I applied to be the INDY's Raleigh news editor in January. I drove up for an interview in February. I moved from Florida to Raleigh in March. I was promoted to editor in chief in August. I bought a home in Durham in November.
It's been quite the year.
But I can say without equivocation that in the nine months I've been here—has it only been nine months?—I've come to love this place, to think of it as home. I'm still learning, still figuring out the nooks and crannies, still exploring. I'll be doing so for years to come: There's much to see, to experience, to eat. (Been working on that last part, as my waistline can attest.) But as we kick off this Year in Review issue, I wanted to look back and reflect on some of the things I've observed about the Triangle since (and before, actually) my arrival, broken down by month.
January: North Carolina is surprisingly spread out. My wife and I had narrowed our target areas down to three: Colorado (pro: legal weed, con: cold as fuck), St. Petersburg (a city reminiscent of Durham with beaches and more old people) and somewhere in North Carolina, which I knew little about except that we had friends near Asheville and Charlotte, and I instinctively hated Charlotte and loved Asheville. And for whatever reason, when I responded to a job posting in Raleigh, I imagined that these cities were all somehow grouped together. A Google search quickly disabused me of that notion. We still haven't made it over to Asheville. Or to Charlotte. Or to the beach.
February: People here can't handle snow. A few days before I was to drive up for my interview, I received an email from the INDY asking if I wanted to put it off. A snowstorm was coming. I checked the forecast: two inches. Nah, I responded, I'll be fine. I'd lived up north, in Philadelphia; I knew what a real snowstorm was like. Two inches ain't shit. But, as I came to find out, two inches was enough to effectively shut this whole region down.
March: Downtown Raleigh is impossibly expensive. We wanted to find a place downtown, or at least downtownish. And we wanted to do it for less than $1,000 a month. Not a chance, not unless we wanted a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. An actual house? In Oakwood? No way. Time was short, and our options were limited. We ended up in a fine, if boring, townhouse outside the Beltline.
April: People here are unnervingly nice. I grew up in South Florida, which is in the South but not of the South. And I've come to realize that Florida adopted all of the South's failings—the racism, the lackluster public education—without also adopting its greatest virtue: niceness. I noticed it everywhere: at my first Raleigh City Council meeting, at the corner store, from the mailman who knocked on my door to introduce himself to the panhandlers on the side of the road. Sure, it's not universal—every place has its own assholes—but the niceness is exceedingly, sometimes jarringly, ubiquitous. And I think it's worth remembering that you can't say the same about most places. Not South Florida. Definitely not Philly. It's taken some getting used to.
May: Raleigh has an awesome Greenway system. To celebrate my birthday and contemplate my ever-nearing mortality, I went on a 32-mile bicycle trek (by far my longest ever), following the Greenway along the gorgeous Neuse River from far-North Raleigh down to Knightdale and back. I took shorter versions of this trip several times a week, accompanied by my headphones and the serenity of nature and the occasional deer that poked its head out. I mostly stuck to the trail nearest my townhome, but there was no real reason to: In place since the '70s, Raleigh's Greenway system now measures 114 miles all over the city.
June: Raleigh is a huge small town trying to become a big city. Raleigh, despite its recent progressive bent, can safely be called the Triangle's most conservative major municipality. (Fuquay-Varina doesn't count.) It's not an ideological conservatism so much as a cultural one, at least in some corners, a sense of nostalgia that chafes at the new. And when there's plenty of new happening—new tech companies, new condos, new dining scene, new food trucks—there's plenty of opportunities for conflict. Such was the case with the DrunkTown debate that officially kicked off in June but was lingering beneath the surface of a resurgent downtown long before. The very character of the city was changing, and not everyone liked it.
July: So. Many. Hiking. Trails. If you enjoy hiking, there are few places in the world better suited to it. Eno River State Park. Umstead State Park. Occoneechee Mountain. Durant Park. They're all exquisite, majestic even. And in the heart of summer, when the sun's rays are bearing down and the air is thick and humid, the tall canopies of oak and pine trees provide a welcome sanctuary.
August: I-540 can go right to hell. The promotion meant that my commute was no longer seven miles to downtown Raleigh but rather 30-some-odd miles to downtown Durham. And there are few things more infuriating than miles upon miles of a parked interstate that eventually empties out onto, well, another parked interstate, which in turn leads to an often-parked freeway.
September: So. Many. Festivals. Hopscotch, SparkCon,Wide Open Bluegrass—all in one downtown, all cool on their own terms, all in one month. Which, for a midsize city like Raleigh, is pretty amazing, really.
October: People here really care about the State Fair. Like, a lot. I didn't go—"You make your own mistakes in life," managing editor/fair enthusiast Grayson Haver Currin replied to my confession—but I'm fairly certain, from the way my office mates would not shut up about it, that I was the only one, that the N.C. State Fair, unlike most of the fried-Snickers-bar-and-Vomitron shit shows I've been to, is actually worth investing your time in, because it is the one time and place where all of the magnificent weirdness of North Carolina is gathered and put on display. Next year, then.
November: Durham is a big city wrapped in a little city. We bought an old, little bungalow just north of downtown Durham, within walking or biking distance of just about everything we like to do. (Our mortgage, by the way, is about $110 less than our Raleigh rent, so point Durham.) And it soon occurred to me that, in the same way Raleigh is a giant small town, and charming in that way, Durham is a tiny big city: diverse and innovative and weird, appreciative of its own eccentricities, earnestly progressive. Kind of like you took a big, post-industrial mid-Atlantic metro, shrunk it and infused it with hippies and a dose of Southern charm.
December: It's not always cold at Christmas. Growing up in South Florida, you prayed that the temperature would drop into the 60s, cold enough that you could wear a sweater and say it felt like Christmas. In Philly, our first Christmas was heralded by an epic blizzard that dropped two feet in a few hours. In North Carolina, we hoped to find a happy medium: coldish, maybe some snow, but nothing overwhelming or brutal. Instead, the high on Christmas Day is expected to be 70 degrees. Which is almost like being back in Florida.