A Carolina Chronicle

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One of the two Associate’s Degrees I earned was a Liberal Arts Major with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences. We’re talking Sociology, Geography, History, and the like. Stuff that really intrigues me. So I found myself quite amused when I took a recent trip to North Carolina to visit some friends for a week. This blog is a compilation of the great time I had, and some of the interesting things I observed and noted about my travels and stay on the east coast.

Airports. You got to love ’em. I think this was the most nerve-wracking part of planning my trip as I was traveling alone, and it had been six years since I had last flown. How much time do I give myself to get through the horrible experience of security? Will they confiscate anything? Will my flight be delayed? What if I am in the wrong terminal and don’t realize it until it is too late? How am I supposed to navigate through an airport I had never been to before? Despite these insecurities, I reminded myself that I am a “big girl” now, and could surely travel on my own without too much concern. So I searched for the cheapest tickets at the right times without obscure layovers, mapped out each airport I would be walking through, and left tracking information for my mom and friends should the worst happen and I couldn’t be reached 😉 I must say, the worst thing that happened to me at the airport never happened! When I was leaving the airport in Charlotte, apparently the President was about to as well, but I was able to get up in my plane before they shut down the whole airport for his arrival *whew*! Other than this major catastrophe I was able to avoid, the second and only other awful thing that happened to me was that my water bottle was confiscated at security. I almost made it through! Thankfully I wasn’t detained, and just bought a $5 bottle of water once I was on the other side. I also must say that as far as how navigating each airport went, I am pretty sure I owe my ability to travel with ease to my four years practicing navigating HUGE college campuses when I competed in speech and debate tournaments in high school. I learned pretty quickly how to memorize and/or navigate around the WHOLE campus, because of course one of my events would be all the way at the other end of campus, and I would only have a few minutes to get there, still be presentable, and on top of it all give an enamoring speech that wowed all my judges. So navigating through an airport was actually child’s play compared to what I’ve been through 😉 One final observation I discovered as a Sociology major about the airports I traveled in were their uniquely different demographics/cultures. For instance, Ontario smelled heavily of fresh ground coffee. I thought at first it was just a morning rush kind of thing, but it still smelled of coffee when I came back a week later in the evening. Let’s just say that most residents in SoCal cannot survive more than a couple of hours without their cup of joe. When I landed in Dallas and stepped foot in the airport, I just about fell back. There wasn’t just a slight whiff of a certain smell I inhaled, it was practically a brick wall. What was this smell you say? None other than Texas barbecue. It was everywhere! And boy did it smell good! When I landed in Charlotte, the first smell I encountered was good homemade southern cooking! I was officially in the south! The other striking demographic difference I experienced was in the different nationalities of people coming and going. Granted, I was in an airport with millions of people from all over the world traveling here and there, but there was a noticeable increase in people of both African and Indian decent. I came to find our later that Charlotte is home to many African Americans as well as an exponential growth in Indians moving to this part of North Carolina.

The friends I stayed with had just recently moved to North Carolina from California, so I felt right at home, and they were gracious to inform me beforehand the many cultural and demographical differences they had experienced since moving there. The biggest change for me, which I think would take me a long while to get used to was the layout of the greater Charlotte area verses life in the Inland Empire. Here in SoCal, everything is a grid set up by blocks of square or rectangular shapes, with such prominent landmarks you are almost always conscious of which direction you are facing. We’re so infatuated with our little grid system we even like to name (or number) our streets in a chronological fashion. This means that if I live on 1st street, and you live on 22nd street, I can likely gather that I live south of you in perhaps not the best areas of town, and that you live in the higher end section near the foothills north of where I live. It’s very confusing though, especially when you cross into different cities that have freed themselves of this awful practice, and frankly it’s quite boring and unoriginal. So, transplant a California born girl, in the heart of Charlotte, and I realize I am no longer in a grid system. No, in Charlotte you experience life in the inner and outer circles of the towns. No more grids, no more major landmarks, just the infinitely endless possibility of driving in circles (literally) around town trying to figure out where in the world you actually are! Speaking of transportation here are a few more little facts I picked up that are different from life in Southern California. First, if you thought the “crazy driver” award went to the state of California, you have been duped. I heard from my friends, and experienced first hand that you do not mess around with Carolinian drivers. And they have no idea what they’re doing. An accident on a freeway in Charlotte is as common a site as it is here (if not more so) in California. Second, everyone (and by everyone I literally mean everyone) drives one of three vehicles: a Honda Odyssey, a Toyota Sienna, or a Ford Escape. I never found out if it is a state law that requires every driver to own one of (or all) of these vehicles, but I am serious, literally everyone drives one! I would fit right in if I had to move to Charlotte because I drive an Escape, so that’s one less thing I have to worry about 😉 And finally, the last observation was that vehicles are not required to have a front license plate. It was kind of weird, because here in California it is required. Not sure what the pros and cons are, but there you have it!

