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New Year Neighborhood Crawl 

And the Panthers' last gasp

I decided on a smorgasbord approach for New Year's Eve this year, first heading downtown to check out the scene at Trade and Tryon.Problem is, I arrived waaaay too early. I still had to drive home, so I couldn't really put back any beverages. It was still hours before the "fireworks spectacular" (their words) was set to go off, so no luck there either. Finally realizing I was hanging out people I would normally take pains to avoid, I decided to split for an entirely different scene: Tuckaseegee Road's World Famous Milestone Club.

Now, the "Stone's not exactly located in the best neighborhood -- any time an area's main hangout is a gas station, it's not exactly the best neighborhood -- and I was reasonably unsure of whether I'd be able to tell the difference between fireworks and the sound of a Glock firing celebratory shots into the air. I really have an affection for the place, however, so I and a couple of friends soldiered on anyway. On the bill were the excellent bands Horse Thief and Calabi Yau, along with Almighty Flying Machine, The Paragraph, The Ages, Devil Music Inc., Ghost Town Law, October Surprise, YayHooray, Heartwood, and Solid Gold Wreckers.

We got there during Heartwood's set, an emo-sounding affair that featured a drunk musclehead screaming for them to "go back to Amos' SouthEnd." His remark made little sense to me until he turned a few seconds later to inform me that he was "getting his mother____ing drink on." Deciding that Tremont Music Hall would be more to his liking, he and his friend left. Heading to the bar, I ran into another local knucklehead, who told the unamused bartender he wanted "14 PBRS, five High Lifes, and a mess of Jager Bombs."

"Shit," I thought. "This sounds just like downtown!" (Albeit loads more interesting.)

Deciding to see if we could make it to the Penguin Drive-In before the witching hour, we hustled out the door to hear a young man tell his assembled black-clad buddies that he was going to "kill you tonight." He was joking, of course, but deciding that I'd rather ring in the New Year than have a ringing in my ears, we split.

Arriving at the Bird, shots of champagne (yeah, you heard me!) were drunk, and conversation progressed pleasingly throughout the evening. So pleasantly, in fact, that we missed the stroke of the New Year completely. Unlike most bars that have their clocks set five minutes fast to better hustle folks out at last call, the Bird's clock is some five minutes behind. Add an additional five minutes delay due to the champagne shots, and confusion quickly to set in. (I'm pretty sure we were toasting the whole time anyway, so I imagine it doesn't matter.)

Yes, there's been a few times when I feel like I've spent a part of two years in the Penguin, but this time I really did. Anybody got an aspirin?

It seemed like the perfect ending for the Cardiac Cats. Down late, the Carolina Panthers had clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit to march down the field with under a minute left with a chance to tie the ballgame against arch-rivals the New Orleans Saints. Finally stopped at the Saints' 43-yard-line, John Kasay marched on the field to attempt an epic 60-yard field goal to send it into overtime, and, with a little luck, into the playoffs. And...Kasay's kick was blocked! Standing amid the sell-out crowd, I've never felt such collective deflation. Five seconds ago, people were yelling and screaming and banging on seats. So many strangers in my section hugged each other -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male, female -- that a friend of mine and I took to calling our section the melting pot. Now? Collective sighs of...well, not quite disgust, but rather disbelief. After last season's Super Bowl run, folks wanted to believe, wanted to see that it could happen again. To believe that the magic is still here, and isn't going to leave as long as John Fox and Co. are in town.

Perhaps our city could take more cues from this year's team than last year's magical squad. You don't become World Class without taking your lumps, not giving up, and having a plan. You must have backups in place in case something goes wrong. You learn from your mistakes, and play hard no matter what.

Of course, maybe we really learned that we sorely miss World Class players Steve Smith, Kris Jenkins, DeShaun Foster, and Stephen Davis. Hurry back, fellas!

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