So I found myself in another part of the series of tubes that comprise "the Internets" tonight, trying to explain just how I ended up living in and passionate about Durham, anyway. Realized when I was done this was a pretty good place to cross-post it, so here goes. Warning: quasi-autobiographical, painfully o'erwrought writing ahead.
For me, it goes back to the early 1990s, the first time I came to Durham, with family on a college trip to see Duke, among other schools. I grew up in Orlando, as I've mentioned here before, and always loved things that were new New NEW. New highway, or shopping mall, or subdivision? Beautiful! I adored the new and abhored the old. (Mind you, at this time much of what surrounded the core of Orlando still felt "new" -- the expanding shock wave of suburban expansion that leaves in its wake ex-new strip malls and neighborhoods that quickly devolve into tomorrow's slums. But that's later in the story of that town.)
So I arrive in Durham, young and inexperienced in the world and so completely sure of myself. Mind you, this is just five years after American Tobacco closed; during a period when I believe Liggett was still open; before the new ballpark, or Ninth Street's resurgence, or Southpoint. This was a sleepier Durham. An old town.
I hated it. I thought Duke was just okay but Durham was awful. I wrote in a diary I kept during the trip that Durham was "like Sanford, only worse," referring to an older, historic, racially-diverse town with a wonderful yet unappreciated history. I hated Sanford, too. I hated the way Sanford smelled, the way it looked, the way no one could be bothered to open a Circuit City or a KMart where, you know, people might actually want to shop.
I wrote Durham out of my mind for years to follow. College happened elsewhere, and my job let me live in lots of different places. Charlotte, for one. Orlando, again. And Richmond, then the D.C. area. Louisville. Then Boston for several wonderful years with my best friend, my wife. And by this time, the suburban life I craved as an Orlandoid all those years no longer held the appeal of life in a city, in a place surrounded by history and a sense of authenticity.
Friends of ours, inspired to "move south," opined they wanted to move to Fayetteville. We convinced them, based on feedback from friends, that they should really think about Raleigh. Or Chapel Hill. (Still, no Durham.)
After they got settled, we ventured down to visit them. My expectations were so low, I didn't have any. And, lo, we loved the area. The Triangle in general, yeah... and we got to see CaryApexRaleighCarrboro and liked them all fine. But we both really loved Durham.
So when the chance came for my wife to come to grad school down here, we jumped at the chance, even over several other Great Schools in Great Cities where people want to live. We wanted to live here, and not Raleigh, or Chapel Hill.
And we're staying. We kicked the tires in an apartment for a while, then bought a house. Started getting active in the community. Reading up on the news (the good and the bad -- Durham gets its share of both.) Feeling like it's home.
So, why am I here always saying good things about Durham? Maybe it's just karma, the payback I owe in some cosmic accounting. I prefer to think that it's because I was there once... making assumptions and misassumptions, judgements and misjudgements. And I like to tell people what those are.
This is not to say that Durham is not for everyone. It certainly isn't, and I would never presume it to be so. But I hate for people who might really want the good things in a place like Durham to be discouraged by the same false impressions I developed so many years ago.