We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I didn’t really have a home town. There were two years in Indianapolis, four in Virginia, two in Maryland, back to Indiana for two more years, until we landed in Louisville, Kentucky where we stayed for eight years. (Thank, God.) The summer before I left for Lexington to attend college at the University of Kentucky, my parents sat us down and told us Dad had gotten a new job in Indianapolis. I told them that was great, be sure to send me their forwarding address, see ya’! After two years at UK, I transferred to IUPUI in Indianapolis, and I ended up living in Indy for ten more years.
When people asked me where I was from, I didn’t have a good answer. For a stretch of time I’d go with Louisville because that’s where I’d lived the longest. But by the mid-aughts I’d lived in Indianapolis longer, if non-consecutively. However, I didn’t have any childhood friends in Indianapolis. They lived in Louisville or had been left scattered around the country, never to be heard from again.
All that moving around made me wonder why I was living in Indianapolis anyway. Our game of musical chairs could have just as easily ended in Virginia or Maryland or in Iowa if Dad had gotten that other job that didn’t come through. Should I just stay there because that’s where we were when Dad decided he was going to keep on moving without us? When I visited my older brother and his wife in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, I really like the atmosphere. It was sunny and there were lots of trees and not much snow (if any) in the winter and they had a Trader Joe’s and bike lanes and trails and a co-op market and charming Southern homes and I was like, I think I want to live here. So that’s what I did.
Six years out I’m glad I made the move, but I was ready to move back to Indianapolis, as a conscious choice this time and not just because that’s where I ended up. Here’s a breakdown of all the things I’ve liked and disliked about the move.
Yes, Jennette really can make new friends
I have always been a bit of a loner. Making friends is not easy for me. Part of my motivation for moving to a new city was to throw myself into a situation where I would be forced to form new relationships, just to see if I could do it. The first few years weren’t so great. Not many people came to my book reading when Chocolate and Vicodin came out eight months after my move because I didn’t know anyone yet. The two things that finally worked for me were 1) going to meetups and 2) joining a coworking space.
I went to meetups for WordPress users, female tech users, and web designers. At a Wordcamp event I met Niki, who introduced me to several people in her book club, and suddenly I had several friends, which was really nice, though they all lived 40-minutes away in Raleigh. It’s strange to think that if I hadn’t gotten my ass out of bed and gone to that Wordcamp I would have missed out on so many fun times with these people. It makes me wonder what things I have missed out on because I decided to stay at home on the couch instead of going out. It made me realize it’s important to make myself go to meetups even if I try to talk myself out of if half the time. Most of the time you won’t make a new friend, but maybe 5% of the time you do, and that can lead to other good things, so you have to keep at it.
I also joined a local coworking space which is a place where freelancers and people who work remotely can rent desks, offices, or space at a common table for a monthly fee. I met a lot of people there and made some meaningful connections, which is sort of the point of coworking. That, and happy hour.
I made enough friends in Chapel Hill that they threw me a going-away party, which was really nice if also sad. I will miss all the friends I made in that area, but I know now that I am capable of making new friends, even though it takes a lot of time and a bit of luck.
I joined Perch Studios in Carrboro three years ago and it was probably the best decision I made while I lived in North Carolina. I was literally their first member, and I watched the place change from one room in an old building with a leaky roof and no AC to a large, modern space in a different location. I enjoyed having a regular place to do work that got me out of the house, away from my cat, and around other people. I’d been using coffee shops for that purpose before, but they kind of frown on you bringing your own lunch. It can be lonely working for yourself, so I liked having a social place to talk to other people who worked remotely. The coworking space sometimes hosted seminars on relevant topics. They had new art on the walls each month as part of a second Friday art walk. There was free coffee! I’ve been in Indy for over a month now and haven’t found anything nearby that fills the hole in my life left by Perch 🙁
The winters are really great
I hate all the snow and ice Indianapolis gets in the winter. Every time I would fly home from Chapel Hill for Thanksgiving or Christmas I would descend into a cloudy, grey day and be reminded of why I left in the first place. When I visited LA in November before my move, I was shocked by how warm and sunny it was during a month I usually associated with the need for a SAD light. That pretty much sealed the deal for me. Yes, July and August get ridiculously hot in North Carolina, but the winters are mild. The people there are so unaccustomed to snow that two inches of it shuts down schools and causes people to abandon their cars on the side of the road. (In their defense, you can’t get up the hills when they’re covered in ice.) Of course, southerner’s inept handling of snow also led to this highly amusing photo from Snowpocalypse 2014:
One thing I’d forgotten about Indy is that all the ice in the winter causes pot holes and rocky roads. Now that I’ve moved back to Indiana, I have to travel one stretch near my apartment that’s so bad it feels like I’m driving on gravel. Whenever my mom would visit me in North Carolina she’d rave about how nice the roads were there, and I’m finally beginning to realize what she was talking about.
