Our first month in North Carolina

Or: Why you should flee the big city and move to Raleigh

February 6, 2017

Friends have been curious about our move from Brooklyn to North Carolina. We had no real connection to North Carolina before we decided to live here, so we've had to learn a lot quickly.

Here are some pictures, along with some thoughts about the times we live in and why it was a good time to move. This was a family effort, done as a team with Sydney and Emmylou (who turned 1 as we were in the midst of packing), and our 2 cats Sterling and Melville.

If you're considering a similar move to live a more financially responsible life, to find a job that makes you happier, to be in a safe and welcoming community for children, to escape from the stress and crowds of an enormous city, or just so you can vote in a swing state, I hope you'll find this helpful.

Here's the lay of the land. North Carolina is the 9th most populous state, with 10 million people. Raleigh, the state capital, sits right in the center, in a region of rolling green hills called the Piedmont. Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill form the approximate corners of "the Triangle," a metro area of about 2 million people in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. Near the middle of the Triangle is Cary, a suburban town where we live. So many people are moving here from up north that the local nickname for CARY is the "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." Nearby is a sprawl of corporate campuses called Research Triangle Park.

The population is growing fast. This growth is the payoff of wise decisions decades ago to invest in universities and science. (NC State is in Raleigh, Duke is in Durham, UNC is in Chapel Hill.) Somebody told me the Triangle has the highest concentration of PhDs in the country. There are many well-regarded companies with good-paying jobs in education, IT, health care and finance.

Everybody's hiring, and there are many lovely small towns within a 30-minute commute of where the jobs are. The result is good salaries, lots of opportunities for career mobility, and a low cost of living.

In Brooklyn 51% of our take-home pay went to rent. In North Carolina we lowered that to 38% — and we live in a bigger and nicer apartment, with half the commute time.

This area has a reputation as being good for families, which was another draw. Assuming we stay here, as our daughter grows up she'll have access to great schools and libraries and museums, and she'll meet highly accomplished women and men from many different backgrounds.

Thought added later: Moving was tremendously stressful. We left behind many good friends who we'll now see a lot less. It's difficult and expensive to make a change like this. If you do it, be sure you've done your homework and you're sure it's what you want.

We live in an apartment complex. It's about 5 years old and they take good care of the place.

North Carolina gets every kind of weather. We thought we were leaving behind the brutal winters of the north, but 2 days after we moved we got trapped by this messy slop of snow and ice. It fell overnight one Friday, and Wake County schools didn't reopen until the following Thursday. Winter weather is rare here. When it happens there is no plan. Everything shuts down.

At least Emmylou got to see snow this year!

This is Lake Crabtree, which is a short walk from our apartment. It's ringed by parks and office buildings. It's a lovely place to walk, run, bike or birdwatch.

Much of Cary is leafy suburbs with trails rambling through it (reminds me of Columbia, Maryland). Take a walk and you'll end up in places that look like this.

Or you might end up at the Bass Pro Shop, which is our closest store. It's the Red State REI. (Cary has an REI too.)

Here's something we didn't have in Brooklyn: Big, nice, cheap grocery stores. This is our local Harris Teeter.

This is I-40. It links Raleigh and Durham. People complain about this highway the way New Yorkers complain about the subway.

Here's the Raleigh skyline. Only a few tall buildings, but there's a lot of new construction happening.

This is the North Carolina State Capitol. Next to it are these statues of three North Carolinans who went on to be president. (Not to split hairs, but Andrew Jackson was actually born in South Carolina.)

Sir Walter Raleigh had been dead for 174 years when they decided to name the city in his honor. This dandy statue of him overlooks a patio at the Raleigh Convention Center.

This is the Museum of Natural Sciences. There are several big, free museums around the State Capitol. We haven't been to any of them yet but they're supposed to be good.

In addition to many state government buildings, Raleigh has big offices for Citrix, Red Hat, Wells Fargo, PNC, and others.

This is Fayetteville Street, a pedestrian-friendly promenade of modern urban development. It links the State Capitol to the Convention Center. It's pretty dang normal.

And here's where I work, in a cooler, crunchier part of Raleigh called Glenwood South. I'm a writer for a marketing agency. Most of our clients are big tech firms. I like my job!

This is what it looks like inside the office.

Glenwood Avenue. This is a trendy area that feels like it hasn't been trendy for very long. Google Fiber just opened a showroom on this street. There's a nice mix of new stuff and old stuff. Also a lot of places to drink.

Another overview shot, looking north from a parking deck in Glenwood, facing away from downtown Raleigh.

And this is The Creamery, a historically preserved building that's been converted into restaurants and offices.

Stickers like this reflect how Raleigh voted in November. North Carolina is a swing state, and statewide Trump won with 49.83% of the votes. But here in Wake County Trump only got 37.16% of the votes. I think it's because most people here have a neighbor or classmate or colleague who's Muslim, or Latino, or black, or an immigrant, or a refugee, or disabled, etc., etc. Which makes you feel like a vote for Trump is an insult to people you care about.

In these early days of Trump's presidency, people in Raleigh have held several peaceful rallies, mainly in support of immigrants, and these demonstrations have been covered sympathetically in the local media.

The first few weeks of 2017 have been confusing for everyone who follows the news. Nothing about moving from one state to another made it easier or harder to discern what's going on or what deserves urgent attention. In New York City we lived in a bubble where everybody viewed Trump with revulsion. The bubble traveled with us to this part of North Carolina.

I hope we'll look back on these months as a test of our national character, and not the dawn of an era of deepening paranoia, division and violence. How will we treat our fellow humans when we're deliberately provoked and encouraged to turn against each other? Will we pass this test? Set yourself a calendar entry to re-read this paragraph in February 2021 and see how we did.

And there are trains! Norfolk Southern freight trains grind past our office windows a few times a day.

There's a passenger train called the Piedmont (operated by Amtrak) that runs twice a day between Raleigh, Cary, Durham, and other stops on its way to Charlotte. There's also the Carolinian, a long-haul Amtrak train that connects Charlotte and Raleigh and then goes northward to New York. It's a slow way to travel but I'd like to give it a try one day.

There was even a very early train here in 1833, which I learned from this historical marker.

Sooner or later the area will get a mass transit plan together. There are few different efforts proceeding in fits and starts (a light rail proposal in Durham, some ideas for better bus service and regional rail) but nothing real yet.

There's this free bus that circles downtown, and some really slow and infrequent buses that connect Raleigh and Durham with outlying towns. You can get by without a car but only if you live within walking distance of work.

Architecture gets a little more interesting around the edges of town, with historic churches, quirky restaurants, a space-age Holiday Inn, and so on.

I also like this bizarre bank in the Cameron Village neighborhood.

Out in Research Triangle Park, there's a radically futuristic 1970s office building that was built for the Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company (later part of GlaxoSmithKline). See the 1983 movie "Brainstorm" for some awesome footage of this building in its heyday. It's changed hands a few times and is currently abandoned. This is the best view you can get of it without hopping a tall fence.

This is Umstead State Park, which is popular for hiking and mountain biking. We can walk or run there from our apartment, but the park is so huge that I've only been able to cover a tiny corner of it on foot.

It's a nice reminder that we've only been here a month and there's much more to explore!