Cary, as is well known, is an affluent Wake County suburb that ranks as one of the safest places in the country. Its police force is one of the most highly paid in the state, and they don't let you forget it. They are omnipresent, in their shark-like cruisers, with their slick, nearly cybernetic good looks. Perhaps because of a combination of factors—the largesse of the suburb, the proximity to nearby cultural capitals, the vice grip of the police state—Cary has always been a sleeper cell of subculture.
When I was growing up, there was even a kind of unofficial curfew. Being young and driving on an empty road at 2 a.m., being pulled over was a certainty. Few things politicize young people like being constantly harassed—"Do you know what time it is? What are you kids doing out so late?"
How many times were we pulled over for riding our bicycles, for walking late at night, for hanging out on deserted playgrounds—for being young and in love in a hopeless place?
My parents taught me that Cary stood for "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." The new strip mall developments, the snarling traffic, the degradation of all life, could be placed at the feet of the Yankee scourge.
"Those people just move down from New York and New Jersey to take advantage of our Southern lifestyle and cheap real estate," my mom complained. I grew to resent the Northerners (and in some ways still do) for treating the South like a third-world country where they could buy two houses for the price of one and live like a king on 50 cents a day. They didn't even bring along the recipes for their excellent pizza and bagels.
Today, Cary is more complex and interesting. The racial and economic demographics have shifted significantly—where Cary was once a fortressed community for people who wanted to pay more to avoid Raleigh, it is now more affordable to live in Cary than in the Capital City.
There are young couples living in verdant townhouse complexes, entire immigrant-small-business strip malls, Indian families waiting on the Amtrak platform—all cracks in the shiny facade. There was even a Bollywood cinema until some developers decided Cary needed another Harris Teeter. Cary is now more like LA, and less like Greenwich, Connecticut. The traffic seems much, much worse.
In other ways, though, the status quo of Cary is still very much the same. Last week the Cary police made national news when they announced that they were going after prolific graffiti artists "Booger" and "Snot" who had tagged a number of buildings in town. Most cities and towns take graffiti in stride. Not Cary. Crime Stoppers offered a $2,500 reward for any information leading to an arrest.
I used to think the people-less silence of the glistening suburban facade was so romantic. I'd walk around the empty mall parking lot at night, the geese marching their way over to the drainage pond; the spaces between the dark wooded areas and the fluorescent-lit, big box development seemed potent, imbued with some spiritual significance that I thought Thoreau would have appreciated and understood.
Now when I'm in Cary I always seem to just be sitting in traffic on my way from one soulless strip mall to the next. I think of all those people back in Preston, in townhouse complexes, so isolated from one another, so without a street life or community, stuck in traffic on their way to RTP, and it no longer holds its John Cheever-esque charm, it just makes me sad.