Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 16: Lancaster's BBQ of Huntersville

The original Lancaster's BBQ in Mooresville is one of the most famous restaurants in the Charlotte area, both for its food and because it's a favorite hangout of NASCAR drivers. For that reason, the original Lancaster's will be the subject of a future post once we have actually eaten there. Lancaster has recently opened a couple new locations, including one on Beattie's Ford Road in Huntersville.

Serving up delicious Eastern North Carolina BBQ, mustard-based slaw, and some very tasty hush puppies, all at decent prices, Lancaster's of Huntersville is highly recommended. In addition to BBQ, Lancaster's also offers catfish, fried shrimp, chicken, and burgers. But if you're in Carolina, dining at one of the most famous names in Carolina BBQ, you don't need all that - just go with the simple BBQ tray and you can't lose.

Staying true to the region's racing heritage, Lancaster's is decorated with a few items of NASCAR memorabilia and more historic gasoline station signage than I've ever seen. However, they are recreations that look brand new, which takes away some of the old-timey feel I think they were reaching for.

Someone at Lancaster's must have a sense of humor, too. The music playing over the stereo would have done Dr. Demento proud. For all I know, it was the Dr. Demento Christmas special, including songs such as "Walking in My Winter Underwear" and "Christmas on Acid" and another that included the line, "Merry Christmas you louts, it may be your last" or something in that vein. There was nothing offensive about the music - it was funny - but based on the laugher from all the tables, I could tell everyone else was surprised to hear something other than the usual watered-down, bland Christmas-pop piped in at most public places.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review: Prayer by Philip Yancey

I've been reading Prayer for at least six months and finally finished. I'd read two or three days in a row and then put it aside for a week or three. I didn't mean to do that, but that's how it worked out. And, thinking back, I probably benefitted from reading it this way.
Yancey didn't set out to create a "how-to" book on prayer, but, by not doing so, I think he actually succeeded in creating a how-to book better than the actual how-to books. He doesn't give you any step by step guidelines or Things You Have To Say when praying. He simply examines the issues he has - and they're the issues we all have - with prayer. His conclusions were very helpful to me in understanding prayer and how I go about talking with God. Most of all, I think he helped me overcome the worry that I was doing it all wrong, as if there is a right way to pray that can be laid out for every person and every circumstance.
It helped also to have read the book during a period when many of my prayers were answered in the way I had hoped (which has rarely happened before). Some of those prayers were big, some small, and some were just off-the-wall-can't-be-answered-type prayers God brought to mind while I lay awake at night thinking of everything from work to friends to the Cubs, who are beyond prayer. Maybe that's a sign that I'm finally learning to pray for the right things.
I didn't agree with everything Yancey said. I don't know that I disagreed with anything he said either. It's just that a few things were beyond my comprehension. And that's all right. What I did understand was helpful and, early returns indicate, life changing.


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 15: Torrence's Tavern

Torrence's Tavern was, to be generous, an extremely small skirmish, accorded the briefest of mentions in most histories. Colonel Banister Tarleton's Redcoats, according to the historical marker, "routed" a small group of American militia during a campaign through the Carolina piedmont in 1781. You can read the history of the campaign here.

As for the site itself, the marker is all there is to it. In fact, if you get stopped at the red light, you don't even have to get out of your car to take in the entire site. The Torrence's Tavern historical marker is located along NC Highway 115 near Mount Mourne, a small town - village, really - in southern Iredell County. If you're really bored, you can learn more, but not much more, about the historical marker itself by clicking here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: Good to Great by Jim Collins

I don't normally like reading business books. As a subject, business just isn't that interesting, but Good to Great is one of the exceptions. The reason, I think, is that it deals with more than just business, but also touches a little bit on psychology and relationships, both of which can drive our work.
Jim Collins led a research team seeking to uncover the reason "why some companies make the leap...and others don't," which also happens to be the subtitle of the book. Collins and his team began by identifying 11 companies that, after years of being mediocre or decent companies, became great for a sustained period. I won't bore you with the details of how they defined a great company, since that's not the interesting part of the book. Once they had their great companies, along with a set of comparison companies that failed to become great, the Collins' team conducted extensive research to uncover what the great companies did differently than those that remained simply good (or worse).
The conclusions are best described as brilliantly simple, and, I guess I'm not too surprised to see, they are often principles I've been taught all my life. Very briefly, the concepts practiced by the companies that made the leap boiled down to these: strong but humble leadership that welcomed questions and conflict; getting the right people on board before determining direction; be completely and, if necessary, brutally honest; finding out what you are passionate about and what you can do better than anyone else; having discipline of thought and action; only invest in technology that will set you apart (I know I've phrased that poorly, but it comes down to refusing to chase after every new technology - a company should not be driven by the pursuit of fancy new toys); keep pushing - don't give up - and be positive if you know you're going the right direction. Many of these principles - humility, honesty, discipline, persistence - you might recognize from another old book we've all studied (amazing how that works!).
None of the "good to great" companies had leaders who acted as the savior or who tried to drive the organization with their brilliant ideas - that's the reason they brought the good people on board. None of the companies made excuses about being "second generation" or a bad economy or, in the case of Philip Morris, an increasingly hostile social attitude toward their industry. They simply faced reality.
Collins' writing was easy to understand and his illustrations were interesting and apt. I appreciated that they used quantitative research only to back up the qualitative. That is, they didn't focus on numbers, which can be easily twisted, to conjure up points they wanted to make. They kept the numbers in reserve until they had isolated a concept that was proven by the "good to great" companies.
Good to Great is well worth reading if you are interested in business or if you care about the business for which you work. It was the best book I've read in a long time.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 14: Just Peachy

Located on Highway 161 in York, SC, Black's Peaches had everything you could want in a farm stand, except peaches - they must have been out of season. This rustic-looking roadside stand/store sold sourdough bread, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, honey, jelly, salsa, ice cream and an array of fruits and vegetables, including the most spectacularly large sweet potatoes I've ever seen.

We happened upon Black's on our way to King's Mountain and decided to stop to buy pumpkins for our fall seasonal decorations. Tiffany didn't like that I picked out a white pumpkin, but I thought it looked kinda cool (and it reminded me of Bunnicula, which you Carp folks might appreciate). You can see my white pumpkin in a previous post entitled "Tiffany's Ride."

If you're anywhere close, Black's Peaches is worth the trip, but it might be a good idea to go during peach season so you can taste what I assume is their specialty. I still regret that we passed on the sweet potato pie; I've never had sweet potato pie, but it seems like my first slice should be from a place like Black's.

Labels: ,