Saturday, May 22, 2010

Extreme Downtown Ambassador-ing!

My Saturday morning started out like any typical Saturday morning (with the exception of a slight hangover.) But headache or no headache I made a commitment to the great city of Wilmington and I planned to deliver.

The kids are down at "Club PaPaw and Gigi's" at Ocean Isle Beach for the weekend. A little grandkid R&R which will likely include pancakes on the pullout (sofa), lots of sugar and new pets in the form of hermit crabs...

With a 'childless' weekend ahead of us, Kat and I always welcome the opportunity to go Downtown on a Friday night. It had been a long week and we were looking forward to enjoying margaritas and mexican food under the stars at our new favorite restaurant Mixto on Water Street.

(*Note to self: Stop at two margaritas.*)

We had a great time but 9am came up fast this morning and I had volunteered two hours of my day to Wilmington Downtown's new ambassador program. It is a great opportunity to help our residents and guests get more out of their experience while visiting Downtown. Besides, I enjoy meeting new people and 'giving back' to a community that has done so much for me.

It's a pretty easy gig, too. You get to wear a red shirt, a yellow hat and basically you hang out around the Farmers Market and parking decks on the lookout or people who need information about what to do and where to go.

I'm pretty good at spotting the visual clues of tourists in distress. After living and working Downtown for almost 15 years it's easy to forget that the people, traffic and buildings can get a bit overwhelming. I take a lot of pictures for people along the riverwalk. I'd also like to think I am saving marriages when I see the parents within a family of four arguing over which way to the Children's Museum.

Another obvious clue is people with maps looking up at street signs and then back down to their maps. When I came across two young ladies with the massive foldout New Hanover County/ Wilmington City map (tell tale sign of complete out of town tourists) I instinctively offered my assistance.

Downtown Ambassdor (me): "How may I help you?"

Downtown Visitor: "We are looking for Tattersalls Drive"

Note: Tattersalls is a great residential neighborhood about a 15 minute drive from Downtown, it's near the hospital and completely off the tourist loop. To my knowledge no presidents slept there or riots occurred. This request caught me completely off guard.

"Hmmm, OK, well, it's not Downtown, let me see your map and I'll circle the street for you"

Downtown Visitor: "Thank you so much. How long will it take us to walk there?"

"Umm wow, I don't think you would want to walk there, it's probably about a two hour walk. Do you have a car?"

Downtown Visitor: "No. What about 1901 Chestnut Street? How long would it take us to walk there?"

"Well, 19th and Chestnut is certainly closer to Downtown than Tattersalls but it's still about 20 blocks or so. Why don't you tell me what you are trying to do and maybe I can get you pointed in the right direction."

And then it happens. I formally meet Anette and Anita from Norway and I am sucked into an unbelievable story of freedom, adventure, courage and excitement.

They are on an all-American road trip before they go to University later this Summer. They flew into New York City last week and are working their way from New York to San Francisco over the next two weeks, and the crazy part? They came to Wilmington specifically to see where their favorite TV show, One Tree Hill, was filmed. They had two notebook pages full of addresses around Wilmington they hoped to see.

I am totally impressed (and a little jealous.) The idea of being 21 and taking a two week road trip sounds like an incredible adventure. I've found a couple of kindred spirits and I can't wait to help point them in the right direction.

"You've got to be kidding me. How did you get here?"

Anita & Anette: "We bought a 7 day pass from Greyhound. We arrived this morning after traveling overnight from Washington DC."

My jealousy fades a bit and turns to sympathy.

"You came by bus? Overnight? On purpose? To Wilmington? How many days are you here for?"

A&A: "We have to be back at the bus station by 5pm today"

Well, my assignment for the day had been set. If these nutty girls were traveling from one end of America to the other (on a bus) and Wilmington was one of their top stops (in the company of NYC, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Austin and San Francisco) then I was going to make it my personal mission to ensure they had a great time, after all, they are only here for 5 MORE HOURS!

I had another hour of Downtown Ambassador duties so I gave my new charges a few Downtown One Tree Hill sites to check out and I told them that I would meet them at noon and we'd drive to some of the scenes and sets from the show.

They were pumped and I immediately called my wife to warn her that I would be driving around town with two beautiful blonde (Norwegians) in case someone saw me or something.... tough life, I know...

I call Kathy and tell her what I'd just committed to.

Kat: "What? Two girls are going to get in the car with you and you are going to drive them around town to show them One Tree Hill locations? Who gets in the car with a total stranger? How do they know you aren't an axe-murderer or something!?"

"Kat, I'm wearing a red t-shirt, bright yellow ball cap and a WDI nametag. I'm sure I look pretty harmless."

Kat: "Don't you think this is taking the whole 'Downtown-Ambassador-thing' a little too far...? I don't think this is what John Hinnant had in mind!"

One Tree Hill has been filming in Wilmington for seven (going on eight years). Our local film scene is super cool and we all tend to forget the 'awe' that people who aren't used to seeing the backdrops and scenes (let alone the celebrities) feel.

