A mom endures Scarowinds
Plus: I-77 lanes might take 25 years, NCDOT says; Hurricane approaches; Study finds disparity in city contracting; F3 in New York Times; DaBaby's new album makes a splash
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With chaperones required, moms and dads now haunt Scarowinds in bigger numbers; scrolling cell phones in darkness, waiting in beer line
BY THE GLOW OF THE INTIMIDATOR: Scarowinds chaperones who didn’t want to venture too far into the park Friday night sat on benches outside the Intimidator roller coaster near the Carowinds entrance.
by Cristina Bolling
One of the special joys of having teenagers is that you’re freed from many of the less desirable obligations that go along with raising kids. For example: Sticking around for birthday parties. Sitting through ridiculous movies. And having the bejesus scared out of you at Scarowinds — Carowinds’ annual fall tradition that turns the entire theme park into a giant haunted property after dark.
Two Saturdays ago, however, young people who apparently don’t know how to behave ruined that last one for us parents by causing chaos at Scarowinds, forcing park officials to implement a new rule: mandatory chaperones for guests ages 17 and younger.
It seemed like a sensible move. Requiring chaperones would, in theory, keep hooligans away (or at least less likely to get into trouble with a chaperone on the premises), making it more fun for those just wanting to have a good, clean, scary night out.
It also meant that a bunch of middle-aged moms and dads like me who don’t like forced fright found ourselves performing the ultimate sacrifice — giving up a slice of our weekends so our teens could brave the fake blood and chainless chainsaws with their friends.
Scarowinds runs through Oct. 30, so in an effort to clue my fellow chaperone brethren into what they’re in for over the next month, here’s a taste of the experience I had this weekend.
Don’t say you weren’t warned: Every media outlet in town blasted out the Carowinds chaperone requirement practically the minute it was announced last week, but just in case you missed it, Carowinds had light-up signs on the road approaching the park, and the parking booth attendants handed every driver a bright yellow piece of paper with the new chaperone policy.
Another rule listed on the yellow paper took me by surprise — no bags, including purses, are allowed in Scarowinds. Slightly peeved, I stuffed my phone, credit cards, cash and keys into my pockets and locked the sensible cross-body purse I’d planned to wear in the trunk. As we walked up to the park entrance, I realized I’d left my driver’s license in the car. But at age 47, certainly I wouldn’t need it. Right?
“Do I really need my driver’s license?” I asked a worker who appeared roughly my age and who was telling the crowd, over and over, to have their IDs out and ready to show.
“Yes, you do,” he said, with what I detected was a touch of pity. “We don’t discriminate.”
Smooth and steady: I’d envisioned a nightmare scenario at the entrance, with workers scrambling to account for which youngsters went with which adults, possibly Chuck-E-Cheese-esque hand stamps upon arrival or wristbands to put on.
In actuality, the ID-check-in process moved much more swiftly. A large cadre of Carowinds workers scanned drivers licenses and quickly sized up which kids went with which adults. Several beefy security guards wearing bright yellow golf shirts surveyed the scene.
I did see one teenage couple get turned away because they didn’t have IDs. (I’m not great at judging age, but they looked younger than 17.) They calmly retreated back toward the parking lot.
The no-bag rule made the rest of the entrance process a breeze. Once my driver’s license was scanned, we moved on through the metal detectors, showed our Carowinds passes, and we were in like Flynn.
What to do now? Let’s just get this out of the way: I hate being scared. If you startle me from behind, expect a swift elbow to the ribs. I had no interest in being one of the cool moms who ventured into one of Scarowinds’ haunted houses with their kids, or being fresh bait for the ghouls who roam the park and pop out of dry-ice smoke to freak people out.
Once I’d bid farewell to my group with a plan to sync up in a few hours, my muscle memory took me down same the Carowinds route I’d walked so many times when my kids were younger, hanging a left after the main entrance, passing the Intimidator roller coaster on the way to the Planet Snoopy zone where the little-kid rides are. Surely, the scary “actors” wouldn’t be hanging out by the Woodstock Express, right? Wrong.
A (fake) chainsaw-wielding, (fake) blood-soaked Scarowinds zombie lunged at me from seemingly out of nowhere. I screamed.
“If you pooped your pants, the bathroom’s right over there!” he yelled, taunting me. Embarrassed, I turned right around and for a millisecond considered plunking down $15 for a light-up necklace that is supposed to inoculate you from being spooked. I decided against it.
Darkness falling, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be the most magical mirage: a tented space that resembled an airport club lounge, with comfy-looking sofas, big-screened TVs and beverages and snacks. Carowinds had created a space for chaperones like me!
My heart fell as I noticed the cash register at the entrance. I could gain access for $29.95, or for free if I had a Carowinds “premium pass.” (I did not.) Tempting, but I decided the benches scattered around the park would be comfortable enough.
NOT FOR ME: I had hopes of relaxing in the Carowinds VIP lounge, but when I learned of the $29.95 admission price, I decided against it.
Passing time at the bar: As the night wore on, those benches filled with chaperones lit by the soft glow of their cellphones. One dad wandered around alone, sipping beer. Needing to see where that beer had come from, I headed to the bar inside Harmony Hall, an indoor food hall. It was nearly empty. Shocking.
