will build back inventory and once they have recovered from the 2020 losing year they experienced and rates will return to something approximating normal. At least that is the way it is supposed to work, right?
From the airport we drove to the neighborhood known as North Davidson or NoDa, a former mill community, run to seed, then transformed into an artist’s enclave (about the time we arrived to live in Charlotte in 2008) and now increasing gentrification has driven the artists and any shops with unique character out. It has become a growing suburb of the city, particularly now that the new light rail line has multiple stops through it.
The dynamics of a thriving blue town in a red state has driven growth in Charlotte. When we arrived 13 years ago the population hovered right around 688,000 (when you add in surrounding communities that total increases by about 300,000). When we left in 2019 it had jumped to 886,000, ranking 15th in the nation. This translates to a growth rate of more than 1.5% annually and its population has increased by 24.70% since the most recent census in 2010, which recorded a population of 731,424 in 2010. Charlotte reached its highest population of 912,096 in 2021.
So, much in the city has changed; smaller funky outliers like NoDa are now hip places to live and other neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood follow the same trajectory. We can wax nostalgic for what was, but in the end this growth is healthy with the one exception that most of the housing appears to be apartments and condominiums, which may be cause for long term issues as families flee to the suburbs in order to buy a house, increasing congestion on the roadways and leading the region down a path much like Los Angeles experienced when we grew up.
The light rail system only serves a narrow ribbon north and south through the city and thus the area is still completely dependent on automobiles to move around. This doesn’t bode well for the future, and it will be interesting to see if Charlotte can resolve this issue, or if will stumble as so many other fast-growing cities (Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, etc.) have done. But for now, we still like the place a lot.