Nothing but nothing will ever topple Athens, GA in my heart as my favorite place I have ever lived (sorry, Tupelo), but Columbia keeps giving me reasons to make it #1…
The move from FL to SC was relatively, mercifully uneventful. Yes, Kai did not really appreciate the length of the drive all that much; however, in his defense, we did ask for him to be strapped into a car seat for at least eight hours. He did a good job of sleeping as best he could, but he got understandably frustrated and started to cry when he simply couldn’t turn over like he wanted to. I mean – back in the day when I was not much older than he is now (somewhere around 657 BCE), the laws of traveling with a kid were much more lax. I probably used to sleep lying down in the back window of the Mercury and thought it fun when my dad would hit the brakes and I’d come flying down and land in the backseat.
I did have to laugh at myself several times during the whole process, because between boxing up all our crap, lugging it into the moving van, packing it into the moving van, and later unloading all the furniture caused me to believe that I was engaging in a multitude of age-inappropriate behavior. No man in their right mind who is pushing 40 (!?!?!??!) should be seen unshaven for two weeks, lifting and carting insanely heavy packages (note to self: PURGE THAT FRIGGING DVD AND CD COLLECTION) and furniture, and later drinking only Gatorade and water. I think that if I retook my fitness test on the Wii right now, I might have shaved a good decade off my results. All in all, I only walked away with a few sore muscles, and no “oh-my-aching-back” feelings.
It’s taken us the better part of the past two weeks (with the assistance of Ash’s dad) to get our house “settled.” There are still some bare walls, still some boxes that might as well have “PANDORA” stamped on them because we’re just not motivated to open or unpack them, and there are a few aesthetic tweaks left to give the place, but for the most part, it’s looking good. It’s been painted, cleaned, reinforced, and spruced up to the point that I almost think I’d feel comfortable having guests.
We still have yet to find everything in Columbia that we’d like to (like, for example, a church) but we’re starting to manage to get around the city fairly well, even without the aid of the TomTom GPS that was our lifeline in Miami. Getting to Ashley’s office (roughly 2 miles from our house) isn’t that bad a journey from our house, whether one chooses to travel by car, bike or foot. Yes. We’ve both walked there and back again. I have even been insane enough to push a baby cart all Lone Wolf-style up and down the hills of Columbia. Thankfully, living in Coral Gables prepped me for this somewhat. Not for the journey over hill and dale, because south Florida is nothing but FLAT; all the time I spent walking Kai and/or Maggie during my tenure in Miami must have given me back the lung capacity I used to have when I was an indentured servant to the THS and later MUW music programs. That, or the continual humidity in Coral Gables caused me to grow gills behind my ears so that I could actually breathe outside, and the comparatively light humidity and heat here in SC rarely causes me to even get winded while walking.
The one comment that Ashley and I keep making time and again is “This [fill in the blank] just makes sense.” Case in point: TRAFFIC. Now to be fair, the roads around Columbia contain enough hills and rises to make Six Flags seem like a cakewalk, but the comparative amount of cars on the roads? US1, thou art dead to me. Even when driving on the interstate and highways surrounding Columbia, it’s almost an alien experience to encounter drivers that are not friendly, will not allow you to merge over when your ignorant self didn’t note that – oh yeah – that turn right there is the one you need to take, and or who will honk at you if your car isn’t already on the other side of the intersection within .473 seconds of the light turning green.
But there are other things that just make sense and make this place feel like a home we’ve never known: the clerks and other customers in the stores you visit who talk to you, who smile a genuine smile, and don’t act like you’ve just offended them to the very core of their being by daring to make a purchase from them; the fact that Ashley went into a drugstore without a refill available for her inhaler and the pharmacist, who saw she was clearly in distress while struggling to breathe, allowed her to get one anyway (I told her the pharmacists at the CVS across the street from UM would have allowed her to just pass out and suffocate on the floor of their store, and that’s probably not too far from the truth); the local, kitschy, quirky stores that sell unique little nick-knacks and not high-end designer stuff; seeing students drive the type of cars that you’d expect an undergrad or graduate student to drive instead of brand new ones that cost more than your annual salary; and restaurants and stores that cater to beer snobs like myself.
But for me, the most telling moment came when – yes, the morning of the first day we were here – I drove three quarters of a mile down the street to a locally-owned coffee shop. Stepping into this eclectic mish-mash of refurbished furniture and paintings by local artists, I felt as if my soul began to sing. This just felt right. And after striking up a conversation with the owner/manager, I decided to be brave and drop the Job Bomb that left many people speechless, uncomfortable or confused every time I mentioned it in Miami:
HIM: “So, what do you do for a living, Sonny?”
ME: “…well, I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
A smile spreads across HIS face.
HIM: “Dude, that is awesome. Good for you. Great for your kid.”
Columbia may not have The Grit, Jittery Joe’s, a local music scene (this is yet to be determined), or the bohemia of Athens, but it’s got some people who apparently have heart.
And even I will take that over a double espresso any day of the week.