Hola from Carrboro, North Carolina—the first place I have ever visited without a return ticket. What brought me here? Well, tomorrow, I’ll be starting a new job as Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. That’s right: in twenty-four hours, I’ll be nomadic no more. A radical life change, to be sure, but if there is a place on this planet where I am capable of settling, this is it.
Getting here was quite the journey. Late June, I packed all my books, files, and shoes into 64 boxes and watched three strangers load them into an eighteen-wheeler and haul them away (along with my credit card number). A few days later, a friend and I piled in to Kimchi (the little red Hyundai I reluctantly purchased last summer, after a lifetime of auto-avoidance) and commenced an 800-mile road trip from the North Country to the Deep South.
One stop of note was Ithaca, New York, a place I’ve wanted to visit since my Austin co-op days in the mid-nineties, when one of my sixteen housemates opened up a Moosewood Cookbook and introduced me to the marvels of quinoa and tofu. Before that, my cooking repertoire mainly consisted of fried bologna sandwiches (just as it sounds, between two slices of white Wonderbread and a squeeze of Frenchy’s). Moosewood was the first stage of the culinary evolution that morphed me into a foodie, so I was psyched to pay homage with an order of coconut crabcakes and a red cabbage salad at its original home in downtown Ithaca.
The trip’s gastronomic highlight, however, was a visit to Suzanne’s Fine Regional Cuisine on the Finger Lakes of Lodi, New York, which just so happens to be owned by the family of one of my dearest students at St. Lawrence University. They opened the restaurant just for us and an epic five-course meal ensued: six kinds of cheeses paired with local wines; greens with walnuts and goat cheese; mushroom risotto; a savory bread pudding that left us weeping; a lemon tart and chocolate mousse; and a final round of cheese. It was the kind of sensory pleasure that alters you on a cellular level, making you giddy and full of conviction that life is utterly beautiful.
Sar (the friend), Kimchi (the car), and I made it to Chapel Hill in time to catch the annual fireworks display at Kenan Stadium, and then my mom flew out from Texas to help me settle in. Having lived on the road for the better part of two decades, I had never invested in “real” furniture or appliances before, so the prospect of filling a two-bedroom apartment was daunting indeed:
Was I buying the bed I would be sleeping on for the rest of my life? If so, should I be opting for the $500 mattress, the $1,000 mattress, or the—Dios mio—$3,000 kind? Did bookshelves have to match? What about towels? I already had two, purchased for my first apartment back in Austin in, oh, 1998. They still worked perfectly fine. I mean, I was wet when I wrapped them around myself and dry when I removed them. Wasn’t that the point of towels, to dry yourself, and not, say, to match your bath mat and shower curtain? And wait, what was this? I couldn’t just buy a shower curtain, but also a liner and twelve little rings to hang it all with too?
But after ten days of stalking import stores, antique shops, consignment stores, and clearance warehouses, I now own not only a “real” bed (that is, one with a headboard) but a three-wheeled Chinese tea service and an antique Venetian liquor cart to boot. I have also “surrendered” my Texas driver’s license and New York license plates for North Carolinian ones and signed up for services with a new doctor/gynecologist/optometrist/hair-dresser/dentist/mechanic/Internet provider/bank/co-op/library. It seems I’ve developed post-traumatic moving disorder too: the mere sight of boxes makes me tremble now. And no wonder: this was my sixteenth cross-country move in twenty years, and that’s not counting my wholly nomadic years, when I switched locations every few days or so.
So all of this furniture-buying and hair-dresser finding is a big life change indeed. I would probably be freaking out if I couldn’t, within fifteen minutes, walk to all of the following: the best food co-op anywhere, a legendary music venue, a community arts center, the farmer’s market, an excellent yoga studio, biscuits galore, biking trails, hiking trails, and a fleet of taco trucks. Within forty minutes, I can be at the door of my new office (recently painted “obstinate orange” and “laughing orange” and decked with vintage blue chairs and army barrack filing cabinets) at the loveliest university campus I have ever known.
So this is where this August afternoon finds me, on the verge of a brand new life. I could be here anywhere from seven years to always, and am already hoping for always. Here’s wishing you the best with your own transition as summer turns to autumn. Thanks for stopping by, y saludos.