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.