Aug 20, 2013

Out of the Box: Epilogue

When I was seventeen years old, I had just finished up my junior year in high school and was getting ready for my awesome senior year.  Naturally, to celebrate this momentous occasion, I went with three other students and our faculty sponsor to a Yearbook Workshop in Columbia, SC.  I had been named Copy Editor of our school's yearbook at the end of junior year. The three biggest positions on yearbook were Editor, Photo Editor, and Copy Editor.  The Photo Editor was Matt Brice, who was my best friend.  The Editor was Kerri Sutton, who I had been good friends with since seventh grade.  So the three of us, another photographer, and Mrs. Paula Marie Stevens hopped on a train to get a jump start on the yearbook creation.  It was a fun trip.  I had not traveled much growing up, so seeing a new place was cool.  Riding a train was interesting.  And I discovered on the trip that Matt Brice could not be awoken by anything but an alarm clock - not yelling, tapping, punching, kicking, shoving.

I don't remember many details of that trip.  I know that may be shocking to those of you who know me.  I have a bizarre ability to remember extremely minute details of events over thirty years ago.  And my wife swears I know the first and last name of every person I ever worked with or went to school with.  [Hence the Paula Marie Stevens listing earlier.  She used to sign notes when she was angry with "PMS."  I found that hilarious.]  In my defense, most of the trip was working on yearbook layouts, determining headline fonts, generating story ideas, and creating the theme and cover.  So it was pretty monotonous.  I remember two things very clearly.  One, we ate dinner one night at California Dreaming restaurant.  Two, I thought Columbia was an unbelievably ugly city.  My assessment came from walking across the street from our hotel to the workshop location (I think the Carolina Coliseum).  I looked around mostly saw industrial areas that looked half-abandoned.  So I always thought Columbia was ugly.  I told people this most of my life.  "You want to know the ugliest state capitol in America? Columbia, South Carolina."  Like I had visited all the state capitols and come to this decision after intense scrutiny.

We have now lived in Columbia for over two months.  We have driven all over the place.  And here is my assessment of 17 year old David - he was a moron.  I have not even found the place that brought me to that opinion.  I have driven through downtown, around the campus, and in a loop of the city.  Unless I was seeing the southeastern quadrant of the city towards the football stadium, I have no clue what I based that opinion on in the first place.  In my head, Columbia looked like a smaller version of Pittsburg or Birmingham or something.  Far from it.

I love Columbia.  From my first trip up here to look around for housing, I liked the city.  I took to the city faster than anyone else, which is strange.  I can find my way around pretty well, except on Two Notch Road.  And I am very comfortable here.  We have lived all over Florida - from the tropical mini-Cuba of South Florida to the concrete jungle of Tampa to the South Georgia lands of Tallahassee to the touristy urban Orlando to the beachy, country, sprawling Jacksonville.  Columbia has a lot of elements of those cities that we like.  But it is blended in a way that suits me well.  I know that I wrote quite a bit leading up to our move, but have not given many updates afterwards.  I just wanted to throw out some quick observations that may explain why I like it here so much.

1. The People Are Nice
Floridians are not nice.  Americans in general are not nice.  I remember flying back from Australia in 2000, landing in Los Angeles, and being greeted within five minutes with the reminder of why so many people hate Americans.  The people here are still nice, for the most part.  Sure, they have rude drivers.  And the lady that works at Taco Bell seems to be borderline sociopathic.  But overall the people are nice.  They are polite.  They are helpful.  I like that.  Call me strange, but I prefer to talk to nice people.

2. The Traffic Is Minimal
With the exception of a couple roads for a couple hours a day, the traffic here is extremely mild.  People up here complain about the traffic.  They apologize for it when you first get here.  We laugh at them.  We explain they have no clue how bad traffic is until they have been in a parking lot on I-95 or I-4 or I-275.  The traffic in Orlando on regular roads is worse than rush hour traffic on the interstate here.  I am amazed at how light the traffic is.

3. The City is Small
I came to the realization that cities in Florida are enormous.  They cover a tremendous amount of real estate.  One time, I was teaching a class for Kaplan.  They pay you at different rates depending how far you have to drive.  I actually got the long-distance mileage rate for the class and never left Orlando.  The really crazy thing was I could get the second tier of long-distance mileage pay and still be in Orlando.  The same is true of every Florida city I've lived in.  Even Tallahassee, which is hardly a metropolis compared to Orlando, Miami, Tampa, or Jacksonville, takes forever to drive across.  Here, unless there is some bizarre traffic apocalypse, you can get from one end of the city to the other in 25 minutes.  I couldn't get to the doctor in 25 minutes in Orlando.  Heather sometimes took an hour to get to work in the morning - just going downtown.  Now, it takes her 10-15 minutes.  We actually both just went two weeks without filling our gas tanks.

