The Double Lives of Charlotte Roller Derby’s Players

Storytelling

A fun profile of the Charlotte Roller Derby team and the players’ day jobs.

Photo by Rusty Williams

RYE UNZIPS HER GYM BAG and pulls out the gear: knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, mouthguard, helmet, and a pair of slick, black skates with bamboo-colored wheels. She spends a couple of minutes explaining each item to a dozen people, mostly women, at the Charlotte Roller Derby’s orientation at Kate’s Skating Rink in Gastonia.

Until she’s interrupted by a smiling, 5-foot-2 woman in a black T-shirt and purple yoga shorts and a knot of dreadlocks fixed to the top of her head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Ka$h Honey shouts as she gallops to the front of the room to join Rye, a.k.a. Katch Her in the Rye. “Let’s do it!”

Orientation is over.

On the rink, skaters divide into two teams, mixing the experienced players with newer ones. The goal is to win “jams,” or episodes within the game. Each side designates a “jammer” to push past four blockers in order to score, one point for each pass. It’s a full-contact sport that ends after two half-hour periods.

Ka$h (yes, with a dollar sign) watches with me from the sidelines to prevent reinjuring a shoulder she hurt years ago before roller derby. She explains the rules while Princess Slaya jumps past a few blockers to score another batch of points and President Beer skates backwards as she holds the other team’s jammer. Ka$h is itching to get on the rink.

“You gonna play?” a teammate asks her.

Ka$h smirks and cracks the tab of a Monster energy drink. “Maybeee.” 

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A Condensed (and Brutally Honest) History of Creative Loafing

Storytelling

A feature story I wrote for Charlotte magazine’s January issue.

The alternative-weekly paper tackled topics that no other local publication would. But on October 31, the Loaf’s owner abruptly shut it down, after 31 years and 1,649 issues. Now its survivors are starting their own shelters from the mainstream 

“NOW everyone put up your middle finger.”

It’s 4 p.m. on a warm Halloween at Solstice Tavern, a NoDa bar that, appropriately enough, is only a few days away from its own sudden death. A group of 10 or so gathers on the back patio, a collection of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans growing on the bar top. Just a few hours ago, most members of the crew lost their jobs at the city’s only alt-weekly paper, Creative Loafing.

Ryan Pitkin, the paper’s last editor-in-chief, totters around the patio, snapping photos with colleagues and friends who showed up to support, and to drink. Every few minutes, Pitkin’s phone ka-chings like a register about to devour dollar bills. It’s his Venmo account filling up with donations from concerned friends and sympathetic fellow journalists. One writes, “You’ll do great things in the future, but tonight, just have a beer.” Others consist of simply a beer emoji.

A few feet away, associate editor Courtney Mihocik vents about her recent move to Charlotte three months ago; at 23, she had relocated from Ohio to work at the paper and doesn’t know where she’ll go from here.  Justin LaFrancois, an account executive, seethes as he recounts packing up his office. John Grooms, an original editor and longtime columnist, stops by and gives a speech of thanks as AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” blares through the cigarette (and e-cigarette) smoke. “It’s been nice,” he says, and salutes the team.

Four hours earlier, team members had finished their election issue after owner and publisher Charles Womack III told them to hit a strict noon deadline. Minutes later, staffers realized their Gmail accounts weren’t working. At 12:05 p.m., Womack showed up unannounced. (He says it was closer to 12:45.)

Womack gathered them in the conference room and told them that, after 31 years of publication, they had just produced their last issue of Creative Loafing. They were fired. Womack gave members of the seven-person staff five minutes to clear out their belongings and leave. “No severance. No nothing,” Pitkin tweeted a few minutes later.

READ MORE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/January-2019/A-Condensed-and-Brutally-Honest-History-of-Creative-Loafing/

Illustration by Dana Vindigni

The Reconstruction of David Rudolf

Storytelling

super lawyers

A cover story I wrote for Super Lawyers magazine about David Rudolf, the lawyer who defended Michael Peterson in the famous case which was featured in the Netflix documentary series, The Staircase.