The bar just outside Harmony Hall had more of a crowd.
“Chaperoning?” I asked a couple standing in line. They nodded. “Gotta do something to kill the time!” one of them laughed.
I actually enjoyed the remainder of the night. I didn’t venture far into the belly of the park because of my Planet Snoopy incident, but I watched a live stage show near the front entrance and was impressed by a corps of spooky-dressed drummers who put on an impressive roaming show and then invited little kids to try out their drums.
We didn’t stay till midnight, but I didn’t detect any shenanigans during the time we were there. Security guards were omnipresent, with some carrying bullhorns. I imagine the vibe had been much different the weekend before.
The next day, my friend Stani told me she, too, had been at Carowinds the night before with her kids. They’d all gone together into five of the haunted houses. “It was a blast!” she exclaimed. I hadn’t seen her there.
I’m sure there were plenty of parents like Stani who were out braving the goblins with their kids, being those Scarowinds-fun moms and dads. Me? I found my place alongside the chaperones who maybe weren’t having the time of their lives, but were giving up a few hours so the kids could have theirs.
Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger and a lover of Halloween, even though she hates being scared: email@example.com
Today’s supporting sponsors are Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews…
… and T.R. Lawing Realty:
Adding lanes to I-77 south of uptown could take until 2045 or later, NCDOT says; momentum for privately run toll lanes?
Bad news for anybody hoping for quick relief for traffic congestion on I-77 south of uptown: Transportation officials say funding is so scarce that they don’t envision money to become available to finish lanes until 2045 or 2050.
That was the upshot of a meeting of regional elected officials last week. At the meeting, an N.C. Department of Transportation official said that even though that stretch of I-77 is congested and has high rates of crashes, the cost of expanding it and the state’s funding shortfall means that the lanes are probably at least 25 years away from opening.
NCDOT plans call for adding two state-run toll lanes each direction on an 9.4-mile stretch between the S.C. line and the Brookshire Freeway (I-277).
The long timeline for making that happen could provide momentum to a proposal to add privately run toll lanes, which could get the job done sooner. Cintra, the Spanish company that runs the I-77 toll lanes north of uptown, has proposed building lanes on the southern portion and operating them for 50 years. It says its approach could have the lanes up and running as early as 2029. (Our Transit Time newsletter explored that proposal in-depth last month.)
The presentation by NCDOT at last week’s Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization included the following information:
Congestion: That stretch of I-77 averaged 160,000 vehicles a day in 2019, resulting in traffic that’s at or above capacity between 7 and 11 hours a day. If no lanes are added, that number is projected to grow to 185,000 a day by 2050, with congestion 15-17 hours a day. “Basically all the waking hours of the day, this corridor is projected to be at or above capacity,” NCDOT division engineer Brett Canipe said.
Wrecks: The rate of crashes on that portion of I-77 is more than double the state average. In the last five years, there have been 8,700 crashes, 13 deaths and 1,810 injuries, and 85% of wrecks are congestion-related.
Finances: The projected cost of the project is $2.1B, though that could change. The earliest the state could start acquiring right-of-way is around 2029, and after that, it could take at least 15 years to get the money and finish the project because of state rules that limit the amount of money available to spend on any single transportation corridor.
Some of the elected officials at the meeting were notably not thrilled about the prospect of waiting so long.
Matthews Mayor John Higdon said waiting until 2045 or 2050 “gives a lot of people a lot of heartburn around this table.” He suggested pushing for a change in state law to speed up the funding.
Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, said: “The idea of not doing anything isn’t an option, and frankly, for me, the idea of waiting until 2050 until we get some relief is also not an option. So I think this presentation helps to frame what I hope most of us were probably thinking anyway, which is we probably have to find an alternative to the state funding.”
Having Cintra build the lanes rather than NCDOT would probably be controversial. County commissioner Pat Cotham told her colleagues this summer: “I do not think we should have our money go to Spain for 50 years.” She said she favors additional free lanes, but there are no such plans in the works.
NCDOT has toll lanes under construction on the southern portion of I-485 and has them on the books for Independence Boulevard as well. The first section of those Independence toll lanes, between I-277 and Idlewild Road, could start construction as soon as 2027. —TM
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s new events board:
Today: Christian College Fair, 6-8 p.m., Lamb/Johnson Gym at Charlotte Christian School. The NACCAP Christian College Fair will provide interested students and parents with information on Christian colleges across the country. Free.
Today: Discover Queens. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Queens University of Charlotte. Discover Queens is an open house-style event for interested undergraduate students and their families that goes beyond a typical campus tour. Come see what makes Queens special and what life looks like for a Royal! Free.
The amazing predictive power of The Ledger’s April Fools’ issue
Which is real, and which is fake? Our April Fools’ issue has been eerily accurate lately. On the left, a fake rendering published April 1 of a made-up underground mixed-use development in South End called “BelowSo” made by a 7th grader in about 15 minutes; on the right, a professionally produced rendering released in June of the proposed underground bus terminal on Trade Street that’s part of a mixed-use development between the city and White Point Partners. The City Council receives an update on the project tonight (the bus station, not “BelowSo”).
