Back when I was a member of the working world and had an actual income, I would try to visit my sister as often as possible at her home in North Carolina. It was only a two-hour flight from Boston to Charlotte, so it made for a convenient weekend trip. When my niece Sophia was born two years ago, there was added incentive to come down and visit. If it was possible to come down once a month, I would.
It is such a different world down here. The people are friendlier and the pace is slower. Sweet tea and biscuits are the norm. North Carolina, and the South in general, is different than Boston in almost every way, both good and bad. For my sanity I have found it important to get out of Boston every once in a while, to experience this more relaxed, deliberate way of living.
Now that I am back in school it has become more difficult to visit. The only reason I am down here now is because I have a scheduled doctor’s appointment tomorrow. The appointment is part of a clinical outcome study that monitors the progression of my muscle condition. Thankfully one of the testing sites is in Charlotte, and it gives me a convenient excuse to visit the area and combine the trip with seeing family.
Charlotte has quickly become a home away from home. My sister and her now-husband moved down here a few years ago from Washington D.C., right after I graduated from college and around when I started experiencing symptoms. I remember helping them move to their apartment overlooking Lake Norman. I carried heavy boxes up three flights of stairs without much of a problem. It seems like a lifetime ago. It has been a humbling decline, but through it all, my excitement for being down here has never wavered. It is just so relaxing.
Could I live down here full-time? Probably not. My future is too ingrained in the Northeast and I value having everything I need within a short radius. The rest of my family lives in Connecticut and I value being close to them as well. Down here, whether you are in Charlotte proper or in the countryside (especially if you are in the country), you have to drive everywhere. The gas station, the supermarket, the restaurants – they are all spread out. I like to be able to walk outside my apartment and have five different food options, two bars, a CVS and a grocery store all within a couple blocks, and know that there are several more in every direction.
Then again, there are views like this one right outside the door. To the city-dweller, this is something called grass. And those tall things in the distance are trees. The only open space in Boston can be found in parks. Of course, with this open space comes mosquitoes, bees, stray cats, and somewhere in this county, a black bear (according to the news).
I admit the food down here is not the healthiest, but it sure is tasty. The skylines of most towns are dotted with tall signs for every chain restaurant you can think of: McDonald’s and Burger King for sure, but also Zaxby’s, Bob Evans, Hardee’s, Steak ‘n Shake, Cook-Out, and my favorite, Bojangles. You can’t beat their chicken strips, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, along with their sweet tea and biscuits. I’m not a huge sweet tea fan. Every time I drink it I feel like my teeth are about to collectively fall out. Which actually brings up a quick point of caution: if you order tea down here, they give you sweet tea by default. That’s almost as bad as Dunkin’ Donuts putting cream and sugar into a “regular” coffee.
This post isn’t meant to be a comparison of whether North Carolina or Boston is better; instead I like to think of them as perfect complements. North Carolina could not be more different from Boston, and that is quite ok.
Once I am back in the working world, and once this clinical outcome study is over with for good (I have one more year), it will be nice to come down here and visit for the sake of visiting. It will be nice to spend time with my sister’s family without thinking in the back of my mind about an impending appointment, which, although it serves an important purpose in collecting data necessary for future clinical trials, reminds me of how far I’ve declined.
As I get ready to leave now and head into Charlotte, I can’t help but think about how next time I visit, my sister’s home will be a family of four, not of three. In October I will have a new nephew to play with. I will find a way to make it down here, escaping the obligations of my life up north, if only for a weekend.
As his Boston-based uncle, I have to ensure that he grows up a Red Sox fan.