I wrap up my initial two hour commitment just before noon (after giving some last minute directions to Basics Restaurant and then the Copper Penny) and I meet back up with my new friends at the corner of Front and Market.

A&A: "Oh my god, that is Lindsey McKeon from One Tree Hill, right there, getting into that truck! We've been following her for two blocks. She's the best actress on the show!"

Looks like I've got a couple stalkers on my hands. Apparently I should be the one worried about getting in the car with these two...

Sure enough it was one of the characters from the show. I can see how excited Anette and Anita are (and painfully frozen by 'star struck.') I motion to OTH Lindsey noting that she is in the presence of two very excited fans. Our generous star gets out of her truck introduces herself and greets them both with hugs smiles, obviously impressed that they are visiting from Norway.

I quickly learn my role for the day; I will be both driver and photographer. Photo op, Anette, Anita and Lindsey in front of Kilwins on Market Street. Smiles abound.

And so our adventure begins.

Anette and Anita are completely overwhelmed. They cannot believe they are in Wilmington where their favorite show is filmed, they just met one of the actresses AND they have a photo to prove it.

Anita: "My friends are never going to believe this, the people of Wilmington are so lucky to live here."

Anette: "I cannot wait to to put this on my facebook page!"

Let me go ahead and apologize now to all of those OTH fans and to my new Norwegian friends for not knowing the exact details as to "who, what, where" of each location. The names all start to run together and even though I'd like to sound like I know what I am talking about, after hearing Anita and Anette, I apparently haven't a clue as to the many famous locations that I drive by everyday. I had no idea how lucky I was either...

So we jump in the Toyota and I take a look at their list of stops. With the exception of one or two they are all pretty much within a few miles of each other.

First stop: Front and Marstellar. It's a set that has been used for several various scenes, currently a music venue. They recognize the building immediately and are delighted. We park in front of the building and find some other OTH fans there too. While A&A are checking out the building and taking pictures I talk with the other fans. They drove to Wilmington from Bristol VA. They love One Tree Hill too and couldn't believe they were standing at the same spot where so many of their favorite scenes had been filmed. I am now the official photographer for all OTH fans domestic and international taking photos of everybody while they pose in front of the set.

Second stop: Greenfield Lake Park. The site of a major wedding scene on the show (season six). Photo op in front of the Greenfield Park sign.

Third stop: The esteemed 2814 Tattersalls. I know the neighborhood well. We've done several renovations there, recently finishing some work for the Diab family directly across the street. The vibe reminds me of a Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. They cannot believe they are in the presence of Brooke's house, the beautiful white painted brick with the red door. "It's incredible, I would give anything to live in a house like this" Photo op of the girls on the front walk of the Diab's neighbors house...

Fourth stop: Around the corner on Country Club Drive, South Oleander. They didn't have the address but they recognized the house immediately and could not believe their luck. We jump out and walk up the driveway. They see the basketball hoop in the backyard, basketball is a big part of the show (proving I'm not totally out of the loop) and take a few photos. Photo op in the driveway with a stately home in the backdrop.

Fifth stop: 1829 Wrightsville Ave, Carolina Place. I know it well, Kat and I lived at 2006 Wrightsville Ave when we were first married. Great, modest neighborhood. The house is empty so they peek in the windows imagining their favorite actor might actually be inside. Photo op in front of the door with Anette on one side and Anita holding the door knob as if she is getting ready to 'walk right in'...

Sixth stop: 1901 Chestnut. Another great early 20th century brick home in Carolina Heights. This home is also vacant so the girls gawk 'up close' and peek in the windows. Photo op of the girls standing on the front porch holding the rail.

Seventh stop: 19 Covil Avenue. It's an auto body shop. It's a neat find but not as compelling as some of the others. I've got to admit, I've driven by the place about a million times and didn't know it was there. Photo op out the window from the car.

Eighth stop: Screen Gems studio on 23rd Street. "Any tours today?" "Next one is at 2pm" reports the guard, "and it includes a tour of the OTH set."

"This is the best day ever" chimes Anita.

We'll be back at 1:45.

Ninth and tenth stops: The opening scene at the start of each episode show one of the main characters running across the steel bridge at 6th between Brunswick and Campbell with the sun rising in the background. (I know this neighborhood and the bridge well as it is near our offices and the large majority of homes we've built on the Northside). I also know the perfect place for some great photos. Photo op one (shown above) standing on the 5th Street bridge looking toward the famous bridge on 6th. Photo op two standing in the middle of the street beneath the steel bridge supports - arms held high.

Eleventh stop: Battleship Park. Easily the most dramatic images from the show as the scenes often highlight our City from the West side of the River with the Federal Building in the backdrop. Battleship Park includes the "pick-up-game" neighborhood basketball court where many, many scenes have been filmed. There are several other OTH fans there too. Messages written in chalk on the concrete court, "I Love OTH" and "James Lafferty will you marry me?!" - it is at this moment that I am most grateful I have sons. Photo op of basketball hoops and the Wilmington skyline.

