Friday, December 26, 2008

Wagons East

Several months ago, my wife and I decided we would move back to her hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina. Upon hearing the news my mother said she wasn’t that fond of the idea but she supported us and my father asked why we were doing this during such a terrible economic time. My friends said get used to the heat and humidity. Someone else asked, “Don’t they get a lot of hurricanes?”

After spending Thanksgiving with my parents, my wife and I drove away and pointed our wagons east, letting go of California. I’ve never lived outside the Golden State and the thought of not seeing some of these places again made my stomach upset.

We were bound for a place I had visited only a few times. I would be buying a house and living near in-laws and making new friends. I was worried about finding work. My wife’s a nurse and had already been hired. I’m a musician with no college degree and not many skills other than singing and playing harmonica. I had been touring and working steadily and now all of that was going to be wiped away. My whole way of life was about to change.

I’ve been to the South many times and as a Californian I was fascinated and enamored by its culture—the music, the food, the rich green landscape. But really, the first thing I began noticing about Charlotte was that people I’d met here were never actually from Charlotte. It was rare, except for my in-laws, to find someone who was born and raised here. My next-door neighbor is from Wisconsin. The girl at our bank is from Vermont. The guy who installed our cable, from Connecticut. During my first Waffle House experience a few nights ago (they don’t exist in CA) one of the waitresses overheard me talking about where I was from. It turned out we were born in the same hospital in Hanford, CA! It gave me a comforting feeling knowing that I wasn’t the only one trying to adjust to saying “y’all” instead of “you guys.”

My wife and I stopped by the admissions department at Central Piedmont Community College to see about getting me signed up for classes so that I might be able to take that hand drawn diploma off the wall and get a real one. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I haven’t been to school in about 10 years. Besides that, the out-of-state fees are frightening. So, instead, my wife was going to help me dust off my resume. I think it’s in an old trunk in the attic somewhere. The list of occupations and employers only goes about halfway down the page so I’m probably going to have to make something up. I've had no luck on Craig's List and the NASCAR Hall of Fame doesn't open until 2010.

I told my wife that when I do find a job, I would like to ride my bike to work. She said, “Honey no. You can’t do that, it’s dangerous. People don’t ride their bikes to work here.” I told her well, you’re just not used to riding a bike. So I tried to ride a bicycle down to the YMCA one day and had to pedal the entire way on the sidewalk or else be clipped by the side mirror of an SUV. Instead, I’ve been using my wife’s grandmother’s Chevy to get around trying to figure out if I’m on Queens Road or Queens Road West. Or is it Kings? Wait, I was just on Providence, but now it’s 3rd. Tyvola, Fairview, Sardis. Billy Graham, Woodlawn, Runnymede.

Now let me be clear, these are merely observations. These are not criticisms. I love the little brick house we moved into. I’m excited knowing that I can someday own a leaf blower. I love that eventually things will turn deep green again. I’m amazed by lighting bugs (also not in CA). I love that I can get sweet tea anytime, anywhere. People are nothing but friendly. I love seeing my wife happy about being near her family again; spending time with her siblings. Getting to take her nephews to see the singing mechanical bears at Founders Hall.

Several months back I spoke to a telephone operator who worked for our moving company. And after all the details were settled she said, “Oh, y’all are gonna love Charlotte. It’s cozy.”

That’s good enough for me.