Everybody in Charlotte knows that most of its residents are transplants, which makes those of us who were born here sometimes feel like we’re in a special club. There’s a clubhouse and a secret handshake and everything.
A lot of natives grew up waiting to get out, but I wasn’t one of them. Occasionally I’d daydream of moving to DC, San Francisco, or even Prague when I was feeling that twenty-something wanderlust, but I was happy here. Tangents was here, at least for a few years after college, and as one of the founders I stuck with it to the end. All of my friends were still here through most of the ‘90s. Just about anything I wanted to do, I could mostly do here or within a day’s road trip. The roads weren’t too crowded yet and that appealed to my nerves. I thought I might only leave if I could go live in some exciting foreign country. My twenty-eighth birthday had already passed before I ever had to think seriously about moving.
In December 2001 my then-husband’s employer made him relocate to Raleigh. We had only been married for a month. At least we’d still be in North Carolina, I told myself. It might as well have been a different country. I made a few friends, but nothing could patch up the cracks growing in me. I’d never exactly been the most stable of individuals, but life became a Tilt-a-Whirl for me in Raleigh. Reading my old journal entries from those years still gives me a sinking stomach and a tight throat. My crumbling personal life made me miserable, but Raleigh itself was also hard for me to take because the rivalry between Charlotte and Raleigh isn’t just a myth. Sometimes when I told people there that I was from Charlotte, they’d smugly congratulate me on moving to their town. Even the small group of friends and friendly acquaintances I made were dismissive of my hometown, which kind of made me feel like we were different species.
For nearly seven years I talked myself into believing Thomas Wolfe was right: “you can’t go home again.” As desperately as I wanted to be back in Charlotte, I was convinced that I had burned all my bridges for reasons I won’t go into. My longing to move back to Charlotte grew almost physically painful after making a trip back here to see the Police play a show in November 2007, and I decided it was time for new bridges to be built. One of my friends used to say that anybody who moved out of Charlotte would inevitably be back if they didn’t break 88 miles per hour on the way out of town, and I’d laugh, never thinking it was going to apply to me. After that 2007 visit home, I wanted to be one of those prodigal friends she would tease for not managing to leave and stay gone.
When my ex and I split up in early 2008, I took some time to get my shit together and move back home. In those months I made many weekend trips to Charlotte that felt like parties, even if all I did was hang out with one friend. The date of my move seemed to be at the end of a treadmill lit with sparkles and fireworks. Returning to Raleigh was harder every Sunday afternoon, but when I finally moved back to Charlotte in June 2008 it was a high that lasted. Even now I remember to appreciate how much happier I am.
My move back here happened just in time for a big construction boom to stall out thanks to the economy, but already my old Charlotte had many unrecognizable intersections, new shopping centers, and bigger downtown buildings. My visits leading up to my moving day had prepared me for these changes, so living with them was just part of the excitement of being home. A little thing like a population boom wasn’t going to take away my elation at being back where I knew I belonged.
I believe in mistakes as long as you learn from them, and I consider my first marriage and living in Raleigh the two biggest ones I ever made, but I’ve never had a stronger education. It took all of that to make me understand myself and truly love Charlotte.
When I see all the cranes building more expensive apartments I find unappealing, and when I lament the demise of old beloved places, I remind myself of all the above. Progress can look like destruction, and it can kill the things that made people want to move here, but without it we’d still be a big small town of 430,000 people with fewer fun things to do, like 25 years ago. It’s not the new things that are bad, it’s the way they shove aside or just wreck all the existing good stuff to make room. See, something else I believe in besides making mistakes is balance. Along with the pile of bad things like hellish traffic, demolition, and cranes, there’s a pile of good things like Trader Joe’s, more live music, the Mad Monster Party, and more interesting restaurants to enjoy. I only need to learn how to make room for all the new people and builders, just as they need to respect what was here first.
— Cindy Sites-Wooley