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Pimp My Ride

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

June 5,2006

The other day I filled my tank at a gas station in Lake Norman and had the opportunity to see something quite rare. A Cutlass pulled up to the pump opposite mine. I use the term "Cutlass" loosely. It was clear that this machine had undergone a lot of work. First, it stood taller than the adjacent SUV. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “I must not be thinking of the right car...” Oh yes, my friend, you are. The same car in which your grandmother drives to church was transformed into a towering, shiny, mutant of a vehicle.

The twenty-six inch rims on each wheel were the most eye-catching (and by that I mean I was rendered blind by the light refraction). Twenty-six inches! Twenty-two inches is probably the largest size that can be put on a car like that without having to physically alter its original structure. This car, clearly, had undergone more work than an aging Hollywood actress. And, to me, it looked almost as ridiculous.

Rims are the bling of the car, and can easily cost more than jewelry. A set of twenty-six inch rims and wheels can cost thousands of dollars - ten thousand, even, depending on the designer. The shiny assortment of options for appearance is extensive, and “spinners” are even more expensive. And they do nothing to help the car run any better. They merely exist to look awesome, dude.

Lately, Charlotte has put some pretty nice rims on her ride. The city continues to grow rapidly, and development is paramount. We’re not talkin’ zebra-stripe seat covers and some fuzzy dice. From residential luxuries to educational centers to our own twenty-six-incher - the NASCAR Hall of Fame - our ride is definitely pimpin’. But do our rims exist simply for show, or do they support the true functions of the city? Will our residential ride continue to be smooth, or will it shake a little if we exceed 65 miles per hour?  I have to admit that while I am extremely excited about all of the developments, I do have some concerns.

As a commuter, I know 77 better than I would like to. And as a resident during race week, 77 and I are not on speaking terms. The shinier our city becomes, the more people are going to arrive to take her for a test drive and kick the tires. While I welcome the visitors, I don’t want them plugging up my highway any further either. Charlotte is moving towards a wider range of public transportation, as well as increasing highway expansion, and I have no doubt that the end product will be lovely. These structural adjustments, however, take a lot of time - much longer than an axel adjustment. Charlotte does not want to become a city that will be a great place to live- in ten years when everything is finished and balance is restored. We want to maintain all of the positive original attributes while also providing for the newer additions.

And then there is the budget. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to spend thousands of dollars on the rims of my car, and on the consequent structural adjustments, I would have to make cuts elsewhere. I would probably have to give up my internet, or stop eating, for example. So, if the city is suddenly faced with an increased need for structural expansion, will we need to cut from other important areas?

Charlotte’s developments, unlike the rims of the Cutlass, do offer more than looks. They help the economy, and are as enjoyable for residents as they are for the tourists. And I like that they have not changed the basic, fundamental identity of the city. A Cutlass is a Cutlass, no matter how tall or glinty it gets. Similarly, Charlotte is Charlotte. Through the development, the city has maintained the identity of not-quite-having-a-definitive-identity that we all love. And the city remains rooted - even at our shiniest. NASCAR, while a newer sport, is truly a piece of Charlotte culture and history. Our rims do contribute to the positive and productive functioning of our city. They are beautiful, they turn heads, and they work.

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