Chapel Hill is prettier than Indianapolis
Sorry, Indy, but Chapel Hill wins the beauty contest, hands down. Driving around Chapel Hill was always pretty and pleasant, whereas in Indy I sometimes drive through commercial areas with lots of powerlines and old buildings that are just ugly. In Chapel Hill there are lots of trees and flowers and creeks and trails and bike paths and the place is just downright idyllic. There is one gorgeous stretch of Franklin Street where trees form a canopy over the street and flowers bloom on the lawns of old Southern style homes. And this was just on my way to grocery store! Living someplace that beautiful improved my mood. Even the state highways in town have green spaces down the middle of the road. Indianapolis has a lot of beautiful areas too, but it’s also got spots of urban decay and commercial or industrial zones that are uglier than anything you’ll see in Chapel Hill.
Town vs. City
Now that I’ve been back in Indianapolis for about a month, I’ve realized that Chapel Hill was a town whereas Indianapolis is a city. There’s more traffic congestion in Indy and the roads tend to have more lanes. Sometimes you have to take an interstate to get from one side of Indianapolis to another and that can still take 45-60 minutes. In Chapel Hill, you could drive across town in about 20 minutes without using any interstates.
There also aren’t any places in Chapel Hill that I’d be scared to walk through alone. But when I was driving across Indianapolis to my mom’s place recently and my car started to vibrate violently at stop lights, there were several spots where I thought, “Oh dear God, don’t break down in this part of town, please.” (Turns out my oil was low.)
I liked the size of Chapel Hill, which has about 60,000 residents according to Wikipedia. However, I had one friend who’d moved there for a job and she felt like it was a backwater, hillbilly town. She was much happier when she moved away to Boston, whereas if I’d had to move to Boston from Chapel Hill I would have been absolutely miserable. All of which is to say that different people value different qualities in the places they live, and I loved a lot of things about living in a smaller town that was adjacent to a larger town. I felt much more engaged in the community there, and liked living somewhere beautiful where people walked and biked to get around instead of always hopping in a car. But Durham was only 20 minutes away if I needed to visit a big box store or a “real” mall. That said, it is really nice that I now live 10 minutes away from not one, but two Target stores.
Missing my family
I have extended family in several states, but none of them live in North Carolina. After my brother and sister-in-law moved from Durham to Chicago for a job four years ago, it was just me and my cat. I didn’t realize how nice it is to have family nearby until I didn’t. Even in college I was at most three hours driving distance from home. I found myself wondering about hypothetical situations. First, benign ones like, “How would I get around town if my car broke down?” Then scarier ones like, “If I were in a terrible car wreck, who would take care of me? Also, why are cars at the center of my hypothetical horror scenarios?” Then something actually happened, specifically I threw my back out and could not get off the couch. (No cars were involved.) While I laid there wondering how long it would be before I really had to pee, I started running through the names of people who could save me if necessary. Thankfully, I was able to get up on my own, but it does make you ponder the future in ways you might not have before and appreciate the importance of a support system of people.
