CHARLOTTE – If you walked through Time Warner Cable Arena today, you would never know the Charlotte Bobcats played there.
Should they be playing there in the first place is a question for another day. This week, Charlotte belongs to the Democrats or the media, take your pick.
There are reports floating around that members of the National Working Press outnumber delegates two-to-one here in the Queen City. From the looks of the crowd at Saturday's media party at the N.C. Music Factory, I can believe it.
This was the party before the party, as the media had to get to work Sunday morning.
What a party it was, too. Vendors gave out samples of down-home Southern cookin', from pulled pork to collard greens. Booze flowed like water – beer, wine, liquor.
At Wet Willies, they had slushy machines behind the bar, with frozen versions of cocktails pouring out of them. The White Russian slushie would do the Dude proud. (Speaking of the Dude, with his back-up band, the Abiders.)
North Carolina beer got a spotlight at VBGB. Birdsong Brewing, in NoDa, had their jalepeno-infused pale ale. Beer in Charlotte has exploded in the past year, with microbrewies opening throughout the city.
Charlotte treated the media like rock stars, shuttling us on CATS buses to and from uptown, complete with police escorts, so no one had to drive, no one got pulled.
Volunteers, clad in blue polos, were very helpful, cheerfully chiming, “Welcome to Charlotte!” as the National Working Press disembarked the buses.
Charlotte is eager, almost desperate, to please this week, as the city was already getting some bad press from national outlets. Politico complained in The Charlotte Observer Sunday morning that the Queen City didn't have enough cabs, hotel rooms and the airport was dank and dreary.
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is literally the city's front porch. They must have missed the rocking chairs and Bojangles in the terminal. Not to mention the giant statue of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg out front.
The city has a lot to prove this week, and they weren't kidding about security. Fences and concrete barriers started going up in and around uptown Sunday morning, as the lockdown began.
Church bells near the Carson Street light rail station, next to News 14 Carolina studios, chimed, playing the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” wafting in the breeze on the humid morning. By the time church let out at noon, the bells switched to “Ode to Joy.”
In uptown, people milled about the streets: Tourists, media, delegates.
CNN and MSNBC took over EpiCentre, the entertainment complex. CNN set up their grill and MSNBC has the courtyard just below Whisky River, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s bar.
There are cops and private security on every street corner in uptown. Fences line the sidewalks around EpiCentre.
Inside Time Warner Cable Arena, there was a mild buzz on the convention floor. CBS News' Bob Schieffer held his show “Face The Nation” with the stage in the background. Technicians were setting up equipment in skyboxes, delegates took pictures with their respective
There were a lot of Secret Service walking around, from the stereotypical suits, ear pieces and dark shades, to others in plain clothes with vests on. The security sweep would begin Sunday afternoon and the arena would be locked down until Tuesday, when the convention began.
This week will be the first real test of light rail for Charlotte. It caused a stir when it opened a couple of years ago, with critics saying it was an expensive boondoggle.
But after exploring cities like Washington, D.C. and Boston, which have excellent subway systems, it was really to catch the light rail from the studios to uptown, even if it was just for a couple of stops. It gives Charlotte a big city feel, and with parking scarce this week, it will be incredibly convenient.
We met the light rail security chief at the convention center station, Robert Qualkenbush. He said his main goal this week is to keep people safe and to make sure the light rail system runs smoothly between the convention center and the arena.
In the noontime heat, protestors from the Coalition to March on Wall Street South began their march from Frazier Park to uptown. What was expected to be thousands of people turned out to be more like 1,000 people.
More on that later.
Follow Ben McNeely on Twitter at @benmcneely for behind-the-scenes views of the Democratic National Convention this week, and follow all of News 14 Carolina social media coverage this week here.