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This is the kind of post I write after reading David Sedaris
Thursday, 2008 March 6 - 11:43 pm
You know, it's been so long since I've posted anything meaningful, I feel like I owe you something. So here's a little story for you. It's the story of when I moved to North Carolina.

It was February of 1991. Michigan was just halfway through its six-month-long winter, when the only visible difference from one day to the next was whether the sky was light-grey or dark-grey. Snow was everywhere. Trees were bare. Squirrels were starving. Perhaps you can understand why I was drawn to the green forests and blue skies of North Carolina.

I had been accepted for a job at a company called Bell Northern Research (BNR), the R&D subsidiary of a company that was then called Northern Telecom. At the time, hardly anyone outside of Canada had heard of it; it would later become well known as a tech-bubble casualty under the name Nortel Networks.

On the Thursday before the week I was slated to start work, I put most of my belongings into a moving company truck. I had a few essentials to bring with me: a few days' worth of clothes, my computer, all the cassette tapes I owned, an inflatable mattress, a blanket, a pillow, a six-pack of Coke, a package of Nutter Butters, $20 in cash, and a check for $3000 from closing my bank account. I put all this in my Honda Accord and set off to drive to Raleigh.

I didn't leave Ann Arbor until nearly 4:00 in the afternoon, as the moving truck had come late and delayed my departure. It takes approximately 11 hours and 15 minutes to drive the 700 miles from Ann Arbor to Raleigh. But I ran into a 20-hour rift in the space-time continuum as I drove through southern Ohio, a flat wasteland of farmland and Roy Rogers restaurants.

As I drove on into the night, drinking Cokes and munching on Nutter Butters, I grew more and more excited about the idea of arriving in Raleigh and sleeping in my very own place. I made it all the way to Greensboro before almost hitting a construction barrel on Interstate 40. Although I was only an hour from my destination, the need to sleep had finally caught up with me. I found a cheap motel to spend the night. It was the kind of place where you have to ring a bell to wake up the motel owner so you can check in. He didn't seem very pleased about being woken. But he let me stay.

By the way, the construction on I-40 in Greensboro is still not finished.

I woke up at about 10:00 the next morning. An hour later, I was exiting I-40 and arriving in my new home town. The weather was warm; it was well into the 60s that day, and I had the windows rolled down and the moon-roof open. The cassette player was blaring the soundtrack to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I remember thinking: is Rocky Horror a little too wild for the genteel folks of North Carolina? I turned the music down... and rolled up my windows.

I got to my apartment, got my key from the landlord, and stepped into my new apartment. It's really quite a feeling, moving into your own place for the first time. My living room. My kitchen. My toilet. I rolled around on all the carpets, and walked through all the rooms naked, just because I could.

I went to the bank and opened a new account with my $3000 check. After leaving the bank, I realized something: I couldn't touch my new bank account until Monday, and all I had with me was $20 in cash. I had a credit card, but back in those days, most grocery stores and fast food restaurants didn't take credit cards. It's hard to imagine such primitive times, I know... but such was the sad state of America in the early 1990s.

I went to a nearby pizza joint and ordered the largest pizza that $20 would buy. I had no plates or pans, but my apartment did have an oven and a refrigerator, and the oven came with a broiler pan. My plan was to eat a couple of slices of pizza each day, reheating them on the broiler pan in the oven. As God as my witness, I wasn't going to go hungry that weekend.

I spent the weekend mostly driving around and taking in my surroundings. The place seemed foreign. I can't remember exactly where this was, but I swear there was a road called Church Street that had three churches in a row on it... and two of them were Baptist churches.

I knew exactly one person in Raleigh, a girl from college. I can't even remember her name now; we weren't close, and my one attempt to call her ended with a wrong number. I had another college friend who lived in Charlotte, and a high school friend in Wake Forest. But for all practical purposes, I was completely alone.

I started work on Monday. Two other people started working at BNR the same day, a guy named Nguyen and a girl named Julie. Nguyen and I got to be friends; we would hang out and watch movies and play a little basketball sometimes. Maybe he felt as out-of-place as I did... or maybe even more so: at least I had a name people could pronounce. ("It's WIN, like W-I-N, WIN," he would tell people with exasperation.)

Once, playing basketball at my apartment complex, we picked up a game with a few twelve-year-olds who also lived there. They asked me if I was Mexican. I told them, "No, niños, I'm Japanese."

When their mother invited us over for some iced tea after the game, she asked if I was related to Michael Chang. I shook my head no. "No? Well, I sure would like to be related to him. He's very talented, you know."

As I eventually found out, North Carolina isn't filled with backwater yokels. I just made a mistake by moving into an apartment complex in a sleepy suburb full of middle-aged couples, instead of living downtown near the students and the hipsters. Raleigh these days is a progressive and culture-rich city. So for all the native North Carolinians who met me soon after I moved here, I apologize if I seemed like a snobbish Yankee. It's just that, well, y'all scared me a little with the first impression.

I've been here 17 years now; that's nearly half my life. And while I still can't say I feel like a native, I can say this...

I feel like this is home.
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Posted by Ken in: life

Comments

Comment #1 from Brett (Guest)
2008 Mar 10 - 9:56 pm : #
Your story has quite a few similarities to mine moving down here.

Left January 10th from about 3' feet of snow, got down here the next day to 75 and sunny.

As I pull into my new driveway with my top down I blared Shanai Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much," just for good measure.

It got a little colder, as it wasn't 75 and sunny EVERY day in January, but I'd found a new home, and that will keep me warm in the middle of the night.... eh-owwwww.
Comment #2 from Anna (Guest)
2008 Mar 26 - 4:22 pm : #
I am just glad you stayed long enough to became friends with another guy at Nortel, who happened to be my roomate - and soon later you would convince me to stay around these here parts.

One day we must relive the story of "me gusta la fruta"! and then quickly forget it when it comes to the part of who we were with!

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