The Ledger’s annual April Fools’ Day edition is routinely one of our more popular issues. Our analytics tools tell us that last year’s edition was our No. 2 most-read newsletter of all time, and this year’s landed at No. 4.
We’ll let you decide what the popularity of April Fools’ jokes says about people’s appetite for misinformation, but we enjoy putting them together and getting a laugh out of people, and our readers seem to enjoy them. Our strategy on them is to begin with items that could fall within the realm of possibility, and then become progressively more outlandish until it is obvious that the entire April 1 newsletter is made up.
But one of the overlooked aspects of our April Fools’ coverage is its spot-on predictive abilities. Just in the last week, we’ve seen actual news that seemed to mimic our fake news from more than five months ago. Here are five examples since April 1:
Underground mixed-use development
Fake April Fools’ Ledger: “The future of South End is underground / As land prices surge, developers plan mixed-use projects beneath the streets”
Real news article: “A new state-of-the-art Performance Enhancement Center for the [Hornets] … will be located across the street from the Spectrum Center in a redeveloped transit center. Plans call for the buses to move underground with retail, the practice facility and towers above.” (WSOC, June 13)
Leah & Louise accolades
Fake April Fools’ Ledger: “Tops in the galaxy: Camp North End restaurant Leah & Louise was named top restaurant in the Milky Way galaxy by the Intergalactic Times Food & Wine Review. It beat out a Peruvian tapas bar on Orion’s Belt. (Axios Charlotte, CharlotteFive, Biz Journal, Unpretentious Palate)”
Brady Manek razor-endorsement deal
Fake April Fools’ Ledger: “UNC is riding high, with Brady Manek’s recent lucrative NIL (name image and likeness) marketing deal with Gillette.”
Real news: “I’ve decided that when the time is right to let go of the beard, I’m putting my trust in Dollar Shave Club. Their newest DSC razor, with its six blades and precision trimmer, make for the perfect combination to ensure a noticeably smooth shave…and smooth shave = smooth jump shot! #DSC #Ad … [Paid partnership with dollarshaveclub]” (Brady Manek on Instagram, Sept. 20)
New Top 100 Charlotte Business Journal awards
Fake April Fools’ Ledger: “New prestigious award: The Charlotte Business Journal is launching a new awards program it is calling ‘The Pay to Play 100.’”
Real news article: “Introducing the Charlotte Business Journal’s Power 100” (Biz Journal, Sept. 19)
Preparing for the changing of the seasons
Fake April Fools’ Ledger: “Ice cube recipe: Summer is around the corner. How do you make ice cubes? (Observer)”
Real news article: “When will we have to adjust our clocks for daylight savings time? What to know as fall arrives” (Observer, Sept. 22)
Who knows what will come true next? We’re still waiting for Bojangles to fess up to a bo-berry shortage. —TM
Hurricane approaching: Meteorologists say there’s a potential for heavy rain Friday and Saturday in North Carolina from the remnants of Hurricane Ian, which is moving through the Caribbean and is expected to hit Florida’s west coast or Panhandle later this week.
Diverse contracting: A study of City of Charlotte contracts between 2015 and 2020 found that 12% of spending went to minority- and women-owned firms. But the study estimates that 13% of local companies available for contracting are minority- and women-owned, with the biggest disparities affecting Black-owned firms. The study recommends the city continue efforts to increase participation and reduce disparities.
Underground buses? City Council members are expected to discuss plans for an underground bus station tonight.
F3 in the NYT: Charlotte-based workout group F3 was profiled in the New York Times by a reporter who accompanied suburban men in Texas to an early-morning workout: “They grunted and hooted un-self-consciously, razzing one another and shouting encouragements. … The members also often gather to pray together and talk, building friendships that have extended into their daily lives.” It has 3,400 workout groups across the country. (New York Times, subscriber-only)
Rejected CATS contract had raises: Charlotte bus drivers rejected a contract last week that would have included raises of nearly 11%. It would have also reduced the number of days drivers could take off without providing a reason. (WFAE)
Whataburger headed to Charlotte? City records show a developer has requested a meeting with the city to discuss the potential for a Whataburger at 5301 South Blvd., in a former bank branch. The Charlotte region has no Whataburger restaurants, but it has several What-A-Burger restaurants, which is a separate chain. (CharlotteFive)
UNC Charlotte apology: UNC Charlotte’s chancellor apologized after campus police handcuffed a student with a knife. The item was discovered to be a kirpan, an article of faith among Sikhs. (Observer)
Corn maze time: Many local corn mazes and pumpkin patches opened for the season this weekend. Charlotte on the Cheap has a list.
Revelations on new DaBaby album: Local musician DaBaby claims in a new song released last week that he had intimate sexual encounters with award-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion. The song, “Boogeyman,” is part of a new album DaBaby released last week called “Baby on Baby 2.” Megan Thee Stallion didn’t reply to a request for comment, Billboard reported. Another song on the album, “Socks,” includes what DaBaby says is the 911 call from his Troutman estate after he shot an intruder in April, the Observer reported.
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project