Mooresville, N.C. – the good, the bad and the ugly

As you may have gleaned from the title, I am working in Mooresville, N.C. this week. Mooresville today is basically North Charlotte, but it was once a small town and still retains some of that small town charm. You just have to look for it.

Home to the corporate headquarters of the Lowe’s (hardware) Corporation and widely known as “Race City USA” due to the number of NASCAR teams, drivers and racing technology suppliers located there, Mooresville got its start, like so many early to mid-19th Century towns, when the railroad came through. The site of the town is located on the former site of a plantation owned by John Franklin Moore, who donated land for homesteads as well as a site for cotton weighing scales next to the railroad.

Arriving at the hotel yesterday – “historic” Mooresville was nowhere to be found. As I pulled into the Fairfield Inn situated on a busy commercial corridor, I was disappointed. The Mooresville that greeted me yesterday was an ugly, exhaust-clogged four lane “every town”, with the usual mindless array of Wal-Marts, Applebees’, Home Depots and McDonalds of the world, shoe-horned on either side of Highway 150 alongside half-shuttered strip shopping centers – remnants of the boom times. If pressed to sum it up in one word, “shit-tastic” comes immediately to mind.

I checked into the hotel, settled into my room and glanced forlornly out of my 3rd floor window at the commercial sprawl before me. From the non-descript blandness of my hotel room to the aforementioned clutter on Highway 150, to the very name of the road on which the hotel was situated (Consumer Square Drive – I kid you not), I could have just as easily been in Fargo, N.D., Jacksonville, FL, Amarillo, TX or any of 1,000 other spots on the map. It was a monument to sameness – a bland and damnable testament to the inane consumerism of the ‘90s and early 2000s, when most of this area was built up. My restaurant choices within easy walking distance (note: there is really nothing within easy walking distance of a place like this – it is patently unfriendly to pedestrians), were Applebees, Pizza Hut and some unpromising-looking hibachi place called “Shogun”, or some other such name of equal predictability. As I sat in my room last night watching Kentucky defeat Kansas for the NCAA men’s basketball championship, I resigned myself to a dull week ahead.

Today, having finished work and, needing a place to go for a run, I did a Google search for running routes in Mooresville. I stumbled upon a 5k route that wound through nearby downtown. Dubious, I scribbled the route on a hotel note pad and hit the door.

Leaving behind the sprawl of the highway and driving toward downtown, I realized now that one of the most depressing aspects of “life out by the highway”, is the utter lack of trees. There are trees aplenty in and around downtown Mooresville – stately oaks and comely firs, and they blend beautifully with handsome turn-of-the-century four squares and 1920’s era brick bungalows. I was reminded of the Shandon neighborhood in Columbia, where I have enjoyed so many wonderful runs over the years, and I was immediately anxious to start today’s three miler. I parked on Main Street and my mood was further lifted to see matching rows of century-old buildings – mostly occupied and bustling, lining each side of the street.

The run went by quickly. This is a “recovery” week in our Ironman training – a week when both the mileage and pace of training decreases – and I took the opportunity to lumber along at an enjoyable pace, soaking in the 75 degree weather and discovering the real Mooresville.

D.E. Turner & Co Hardware

After the run, I decided to come back downtown for dinner after showering back at the hotel. I parked back on Main and took a quick stroll through the heart of Mooresville. Unfortunately, D.E. Turner & Co. Hardware store had already closed for the day, but I will definitely be back there for a visit before my week ends. A Main street staple for over 100 years, Turner Hardware is a treasure. I glanced through the plate-glass windows and, looking inside, it could have just as easily been 1932 as 2012. I can’t wait to go back and take a look around.

I settled on a restaurant called J.J. Wasabi’s – mainly because it had a spacious and inviting outdoor patio, and this was a perfect night for outdoor dining. They have an impressive menu – everything from sushi to burgers. The sushi was initially tempting, but I was a little reticent about ordering sushi from a place with burgers and dogs on the menu. I decided to go with a burger instead. The “Main St Burger” along with sweet potato fries. I was disappointed to learn that they did not carry any North Carolina-brewed beers – a definite shortcoming for a neat little Main St joint like this – so I opted to just stick with water.

It was a pleasant meal, though the road noise was a little much and the burger was not one of the better ones I have had. By the end of my meal, it had been a while since I had seen waitress. Getting anxious to leave, I walked inside and asked the greeter if I could go ahead and pay up. She looked at me as if I were speaking Portuguese… with a heavy Russian accent… and an awkward silence ensued, as I silently debated the use of hand signals. Thankfully, the waitress finally showed up, so I paid my bill and left, while the still-confused hostess stood blankly by.

As I made my way back out of town and towards the lifeless expanse of concrete that is Consumer Square Drive, I was thankful for still thriving – if somewhat hidden – small town main streets. Tonight’s meal was not the best service, or anywhere near the best burger I have had, but I was outside, enjoying picturesque century-old buildings at sunset – pondering what life was like here 100 years ago. It was authentic, it was rustic, and best of all, it wasn’t Applebees out by the highway.

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