Road Trip

WHERE: Charlotte, N.C.

GUIDE: Hugh L. McColl Jr., chairman and cofounder of McColl Partners, an investment-banking firm specializing in mergers-and-acquisitions services for middle-market companies. In his previous job as chairman and CEO of Bank of America, McColl built that bank into the largest in the United States and grew its assets from $12 billion to more than $600 billion.

BEST PLACE TO INK A DEAL: Besides my office? The Charlotte City Club. It's calm and elegant. Of course, a lot of things happen in bank dining rooms, but you can't get there from here.

WHAT CHARLOTTE IS FAMOUS FOR: Banks. And banking and bankers.

BEST PLACE TO BE SEEN: Well, that all depends on whom you want to be seen with, doesn't it? Go to the Charlotte Palm in Phillips Place, a great restaurant that even has a cigar room, and LaVecchia's for this-minute city hubbub and superb seafood. The oysters are delicious.

HOW TO BE A REAL CHARLOTTEAN: (1) Say "Hey," not "Hi." (2) Never put sugar on your grits -- just salt, pepper, and gravy. (3) Know that Charlotte is the Queen City because it was named for Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg, the wife of George III. (4) And we're Charlotte-TEE-ans, not Char-LOTT-eans.

DRESS CODE: In Uptown Charlotte, coats and ties, always. We've experimented with going without, but since September 11 less than polished attire is a fading idea.

BEST SPOT TO PEOPLE-WATCH: The Square, which is the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets in Uptown Charlotte, at lunchtime. It's power central. Also, the Capital Grille on North Tryon. It's famous for its steaks.

BEST FORM OF TRANSPORTATION: The trolley. The trolley line has become a catalyst for development. Local businesses sponsor the Uptown route, and the red trolleys are called the Gold Rush Service, after the gold that was discovered here in the late 1700s.

BEST REASON TO VISIT: Our cultural district, which is part of what makes Uptown so great. There's the Mint Museum of Craft + Design and the Levine Museum of the New South, which is the only museum in the country that focuses exclusively on post-Civil War development.

BEST FAUX PAS: Claim you're a native Charlottean. A real native will have the sense to reply, "Oh, so you're the one!"

WHERE TO GO TO BUY A CHILD A PRESENT: Black Forest Books and Toys, an intimate shop run by smart, nice people who take time to talk with you.

WHAT I LIKE BEST ABOUT LIVING HERE: We're a large and friendly town, and we still know one another and do things for one another. We work hard on trying to do the right thing for everybody. If you're optimistic -- and dry heat isn't your thing -- you'll love it here.

Written with Nancy Austin

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