4. The Architecture is Gorgeous
It helps to have amazing architecture when your state has been around for so long.  So much of Florida was developed in the last half of the 20th century.  So much of it looks the same.  Here, there are old stone churches, colonial style government buildings, European looking buildings.  Just a drive across town usually causes someone in our car to say, "Ooo, look at that building."  It is neat to go into a business that isn't in a 1980s era strip mall or stay in a hotel that has unique character.  As a history ed major, I appreciate that there is actually, you know, history here.  Very cool.

5. Golf is Bigger Than Anything But Football
I'm not necessarily happy about this, since I don't play golf and don't really watch golf.  I've been shocked to see the amount of coverage given to golf here.  The fact that Dustin Johnson got engaged to Paulina Gretzky made the front page in the local paper.  The fact that some woman was possibly going to win the grand slam of majors got more coverage than the NBA finals or the MLB drug fiasco.  To get some blowhard ranting about the major sports, I have to go read The Orlando Sentinel.  Unless that blowhard is talking about South Carolina football.

6. So Many Grocery Store Options
We have several Publix stores here, which is great.  We love Publix and that is our main store.  But it's nice to have options.  We have Bi-Lo, Piggly Wiggly, Kroger, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and Trader Joe's - plus Walmart and Target.  We have a lot of options.

Just so you think I'm completely enraptured by Columbia, there are some negatives.

1. Bugs
I thought I knew bugs.  I lived in Florida, home of the gigantic flying cockroach and mutant mosquitos.  I was wrong.  We have so many bugs up here.  They are determined to get into my house and terrify my children.  The mosquitos here are like ninjas.  They may not be big enough to carry off our dog, but they bite all of us and we don't see them.  We have like ten kinds of bees, several wasp types, and flies.  And then there are the spiders.  Good grief.  Spiders everywhere.  I hate spiders.  But the one that is probably the grossest is the house centipede.  Seriously.  Go look it up.  I'll wait. ....  Did you vomit?  Imagine waking up to one of those crawling across your ceiling.  I did this morning.  Still phantom itching from it.

2. Car Property Tax
So, let me get this straight.  I have to pay every year a property tax on a car I outright own and park on my own property?  And not like fifty bucks either, but $700 combined?  Each year?  To pay for road maintenance?  You've seen the roads, right?  Which roads are you maintaining, exactly?

3. Nuisance Flooding
Have you ever heard of nuisance flooding?  I would think you could just call that "flooding."  Here, nuisance flooding is when the streets flood or canals overflow or a parking lot is underwater.  You know, not "real" flooding.  Apparently we moved here in the wettest summer in over fifty years.  One of Natalie's teachers apologized about the rain.  She said, "Normally it is over 100 every day and broiling hot and dry."  Well, shoot.  Put that on the tourism book!  I'm not complaining about the rain.  I like rain.  I just think it is bad when you have two different kind of flooding.

4. Mustard Based BBQ
I love BBQ.  Anyone who has read my blog or Facebook knows this.  But I have discovered a kind that was universally rejected by our entire household.  Mustard based BBQ is disgusting.  I don't even get the point of it?  Good BBQ should stand on its own without sauce.  If you add sauce, it should enhance the flavor.  So why take perfectly good BBQ and cover it with a mucus-colored sticky mustard sauce?  The worst is that there is a chain here called Maurice's.  They are everywhere.  And that is all they sell.  You can't get it plain.  It has to be covered with mustard.  Nasty.  Which just makes us miss 4 Rivers even more.

5. No Malls
We used to complain about how bad the Oviedo Mall was.  That would be the second best mall in Columbia.  That's how bad it is.  The two malls near us are atrocious.  One has literally five stores in it.  One of them is a Belk clearance center..  It's sad, too, because they have a movie theater and a beautiful Barnes and Nobles there.  But everything else closed.  The other mall has a bunch of weird stores and a pathetic Sears. We have to drive over to Irmo to find a "real mall."  Irmo is the one place in town with consistently heavy traffic.  Probably because they have a mall.  The only place close to us is an outdoors mall, like Waterford in Orlando or St Johns Town Center in Jax.  We've been told that if you actually want to shop, like for Christmas, you'd be better driving to Charleston.  This is more saddening than it should be.  But we do have five Lowe's and I've been to all of them.

That's a quick look at our life in Columbia.  It's nice.  We're looking forward to experiencing Fall and seeing the downtown and historic areas during the Winter.  And we have not yet had to deal with home SEC football games.  We've heard that the city is insane on those weekends.  So far, we are loving it.  Which leads us to the moral of the story: seventeen year olds are not to be trusted.

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