I also just missed hanging out with my family. Since I moved back I’ve been able to visit with them more often and it’s been nice. There’s no way I would have been able to watch the second presidential debate if we hadn’t been watching it together. And if I’m being totally honest, it did occur to me that if Donald Trump somehow manages to get elected, I want to be close to my family when that happens. Or even if he doesn’t get elected, because I think bad things could happen either way, and I don’t want to be 600 miles away from my family if there are riots and civil unrest. And yes, it’s scary that I say that in all seriousness and not as a joke.
Crazy conservative legislature
When I moved to North Carolina in 2010, the state seemed to be a fairly good mix of liberal and conservative viewpoints. The south is typically a conservative area of the country, but there was a Democratic governor, one Democratic senator, and the state had gone to Obama in the 2008 election. The triangle area attracts a lot of science and technology jobs, and Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina, so a lot of liberals live here. The state even had a high-risk insurance pool for people like me who got denied insurance before the Affordable Care Act made that illegal, which was rather progressive. So it seemed like a decent place to live.
Then the conservatives took over the state legislature and the governor’s office, something that hadn’t happened for over 100 years, and things basically turned to shit. During my time in North Carolina they passed an amendment banning gay marriage, which was eventually overturned by a federal court. They passed a ridiculous transgender bathroom law, which can’t realistically be enforced, has cost the state millions of dollars in business, and most importantly is just plain ignorant. And they recently spent $5 million dollars trying to stop black people from voting. Those are the highlights, but you’ll see a lot of other shady shit has been going on if you take a deep dive into Google. It’s safe to say the beliefs held by the current ruling party are not my beliefs.
“Wait a minute,” you might be saying to yourself. “It’s not like Indiana is a bastion of liberal thinking, right?” Well, no, it’s not. I think the citizens of Indiana are probably more conservative than the citizens of North Carolina, but for some reason the North Carolina legislature is more conservative than the Indiana legislature. For instance, when Indiana passed their religious liberty law that okayed LGBT discrimination, they eventually amended it. And the Republican mayor of Indianapolis was against the law and was named the grand marshal of last year’s gay pride parade. So, it’s not completely hopeless here politically. At the very least, I don’t think it’s any more conservative than North Carolina is, so there is zero loss making the move.
I had lived in cities that had universities in them before, such as Louisville and Indianapolis, but I’d never lived in a town that was centered around one university. I didn’t realize how much the university and its students affect the patterns of a smaller town, like the moon affecting the tide. At the beginning of every summer they’d move out and leave their furniture by the dumpster. At the end of every summer they’d move in and make lots of noise in the stairwell. During midterms and finals, they’d crowd me out of coffee shops. If you didn’t keep track of game days, you could find yourself mired in a flash traffic jam.
When I was apartment hunting, many complexes made sure to tell me how close they were to campus or to the bus line that went to campus, even though I had no desire ever to go to campus and usually tried my best to drive around it. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Chapel Hill for over four years, and every year I had a new neighbor upstairs, downstairs, and across the hall. That means I had at least 15 neighbors in four years and two months. Probably 80% of them were students. They came for a year and then they’d go. Sometimes they stomped around at midnight or talked loudly in the hallways and I wanted to murder them. Sometimes they were barely home and didn’t even keep the AC on when they were away. It varied.
If you can’t tell, I hated the students. I kept getting older and they stayed the same age. When I first moved to Chapel Hill people would ask me if I was a student, but now I am definitely the middle-aged woman who is sick of the students. I’m currently enjoying living somewhere that is not so strongly affected by the needs of the student population. There are people in my apartment complex over the age of 40! It’s fantastic!
Not much affordable housing
There isn’t much affordable housing in Chapel Hill, and places that are affordable are getting bought and renovated by developers so they will no longer be affordable, like my old complex. They’re building new apartments in several areas of town, but these are luxury style apartments aimed at higher-income residents, like the monstrosity they’re building on Elliott Road that will have one-bedrooms starting at $1200-$1600 a month. That’s probably a deal in places like DC or New York, but this Midwestern girl think’s that’s a crazy rate. If you’re paying over a grand you should at least have a second bedroom or magical elves who clean the place while you’re away.
