When I threw caution to the wind ten years ago and moved to North Carolina – there was some culture shock to say the least. After spending about eight months living with Mom & Dad, they sent me packing for the big city of Raleigh. As a ‘just outside Philadelphia’ transplant, I initially spent a whole lot of time looking for the ‘big’ part of the ‘big city’.
I did find it – and fell in love with it.
The thing about Raleigh is that while it is one of our state’s big cities (hey, it’s the state capitol, after all) – it has a very small town vibe.
It is easy to get around – and easy to get unlost if you should you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Traffic exists, but on a scale where it is not extremely annoying or dreadful. And on the days when it is – it serves as a reminder to how easy most days are.
One of my first quandaries upon moving here was why no matter where I went were complete strangers smiling at me – if not starting a full blown conversation. It felt funny. And stalkerish. I wasn’t used to having sales associates follow me around stores wanting to help. I was used to them standing next to the register with a cell phone to their ear and a look in their eyes that said, ‘don’t you dare interrupt this phone call to my boo’.
And, of course – there is the weather. I won’t point out TOO much on that end as I know three quarters of our nation is currently under some sort of winter weather debacle (SnOMG 2011) while we sit here watching the temps climb up to the 70’s. I won’t dwell too much on the fact that I came to work today sans coat while wearing a skirt, sleeveless shirt and short-sleeved cardigan. It wouldn’t be right to throw that in.
Yes, I do love my city. I’m wrapped up in glee for Raleigh right now because we just put on a show like no other.
When most folks think of hockey in the south – it’s with a shrug and a ‘oh yeah…right…’. Unless you actually live here. Then you know that hockey is not so much a game, but an event. Every time. Here, hockey means arriving at the arena hours before the game for some serious tailgating before you wrap yourself up in your warm clothes to go inside. Attendance isn’t dependant on how well the team is doing – it’s only dependant on whether or not you have a ticket.
And when Raleigh opens its doors to the world – we do it in style. I’d been waiting so long for All Star Weekend to arrive – and when it finally did…it was beyond my expectations. I somehow missed at least two of the items on my punch list (going to the actual indoor portion of Fan Fair and hitting the North Hills area where all the players were staying).
What I did spend a lot of time doing was talking to people not from here. Mostly from California, actually. Who seemed relatively confused at the friendliness of their Raleigh Hosts. I heard many times about how everybody talks to everybody – confusing guests into a thinking pattern of, “Wait…do I know this person? I must know them. No, I don’t think I do. This is weird.”
And the Carolina Blue sky brought most of the activities outside – including an extended tailgating session before the Skills Challenge and the big game. While I didn’t make it to either of these, my co-worker was apparently accosted by several Canadians trying to understand what was happening. Of course, his answer was to give them a beer and invite them to the party, which sent them further into a stymied tailspin.
Equally flustered was a visitor who watched while I offered to hold a man’s tiny dog so he could escort his tot to the rest room. The question I got was, “Wait, you don’t actually know that guy?” “No,” I replied, “but how could he manage a dog and a kid in a port-o-potty?” “Yeah,” the visitor said, “But where I live, you probably only would have done that because you wanted to steal the dog.”
Please. First of all – everybody needs some spontaneous doggy kisses at some point. And second, a Dachshund hardly counts as a dog.
While the rest of America spent the weekend preparing for feet of incoming snow, we were making do with an imported sledding hill.
Around the corner was a Snow Zone – where snow was being blown into a pile for kids to romp in. Beyond that, our outdoor skating rink. Rockefeller Center? Who needs it? Seems much smarter to live somewhere warm enough to sled without a jacket or ice skate without thirty two layers and a fear of the pond cracking.
The All Star events themselves were a huge hit – including the newly conceived live player draft to determine the teams. There was the first free concert of the year – smack in the middle of town at the new amphitheatre. And a way-out-of-the-usual-summer-schedule of Raleigh Wide Open – turning the main street into a carnival type atmosphere.
So what makes Raleigh big? It’s definitely not the size of the population. It’s not our public transportation system or our skyline (we have a lack of tall buildings). It’s certainly not our airport – which I absolutely adore due to the ease of navigation. We have a few claims to fame, but it’s not like George Washington himself slept on a mountain a few miles away.
What makes Raleigh big is its heart. It’s a city that welcomes everyone with a smile and is willing to give. It’s a city that never listens to folks who claim it can’t put on an event like the All Star game. It’s a city that thrives on supporting it’s own – whether it’s in sports or the arts or research.
I’m not suggesting y’all pack up your things and move down here – we surely don’t want a crowd. Although I can certainly understand why you’d want to – especially if you live in one of the three dozens states having winter today.
And if you do, know that we are pretty damn proud after our recent showing.
We’ll expect you to jump right in and feel at home – and let the Raleigh-ness seep into your blood. We’ll expect you to talk to strangers and offer a helping hand to people you just met.