It's approaching 1:45 and I am committed to making sure my guests make it to the studio on time for their one hour tour. I drop them at Screen Gems and head home to pick up Kat. I told the girls we would pick them up at 3pm and take them out to a late lunch before getting them back to the Greyhound station.

3pm, right on time. Kat meets the girls and understands my compassion for these sweethearts. We make a stop at Walgreens so they may 'provision' before their next overnight leg to Atlanta . They get a few snacks and some blankets (the bus gets really cold at night...) and we head off to Mellow Mushroom.

Lunch was great. Kat and I enjoyed hearing about their lives and adventures. We applaud them for taking the opportunity to travel, enjoy their young lives and see our incredible world.

Kathy says what I am thinking, telling the girls, "My only real regret from my youth was not traveling more and really seeing the world. You are making incredible memories."

Anette and Anita have been friends since high school. Their homes and families are in Lillehammer, Norway. They were both au pairs (Anita in California, Anette in New Jersey) and talked about how much they loved living in America. How great their host families and the children they cared for were. How many opportunities and exciting things America had to offer and how they hoped for student visas in a few years so they could return.

We boxed up their leftover pizza as this would be a later snack and had just enough time to cap off a great day with a quick stop at Baskin Robbins before working our way back to the the Greyhound station near the PPD building Downtown.

Kat helped the girls organize their stuff. I checked in with the attendant to make sure the bus was on time. Everything seemed to be in order and as much as I dreaded the thought of our new friends taking a 12 hour trip (via Goldsboro, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greenville and finally, Atlanta) I knew this was all part of the adventure.

The girls took pictures of Kat and I while promising to update us during their trip and to 'friend' us on facebook.

"And if you ever come to Norway..."

We provided our well wishes adding our instinctual parental advice (be careful, don't talk to strangers, look out for each other...) With hugs goodbye we left them at the bus station and headed home, satisfied in a job well done and certain that we had provided visitors to Wilmington with a favorable impression of our community and its residents.

It was a great day.

To learn more about the Downtown Ambassador program or to volunteer a couple of hours this Summer, check out I can't guarantee you'll have as much fun as I did but then again, you won't know unless you try.


Deborah Butler said...

Dave, I read with great interest and a smile on my face about your Saturday Ambassador duties. You embody the meaning of Downtown Ambassador and the spirit of "helping". That is some really nice a fellow downtowner, let me says thanks for participating in that program. Way to go Dave!

emilytarheel said...

What a great story! This tops the English girls who came to see the house where Dawson lived on the creek!

Amanda said...

This story made me grin like a fool at my desk. These gals were lucky to find you, and quite frankly, you are awesome for making sure they had a wonderful time.

People like you and your wife are the reason Wilmington is such a lovely place -- aside from the obvious One Tree Hill connection. (Yep. I love it, too.)

Stephanie T. said...

That's so nice of you to do that for them. I'm a Tour Guide at Screen Gems and I recognize them from this past weekend, they were so excited to see all the sets so I can only imagine how it was to spend the whole day with them!

Shannan Bowen said...

Hi Dave,
I came across this post from John Hinnant, and I featured your blog on my StarNews blog about social media and blogging. Thanks!

Robin said...

Wow, what a great story, well told. I can't tell who had more fun, you or the girls. And what a perfect start to the program - you are a REAL ambassador.

Kathy Foster said...

Dave, What great energy you have! How many other WDI ambassadors' good will extends across the ocean? Thanks for making it so fun for A&A and for us! Best to Kathy.

Dr. Sean Reese @ Sea Coast Chiropractic said...

Job well done young man. Certainly no accident they 'found' you. I bet it made the hangover dissipate...just a little. You may have set the bar for the remaining ambassadors.

Mike Lardieri said...

Dave, that’s a great experience for both you and them. I have been that person in another country and met really great people who introduced me to wonderful aspects of their area. Nice work!

Matt said...

Great story Dave. I have some friends coming into town next week, are you free for a three hour tour?

Loulie said...

This is TOO much, Dave. I love it. You need a talk show.


WE CAN'T THANK YOU ENOUGH!!! You made this day the best one ever!!! We were so lucky you stopped and asked us if we needed help finding anything. We're sure you didn't think we needed help finding that much, and we REALLY appreciate you taking the time to help us find it!
We loved reading your blog, we couldn't have retold it any better! Thank you again Dave, and Kathy! The nicest people we've ever met:)) We want to come back and visit you! You helped making our trip awesome:D
If you ever come to Norway.. let us know!


Anita said...

Yay! Had a greeeat time in Wilmington. The coziest city I've ever been to. Thank you so much, Dave, for showing us around. We will never forget this :)

Berit said...

I do hope A&A ONLY meet people like Dave and Kathy to help them out!
Be careful girls,and of course enjoy yourselves on your adventures ;-).
Thanks to Dave and Kathy from Norway!

Lissa Duvall Griffith said...

Wow David, you told that so well and what a wonderful thing you did for those girls! I felt so proud that we went to school together and going above and beyond what other's may have done, boosted my faith in how great and caring our generation is because of people like you! Kudos to your parents for raising such a great citizen!