AN EXCERPT:

On a 911 recording, Peterson’s voice wavers frantically. Fifteen steps. Or is it 20? “She fell down the stairs,” he says between tears. “No, she’s not conscious.” His wife’s body lays at the bottom of the stairs, blood pooling. “Please,” he begs, three times. The call ends with a blaring dial tone, like a heart monitor flat-lining.

When help arrived, investigators saw the blood at the bottom of the stairway. That much blood? From a fall down the steps? Peterson became a suspect in the alleged murder of his wife.

“It just never made any sense,” says David Rudolf, the attorney Peterson hired to represent him.

READ MORE: https://digital.superlawyers.com/superlawyers/ncslrs19/MobilePagedReplica.action?

2018 Charlotteans of the Year: Sil Ganzó of ourBRIDGE

Storytelling

At ourBRIDGE’s east Charlotte location, Sil Ganzó poses with Preston, a fourth grader. Anthony, another fourth grader, took the photo. They both are students at ourBRIDGE.

Every year, Charlotte magazine names a group of Charlotteans of the Year, made up of individuals who changed the city that year. I wrote about Sil Ganzó, the executive director of ourBRIDGE, a nonprofit that helps immigrant and refuge children (and their families) settle in Charlotte.

CARS RUMBLE over Central Avenue’s potholes and whiz past Deli St.’s porch, as Sil Ganzó speaks of her first few years working with the local refugee and immigrant community in an after-school program a few blocks west on Pecan Avenue.

Ganzó and her staff would transport children to and from the center, traveling through the east Charlotte neighborhoods of Eastcrest, Wembley, and Oak Park. “It was like the Flintstones van,” she says, smiling. “The van would just stop, and we would have to push it. And the kids thought it was hilarious.”

READ MORE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/December-2018/2018-Charlotteans-of-the-Year-Sil-Ganz-of-ourBRIDGE/

Photo by Anthony, a 4th grade student at ourBRIDGE. Sil Ganzó poses with Preston, another fourth grader.

College Town Travel: Knoxville

Storytelling, travel

 

A travel piece about Knoxville, Tennessee, that I wrote for Charlotte magazine’s October issue about college towns.

ON GAME DAY at the University of Tennessee, there’s only orange. Orange checkered overalls, orange foam fingers, orange-painted bare chests with a “V,” “O,” “L,” or “S”—short for the Tennessee Volunteers. Instead of red Solo cups, cups here are orange.

A barrage of “Good Ol’ Rocky Top” permeates past Neyland Stadium—one of the largest college football stadiums, holding more than 100,000—through downtown Knoxville, and to TVs across the state.

This parade of school spirit took a different form in the spring of 1974, though, when students ditched the orange and opted for nude. When a streaking fad took over American colleges in the 1970s, Walter Cronkite singled out the University of Tennessee, and Knoxville by proxy, as the ultimate hub of the sport. This was after more than 5,000 students left their textbooks and clothing behind and ran down the mile-long Cumberland Avenue—also known as The Strip.

READ MORE HERE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/October-2018/College-Town-Travel-Knoxville/

Photo by CSFOTOIMAGES

Sarah Says: Behind the WFAE Podcast She Says

Storytelling

Delia

“FROM WFAE IN CHARLOTTE, I’m Sarah Delia. This…” there’s a brief pause as the podcast plays. “is She Says.”

Rewind back to the morning when Sarah Delia first met “Linda,” back in June of 2017. That day she had a cup of coffee for breakfast and left her recorder in the car for her conversation with Linda, a sexual assault survivor who’s identity is concealed on the She Says podcast, which Delia commentates, on Linda’s experience in reporting the assault to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. The conversation was raw and unfiltered; it lasted the entire day.

READ MORE HERE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/October-2018/Behind-the-WFAE-Podcast-She-Says/

Photo by Logan Cyrus

At 17, Activist Sebastian Bowen Discovers the Power of his Voice

Storytelling

sebastian.jpeg

A profile I wrote about a 17-year-old activist who organized his high school’s walk-out against gun violence, for Charlotte magazine’s August issue.

AT 2:15 P.M., there’s a loud buzz. A voice begins reading the dismissal announcements—late buses, soccer practice reminders, and last, “Make sure you have patience and understanding this Friday.”

