Making a New Home in Columbia, South Carolina

Agnes chilling on our new front porch.

Agnes chilling on our new deck.

With my ass in an orange, Tommy Bahama chair (the kind with the backpack straps I believe every human being should own) and my feet up against the wooden railing of our second-story patio, I’m staring out at tall, narrow trees leaning from side to side in the South Carolina breeze. They’re not as thin as the palm trees I lived among for four years in Los Angeles, but they look like they would split in half like frozen Charleston chews if the wind got too aggressive.

Famous Agnes, our American-English bulldog, is lying beside me, whining occasionally and sniffing the new Citronella candles I bought to keep the evening bugs away (though I admit I’m pleasantly surprised at the lack of bugs so far, and expect this to change now that I’ve written it down).

I have a glass of sweet tea and half-and-half next to me which should carry me til happy hour when MainMan gets home. I just got back from the grocery store and couldn’t resist a gallon jug of John Boy and Billy Southern sweet tea. When in the South, right?

I did a back flip when I realized we had Wi-Fi out here. I work from home four days a week, and it’s always good to change up the scenery. The dining room table in our new temporary apartment is perfectly adequate for a day’s work, but the porch has it beat. In addition to the sound of ruffled leaves, birds flirting and bee-bopping around, and a neighbor’s wind chime jingling below us, we overlook a large pond with a fountain shooting water high into the air 24/7. I love this when we tuck in for the night as it’s replaced the fan I require to fall asleep. My mom says the fountain’s supposed to scare the geese away, which it fails to do, since two geese make our pond and the grassy areas around it their daily hangout.

How did we get here?

For starters, we drove 2,400 miles from Los Angeles, on and around Rt. 40/historic Route 66, over the course of eight days (stay tuned for a detailed report on that coming soon).

We loved our previous town of El Segundo, Calif. (where we landed in October ’13 — try to keep up!), and wish we’d spent more time there before leaving California, but we’d wanted to move somewhere where the cost of living was less so we’d be able to afford a nice home with a yard (not only for our curious canine, but for future Fikes). Before we got engaged in July ’12, our focus was escape from L.A. Then wedding plans quickly trumped relocation efforts, for almost a year, until we descended from the clouds of marital and honeymoon bliss.

When MainMan got a call from Columbia, S.C., about a job, I was surprised and didn’t think much of it. We were so used to applying to jobs online and never hearing back, and even having interviews and never hearing back, I didn’t take the possibility of a move to Columbia very seriously.

“Where is it exactly?” I remember asking, while frantically looking it up on Google Maps. “Well it’s not Charleston, but it’s close!?” We have a couple of friends who live in Charleston and just from what I’ve seen in photos it looks very charming. I heard someone on the radio describe it as a mini-New Orleans. I’m sure I’d love it.

When I asked people about Columbia, they sounded less enthused.

Once the zoo folks invited MainMan to Columbia for an in-person interview, I knew this was starting to get serious. I spent a lot of time emailing anyone I could think of with any sort of connection to Columbia. Friends on Twitter, friends from school, friends of friends, siblings of friends who’d gone to this USC (as opposed to the only one we knew of in Ca. prior to moving here). All were honest in their descriptions and some were harsher than others. I also read countless posts on City-data.com about the town. There were some lovers, but the haters were more numbered and extreme in their opinions.

“Nobody wants to spend more time than they have to in Columbia. It’s a place you have to drive through to get to places that are cooler.”

This is just one example of what I was finding, and of course, this is what stuck in my head.

But here we are.

It was far from love at first sight for me when we visited. But MainMan liked the people at the zoo and he seemed ready for a change in his career. I was nervous about such a big move, but I knew we could make it work. We’d wanted a change for so long. Columbia is bigger than the small town I envisioned, but at least this is a step in the right direction. At the end of the day, being together is what matters most.

Close friends of ours weren’t all too surprised we were moving, though they were surprised to hear where. My mom took it the worst. Particularly because my parents’ full-time home (where they currently spend half the year) will be in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and they’re about to break ground on renovations to make the house more guest-friendly. I think my mom imagined me being pregnant there and being a quick drive away with kids, but that wasn’t realistic for us today, with our incomes. I just told her they’ll have to rent a condo in Hilton Head or Charleston whenever we (fingers crossed) do have kids.

When talking to local cashiers in our first days of living here, we kept hearing, “You moved from Los Angeles?! WHY?!” A good friend on Twitter told me he still wasn’t sure he approved of our move. A stranger in a hotel during our cross-country journey sparked a conversation with us and when he heard where our final destination was he shook his head and half-mumbled to himself, “Good luck, I hope you have work.”

How does a place which I had never heard anything about have such a bad reputation? And could it really be as pitiful as some have described?

While I’ll never give up the dream of living abroad again or moving to the Pacific Northwest somewhere off the San Juan Islands, Columbia is on the east coast where many of my friends from college live, along with all of our extended family. We’ll have seasons again, which is something I missed greatly living in Los Angeles (not so much the winter, but certainly the fall). Halloween never really felt like Halloween when you were sun-bathing at the beach before racing home to throw a costume on. Christmas, too, felt a tad forced and unnatural while it was 70-80 degrees out, though lights on palm trees were attractive.

I hope Columbia is like the runt of a litter. It may not appear to be strong or attractive on the outside, but once you get to know it and give it a chance, it might grow on you. If it does, and MainMan likes his new job (and we don’t melt from the summer temperatures — one nickname of Columbia that terrifies me is “famously hot”), we’ll try to buy a house. Housing here is ridiculously cheap. And you get LAND!

MainMan asked his boss at work about housing and he said to head northeast of Columbia if we wanted land. Are we in “Far and Away”? Are we going to mount horses and gallop into an empty field/pasture and stake our claim? I’m all in.

One of my best friends in Dallas thinks S.C. will be a great move for us. “You’ll be big fish in a small pond there!” she said. Maybe she’s right. It’s a lofty goal, and while I’ve already been called a stage mom with Agnes, I would happily embrace the term “stage wife” if it meant helping MainMan become the next Jack Hanna.

Until then, I will relish the new view from our second story patio. I will sip sweet tea out of my plastic mason jar, I will smile watching Agnes (now) happily dozing at my feet and, one of these days, I’ll be quick enough to catch this skittish cardinal who takes infinitesimal breaks from chasing endless tail.

Life is good today.

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