Next month, I'll be able to say that I've lived in Raleigh for 10 years. I am a North Carolina native, but it was 10 years ago this February that I set up house in my first apartment on Hillsborough Street.
A year earlier, I'd graduated from college in Connecticut. I had an English degree and an '81 Toyota, but neither a savings account nor a plan. I worked as a bank teller for a few months before the combined forces of New England's late-'80s recession and the onset of another Northeastern winter woke me up to the fact that Connecticut was not the place to be. Raleigh beckoned, with promises of cheap rent, ample employment opportunities and glorious weather.
Though it may seem unlikely in today's Raleigh, rents were indeed dirt cheap 10 years ago. But then, area salaries were nowhere what they are today. After about a hundred failed attempts at finding gainful full-time employment, I finally had to fall back to working menial temporary jobs. My one-bedroom apartment was $325 a month, but ends were difficult to meet on $6.50 an hour. I racked up the requisite post-college credit-card debt and sometimes spent weeks eating beans and rice at every meal. When the Toyota began to fall apart, the only choice seemed to be to find temporary work downtown, so that I wouldn't have to rely on a car. This eventually led to a temporary assignment in a personnel office and, ultimately, a career in human resources with the state. Funny how things happen.
Ten years ago, I could shop at Hudson Belk on Fayetteville Street Mall during lunch, but there was practically nowhere to go downtown after 5 p.m. Housing prices were well out of my reach, but a nice '20s bungalow inside the Beltline still ran well under $100,000. The mayoral elections were truly non-partisan. A professional hockey team in Raleigh seemed an absurd notion. Sometimes, in the winter, it would actually snow. Jesse Helms was North Carolina's senior senator.
Today, the Hudson Belk building stands empty and idle, while new restaurants, bars and businesses flourish just blocks away. I bought a house two years ago (for less than $100,000 and still inside the Beltline). Though it's no '20s bungalow, it's a start. City government has become not only partisan, but venomous. Professional hockey has become a reality, along with a boondoggle of a sports arena. Today, as I write this in the middle of January, it's 70 degrees outside. Jesse Helms is still North Carolina's senior senator.
I think it's safe to say I'll be in Raleigh in another 10 years, but where will Raleigh be? Our technology-rich economy survived Y2K, but will global warming melt the ice under the Hurricanes? Will a two-bedroom house top the $1,000,000 mark? Will the Hudson Belk building be the new home of Jillian's? Will Helms still be in office?