The first hint that this was not normal Charlotte was the barbershop rolling down Tryon Street.
The sign on the front of the van said SHAPE-UP KING, and sure enough, if you looked in the big windows on the sides, there was a guy sitting in a barber’s chair. I couldn’t tell if he was actually getting his hair cut. It’s probably not smart to get it done while the truck’s moving. That’s a good way to lose an eyebrow.
The second hint that this was not normal Charlotte was the line of 177 people waiting to get into the Mint Museum. It wasn’t even the Mint Museum anymore, at least not for the weekend – it had been transformed into a giant pop-up shop for Nike and the Jordan Brand. (That would be Michael Jordan, in case you haven’t picked up a sports page in the last 35 years.)
People came out with armloads of fresh shoes. Some people changed into theirs right on the street. Others headed for the car and then a laptop where they could post their treasures on eBay.
Young women huddled in clumps. They were dressed for Saturday night at the club, but first they had to survive a Saturday afternoon in February. They were learning that it’s not always hot in the South.
Half the vehicles on the street were black SUVs, hauling around celebrities, or people with enough money to act like it. A bunch of amateur paparazzi were lingering around the front of the Ivey’s hotel on North Tryon when a bona fide famous person came out: Jamie Foxx. He caught them all flatfooted – half of them didn’t even have their iPhones out – and by the time anybody could make a scene, he was in an Escalade and gone.
The great sportswriter Michael Wilbon once called All-Star Weekend “black Thanksgiving,” and you could feel it on the street. People of all kinds are invited to the party, but more than anything it was a celebration of black success. All-Star Weekend isn't just about LeBron James and Steph Curry – it’s about Jamie Foxx, and Migos, and North Carolina’s own J. Cole doing the halftime show, and Spike Lee watching from the front row.
In a lot of ways, that’s just as reflective of Charlotte as the normal parade of bankers uptown. We’ve become a multicultural, multi-ethnic city – the demographics prove it. But that truth doesn’t always make it to the glass and steel towers.
All-Star Weekend isn’t exactly the real world. We don’t always have Jamie Foxx wandering around. But sometimes you have to see a different world before you notice the one you have in a different way.
What made us an all-star city, on an All-Star weekend, is how we absorbed and embraced a diverse America. That’s a game we can keep playing even when the All-Stars leave town.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.