The Meeting of Two Great Civilizations: A New Jerseyan in North Carolina
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Anyone remember the initial shock of relocation? When you first arrived to your new town, what were the first things that came to mind? I remember what mine were.
My God, what did I just do?
There’s a huge race track where my baseball stadium used to be!
Who names their grocery store Food Lion? And what’s a Harris Teeter, anyway?
I’ll never get used to this.
I can still remember the first time I got off of I-85 and onto Highway 29 heading to my new place in Concord. I caught myself looking at the most mundane buildings . . . a Taco Bell, a McDonalds, a BP gas station, and thinking, “Wow, okay, they have these here too,” as though I were traveling through a foreign country. I was probably expecting those places to not be here just because it wasn’t New Jersey. Even though I was settling into one of the more northernized areas of the south, it was almost like setting down on another planet. Move over, Neil Armstrong. I’m taking that giant leap for mankind, even if it’s my foot out of the car door.
That’s one small step for man, one . . . giant leap from the Garden State.
I carried my camera everywhere those first several weeks, intentionally getting lost and taking pictures of everything. It didn’t matter if it was the outside of a shopping mall, a highway, or a grocery store parking lot. I sent them back to family and friends, partially as a way to keep everyone updated, partially as a way to justify the move to others, as well as to myself. “See how beautiful it is here? I did make the right decision.” I still look through those pictures from time to time, thinking that I was probably also taking them with the mindset that I was just passing through.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven by those same spots since then, oftentimes with another New Jersey license plate right in front of me.
Like most things in life, you eventually get used to your new surroundings, generally while you’re not even aware it’s happening. Stunning for a fiercely proud New Jerseyan such as myself, someone who swore he could never, nor would he ever, leave the state, I did get used to it. No light went on or some moment of truth, it was just the slow realization that I had stopped fighting the inner battle (and if you know a New Jerseyan, we know how to fight). Instead of becoming something to just look at, the race track became a place for a lot of good times and races. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen in Charlotte, the Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic about ten minutes from home. I’ve seen minor pro hockey games for as little as $2.50 a ticket. While it’s no substitute for sitting in the 300 level at Madison Square Garden for a New York Rangers/New Jersey Devils game, it’s always been a really good time. I’ve gone to every Lowe’s Motor Speedway tree lighting , and driven through McAdenville for their town wide display at least once each year. I do my weekly shopping at a Food Lion and get the best potato salad ever at Harris Teeter.
That’s always been one of the keys to relocation: never compare to what you had, but embrace what you have.
I’ve still gotten razzed by Devils and Flyers fans living here, and dished it back out, too. Just goes to show that some things manage to follow you everywhere.
The most lasting memory will always be sitting at a red light, my car packed so high that using my rear view mirror was a fantasy, and staring at the race track and the Charlotte skyline in the distance.
Is that the . . . I think that might be the race track . . . and I see a skyline in the distance that looks an awful lot like the pictures . . .
In a mad scramble to get the shot before the light turned green, I took my first picture of my new town (note to self: always keep that camera out of the case and within reach). Technically it might be the worst shot I’ve ever taken, emotionally it still means a lot to me. Through that picture I still see someone who challenged himself to start a new life, start over, and move forward with the hope of something better than what he had.
For every time I ever thought, “My God, what did I just do,” it’s also meant one less regret I’ll ever have.
I’ll take that any day.