Columbia, South Carolina is Not a Dump

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I’m embarrassed to say that in the six years my brother has lived in Columbia, South Carolina, I have never visited him. I blame part of this on the fact that my brother has described the city as a dump.

But I am here to tell you it is not.

The city is the capital of the state and the home of its flagship university, the University of South Carolina. The campus is BEAUTIFUL and the state capital building and its grounds are charming. My brother’s girlfriend drove us around and showed us the small theaters and indie movie houses near campus, brick houses surrounded by trees in lively neighborhoods and a sprawling former mental hospital that now stands empty. I did not see the city that my claims is boring and behind (although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Confederate flag in front of the capital building.)

This morning, over breakfast at IHOP, I asked my brother why he is so negative about the city. He went on at length about the state’s underperforming schools, corrupt government and failure to maintain infrastructure, especially the roads. I nodded in understanding. After all, I live in Louisiana. However, my brother is a TV reporter, so he lives and breathes the news and can’t ignore it. He has got to interview the very politicians and bureaucrats that frustrate him.

My brother is also a sports fanatic and he explained how the city chased out its longtime minor-league team (that Babe Ruth once played for) and turned down the opportunity for the Carolina Panthers to play in the city during their inaugural NFL year, before their current stadium in Charlotte was built. For a sports fan, these failures seem to represent the city’s inability to advance it’s position and capitalize on its resources.

So, like many cities, Columbia has a lot to offer, but its downsides wear down its citizens. New Orleans too has terrible roads and terrible public officials, and has certainly discouraged many of its residents with its backwards ways. But for all its frustrations, the city offers so many “only in New Orleans” moments that make it worth it.

I was in Columbia for less than a day (did I mention I’m embarrassed about this?). I know I’ll be back to investigate further.

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“Their South is different than our South”

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… is what I said to my boyfriend as we left North Carolina. As mentioned earlier, we’ve been on a five-day tear through the South. Our purpose was a wedding in Charlotte, but we tacked on stops in Atlanta, Winston-Salem and Columbia, South Carolina.

Charlotte
We spent less than 24 hours in Charlotte, but it struck me as a very modern city. It’s the largest city in North Carolina and the city has experienced a lot of new building since the 1980s. The downtown was sparsely populated, but not under used. My friends and I got around the city’s light rail, and it was always packed (unlike a lot of public tranporation systems in the south.) I wasn’t moved by the built environment, but I have a feeling that there is more to Charlotte than the slice I saw. I look forward to seeing more.

Winston-Salem
I was more charmed by Winston-Salem. It has maintained a lot of its older buildings or built newer buildings that fit into the context of their surroundings. The friends that we visited took us to Misty Creek vineyards, in nearby Mocksville. I have spent time in western North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains, but I didnt know what to expect in the central part of the state. I was surpised by the area’s green, rolling hillsides. It also helped that the weather was beautiful and our friends drove us around in their Mini convertible. I’m going to insist I always experience the area this way.

Their South
There are a few southern stereotypes that I haven’t experienced strongly in NOLA. I have yet to spend a lot of time in the rest of Louisiana, so perhaps it’s just the city.

Overall, North Carolina seemed very religious. It is known as part of the bible belt (does the “bible belt” include Louisiana?) and it seemed that people we encountered spoke more openly about religion and everyone wore religious jewlery. I have noticed that New Orleanians sprinkle their language with the word “blessed,” and openly bless the aspects of the city (“Bless You Boys” is often said about the Saints). However, to me it feels like a term that has been secularized. There are certainly religious New Orleanians, but being a part of the city fabric is what makes the community– not shared religious beliefs.

I also heard a few people in North Carolina¬† make comments that made me feel like a fancy “city folk.” A waitress at a diner outside Charlotte teased one of our friends for eating a salad for brunch because it was healthy. And, yeah, not to rely on stereotypes… but the people at this diner didn’t look so healthy themselves.

A woman at a bagel shop in Winston asked me if I was carrying a dead body in my overstuffed puma shoulder bag. Schlepping around a big bag filled with everything I need for the day is a holdover from commuting on the metro each day in D.C.

I know New Orleans is more cosmopolitan than the rest of the state, so I look forward to visiting the rest of Louisiana to sample its southern-ness. I’ll be sure to order salads and put my computer in my over-sized bag so I can report back.