On cue, teenagers pour out of Independence High’s front doors like a pack of wild animals, hunting for the fastest possible exit out of the school parking lot. Book bags bounce as students run to their buses or cars, or to the small walking path that eventually leads to the Food Lion lot on Wilson Grove Road, a detour from the backlog of hand-me-down sedans and bright yellow buses. Horns honk, and there’s a middle finger out a driver’s window.

Sebastian Bowen, a senior, is in no hurry. Bus number 229 will take him to his home in the Shelburne Place neighborhood, and from there, he’ll walk the 26 minutes to his job stocking shelves at Harris Teeter. The bus is leaving any minute, but he ambles slowly, taking in the wild country that is high school.

READ MORE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/August-2018/At-17-Activist-Sebastian-Bowen-Discovers-the-Power-of-his-Voice/

The Big Love: Charlotte Musicians Gigi Dover and Eric Lovell

music, Storytelling

gigi.jpeg

A profile I wrote about the couple behind Gigi Dover & The Big Love, a local americana band in Charlotte, for Charlotte magazine’s July issue.

A PAIR OF PANTS—tight, pinstriped, black pants. When Eric Lovell talks about the early days, he starts there.

It was Christmastime 2002. Lovell and singer/songwriter Gigi Dover were performing together for Spindale public radio station WNCW’s holiday party, she as the headliner and he on bass guitar. The two had known each other for years, both staples in the Charlotte music scene for more than a decade. Lovell played guitar during Dover’s tour for her first solo album earlier that year, Unpicked Flowers.

At the time, Lovell had long, laid-back ringlets that landed at about his waist. Dover remembers watching his hair rock back and forth to the music as he played a rock version of “Away in a Manger” on bass that night. He only remembers her pants, though.

“She’s a long-legged woman,” he says with a wide grin, his mustache curled on the ends. “They just fit perfectly.”

Before, their timing had never been right for anything more than friendship. They were both married to other people and busy building their own music careers.

Who made the first move is still up for debate. But eventually feelings evolved and their friendship intensified into attraction, and then grew into something much deeper. The two married in 2006 and have worked together on more than 15 albums, four as the band Gigi Dover & The Big Love. Collectively, they have performed hundreds of shows in Charlotte, at the Evening Muse, the Visulite Theatre, and at the now-closed Double Door Inn. Thanks, in part, to a pair of pants.

READ MORE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/July-2018/The-Enduring-Musical-Personal-Partnership-of-Gigi-Dover-and-Eric-Lovell/

Photo by Chris Edwards.

Faith After The Flood, Charlotte Magazine

Storytelling

A feature story for Charlotte magazine about Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath in Lumberton, N.C. 

THE LEVEE didn’t fail, but the floodwaters still fought their way through. Rapids had already torn over and under Interstate 95, when water started seeping under Angela Freeman Culler’s door.

First it was just a shallow pool, her black tennis shoes splashing around as she paced back and forth in the four-bedroom apartment she shared with her adult son, Gage, and another family. Water soaked the frayed edges of her couch and washed over the living room carpet. It rose fast, peaking at knee-high on her 5-foot-2 frame, soaking her jeans and weighing her down as she tried to find refuge—higher ground, or maybe a boat. She craved a cigarette.

Outside, she climbed onto a car’s roof to stay dry and avoid the snakes swimming around her. She felt her pulse quicken, and grabbed her chest. For two hours she waited, the stench of sewage and gasoline floating above the murky water and clinging to her clothes. She watched as her neighbors, many of them unable to swim, held tight to tires. Cars drifted down her street, Sinclair Street, dragged by the Lumber River’s currents.

lumberton-19

Before her home started flooding, Angela didn’t even know a storm was coming. The day before, Saturday, October 8, 2016, it rained nonstop. Trees snapped and windows rattled as Hurricane Matthew’s Category One winds ripped through her low-income housing community on the southwestern side of town. Without cable or radio, Angela had missed the warnings. By Sunday, the rains settled and there was even some sun, but the historic rainfall of more than 16 inches had to drain somewhere.

It was only when the parking lot at the Holly Ridge apartments started to flood on Sunday that her neighbors murmured the word “hurricane.” Those murmurs soon turned into shouts. Lumberton was drowning.

 

READ MORE: http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/October-2017/One-Year-After-Hurricane-Matthew-in-Lumberton/

Photo by Logan Cyrus