I was already paying more for my one-bedroom than my mom does for her two-bedroom in Indianapolis which is at least 20 years newer than my complex. When I was searching for a new place, there weren’t many decent options for what I was willing to pay, and even the place I chose that fell through was farther away from town than I wanted. So, to continue living in the triangle area, I probably would have had to move to Durham or Raleigh eventually. And even though I have several friends in Raleigh, it seemed liked if I was going to move to be closer to someone I ought to move closer to my family.
The winters are great, but the summers, oh the summers
In Indiana I would sometimes spend 15 minutes clearing snow and ice off my car before I could leave the parking lot. In North Carolina, I had to wipe yellow pollen off my car instead. It didn’t take 15 minutes, but that yellow stuff gets in every crack and crevice of my vehicle and sticks around for years.
And then there’s the heat. And the humidity. Oh the humidity. There were days when I would walk from my apartment to the mailbox and back and feel like I needed a shower afterwards. I sometimes spent 2-3 days in my apartment because I didn’t want to leave the AC. And when I had to run errands during the heat, I would keep going from the AC to the heat to the AC back and forth so many times it sometimes triggered my headache.
I don’t know if there are any stats to back this up, but it seems like there are more panhandlers in North Carolina than there are in Indiana. I would see them often at interstate exits and intersections near retail properties, often more than one at a time. They usually wore reflective, construction vests, which I found odd. In addition to that, I was approached by panhandlers in parking lots three times when I lived there, which I don’t think ever happened to me in Indiana. One time I was literally pulling out of my parking space when someone knocked on my window and started telling me her whole life story. I gave her $5 to go away because I felt trapped, and I don’t like feeling trapped when I’ve just stopped into CVS to get a soda.
I prefer to give directly to charities so I know the money will be spent helping people, whereas I don’t know what a panhandler is going to do with the cash I give them. Maybe the lady in the CVS parking lot really did need a bus ticket home, or maybe she just needed to buy some oxy on the corner. I have no idea. I might just have seen more panhandlers in North Carolina because the weather is warmer than in Indianapolis.
So, was it all worth it? Yes, it was. I’m glad I made the move to Chapel Hill. And I’m glad I moved back to Indy. I enjoyed my time in North Carolina, but I was ready to go. I’d made a list of several things I wanted to do before I left, like walk the Bolin Creek trail one more time or visit my favorite coffee shop before I left. However, preparing for the move was so utterly exhausting that I never got around to those things and I was surprised to find I didn’t care that I hadn’t. Those places will live on in my memory, and revisiting them one last time wasn’t necessary. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be visiting Joe Van Gogh again any time soon on my last visit, but if I had known, what would it have changed? I might have felt sadder about it in that moment, but the smell of coffee mixed with the scent of buttered popcorn from the movie theater next door will go on living in my mind just the same. There’s no reason to dwell in it. Chapel Hill wasn’t leaving, I was. As my mom and I were driving around town doing errands the day before loading, I remember looking at all the familiar places and thinking, “I am so ready to go.”
It feels cheesy to quote this, but T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I feel like I know Indianapolis better after living elsewhere for many years. I appreciate things here that I took for granted before, but I also see how some things are nicer elsewhere. No place is absolutely perfect, but I suppose you find some place with flaws you can live with. For now, Indianapolis is that place for me.
So, if you’re thinking about making a big move, I’d recommend that you:
1) Think about the things you value in a city.
2) Think about the people you value being close to.
3) Try to take fear out of the equation because change will always be scary.
4) Think about money because, sadly, money is always a factor, and moving can be expensive.
You might not realize what you value in a city until you don’t have it. For instance, I didn’t realize how much I valued drive-throughs until I noticed Chapel Hill didn’t have any, not even at McDonalds! But if you’ve got the money, and you think a new place will have things and people you value, I’d say go ahead and do it. There will probably be moments during the process when you think, “Oh God, have I made the right decision?” That’s perfectly normal. It’s something I thought when I moved to North Carolina and it’s something I thought after I moved back to Indianapolis. Only time will tell. If it doesn’t work out, hopefully you can come home again and know it for the first time.