Monday, October 20, 2008

Dispatch from Charlotte

This week I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a work-related conference. Here's a fun fact that I learned in the elevator at my motel: the N.C. Commissioner of Labor is some unfortunate soul named Cherie Berry.

The conference has been really fun so far, believe it or not. The seminars have been interesting (and believe me, if they hadn't been, I'd have been snoring on the table, because I got in pretty late last night). And this afternoon we got a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of Hendrick Motorsports. I'd show you pictures, but what we saw was Top Secret, so we had to put our cameras away. I will say this much: For a sport with such a redneck image, NASCAR is the geekiest, most gearheaded thing I have ever seen in my entire life. They fine-tune the cars on special metal slabs that are leveled to the zillionth of an inch. It's like the Space Program in there.

Probably my favorite things I saw at Hendrick were the semi trucks that serve as the teams' mobile offices. The upper level of each truck stores two cars simultaneously: the driver's favorite, and a spare in case he crashes during warm-ups. The bottom level is like the most tricked-out tour bus you've ever seen. It's kitchen, garage, and high-tech communication center all in one.

In case anyone wonders, no, I did not see Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr. or any of the other drivers! Just lots of industrious crew members doing lots of industrious things. I came away feeling oddly warm and fuzzy--I suspect all the people there really love their jobs.

I'm staying in an affordable chain motel out on the periphery of town. I picked it because it's near the city's brand-new light rail line. The rail system turns out to be a total delight. Not only is it fast and easy to use (it takes me about eight minutes to get to the convention center downtown, and the trains run constantly), but the people who ride it are so friendly. On my way into town this morning, I had a really nice conversation with an older woman who was on her way to work. On my way back, I talked with a nice Honduran guy named Angel who is on month five of a six-month work visa. This sort of good cheer is what you get when you mix mass transit with southern hospitality, apparently.

I'm exhausted and I have to be up early, so that's it for now.