So we’ve touched on transportation quite a bit, and I bet by the time you have made it to this point in the blog (assuming you’re still reading) you’re aching to know what city life is like. Well, in typical southern fashion, I have saved the best for last, and drawn out all other aspects forcing you to wait to indulge your curiosity on this topic till the end. I think my first observation would be how quiet it is there. Remember, I live in the greater LA area otherwise known as the concrete jungle that never sleeps. In Charlotte, people actually eat dinner with their families, and go to sleep in the bedrooms of their own homes. There is no such thing as going to the grocery store for a midnight snack. Everyone is at home sleeping. How exactly do I define quiet? Well, how’s this for starters: even the birds go to sleep at night. Yep. They sing beautifully sweet melodies throughout the day, singing to their Creator, but as soon as the sun goes down you begin to wonder if they all were struck with some kind of mass virus that killed them all because they all stop singing, and they stay quiet until the next morning. There are also no planes, no helicopters, and no cars driving down the street once the sun goes down. I’m not kidding you, everything goes to sleep at night there! This beautifully quiet stillness was almost magical. It provided a very relaxing and peaceful environment that felt like you were miles away from civilization when in reality it was all still just down the street. During daylight hours though, people do go to work and school, and shops are open for business, but still, the population difference is staggering between the two states. There were no long lines, no jampacked freeways, and parking spots are easy to come by. If you’re a Starbucks fan, you might not want to move to Charlotte. I am afraid our on-every-street-corner addiction is not as easy to come by. Instead they have been replaced (literally on every corner) with a Chick-fil-A and a McDonald’s. If you’re a fan of either restaurant chain, you will never go hungry. And if you’re hoping to listen to your favorite pop artists play from the speakers of your favorite restaurants or stores, you will be sorely disappointed. The norm is the local Christian music station, and it plays in a majority of public places you visit. We are talking about life in the good old Bible Belt for crying out loud! I was a bit shocked though, because here in tolerant Southern California, it is discriminatory to play Christian music over the speakers and could offend someone, so you just never hear it in public places. Oh, I almost forgot! Did you notice the picture of the dangling lights at the top of my blog? Those are actually stop lights folks. I am pretty sure I bust out in laughter when I first saw them. I live in wind city, where gust in upwards of 50-60mph are a norm and a part of our often daily lives. Our street lights are bunkered down like they have prepared for a zombie apocalypse, but in the south, they just dangle from cute little strands of wire. The mental picture of seeing those things blow away in the wind here in SoCal was quite amusing, and if I had any artistic talent, you just might see a picture inserted here of what that would look like! The other big difference exploring city life out in Charlotte again was noticed at night. They don’t have street lights guiding you along the way on every street. In fact, most don’t have them at all, so once the sun goes down you better hope your headlights work, otherwise you can’t see a thing in front or behind you. It is quite eery actually. On one of the days, we went exploring at the McDowell Nature Preserve and walked a couple of their hikes. Here’s a picture:

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Remind you of anything? If you’re a Hunger Games fan it should. Throughout the hike, and just walking around in the backyard and in town, I often felt like I had just been dropped into the Hunger Games arena and needed to be on the lookout for incoming fire bombs that would send me to my death. Turns out Hunger Games was filmed in the Charlotte area in several locations, and now I know why. It’s not really a scary observation of impending death, but in the few moments you see Katniss peacefully hunting in the woods, or making her way alone through the arena, you get a sense of a quiet rest in the surroundings, and that is really what life is like in Charlotte.

Heading back home to California ended up being more difficult than I imagined. Yes I was rested. Yes I was eager to get back to my life here in SoCal, but I think I left a bit of my heart in Charlotte – with my friends, and with the city. I wouldn’t call myself an ardent traveler, but I have seen parts of our great country, and I have never really felt struck to the core with a sense of peace and accomplishment in finding what I would define as “home”. All that changed with my visit to Charlotte. As funny as the dangling traffic lights are to me, I think they appropriately sum up my feelings of my visit to North Carolina. They are a reminder of a peaceful and quiet place to live. Where the American Dream is I think a little bit closer to being a reality, far from the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolitan lifestyle. Where a family can grow, explore, and build close bonds with one anther and the neighbors and co-workers they interact with on a daily basis. Where “In God We Trust” is still the norm and the expected lifestyle of its residents.

North Carolina’s state motto is a Latin phrase translated, “To be, rather than to seem.” I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to travel there this spring. I really had no idea though what I was going to experience. I don’t think any number of descriptions could do the state justice. To experience North Carolina you have to be there to see it. I highly recommend it, and I am sure this trip will not be my last.

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