About five months ago, my husband, Nate, and I took our Lab mix, Louie, on a stroll through our Mount Pleasant neighborhood. It’s a pretty popular route for joggers, bikers, and fellow dog owners, and when your pet needs to be walked three-plus times a day, you start recognizing folks. So it was no real surprise when we came upon the gentleman walking his German shepherd, who we see multiple times each week. Still, I froze.
You see, as a recent New York-to-Charleston transplant, I have yet to figure out the appropriate level of casual nodding and/or communication when passing a fellow human on the sidewalk. After nearly a decade spent training myself to avoid eye contact with strangers in tight public spaces, saying “Good morning” to every passerby doesn’t come easily. But in that moment of anxiety near Memorial Waterfront Park, I was determined to make a change. I was going to live up to my new city’s charm and spirit of geniality. I put on a friendly expression, lifted my chin slightly, and raised my right hand in the proper “hello” fashion. “Good morning!” I sputtered.
It was 6 p.m.
While you might chalk this interaction up to just plain awkwardness, I’m certain it’s part of a larger learning curve that comes with moving to a new place. In fact, this Philly-born New Yorker adjusts to life in Charleston on a daily basis, making new discoveries at a frequency on par with a newborn. I’ve learned that my friend, for instance, does not work at “Musk,” but at “M-U-S-C;” that oyster season isn’t in the summer months when one might most relish something chilled over ice; and that fashions such as bow ties and flip-flops are ubiquitous. (Just imagine loose-fitting footwear on the dirtiest of subway floors, and you’ll understand my previous aversion.)
When Nate and I traded our 346-square-foot Upper East Side apartment with a monthly price tag of $2,250 for a 1,100-square-foot Mount Pleasant condo at half the rent, I couldn’t believe our luck. For the first time in 10 years, we had a garbage disposal, washer and dryer, and a dishwasher! (I’ve learned to stop bragging about the dishwasher. Having one is, apparently, not a big deal.)
One of our finest luxuries in New York was that our tiny piece of prime real estate came with an unprecedented backyard—a secret garden we filled with string lights; herb, tomato, and pepper plantings; and curb-rescued patio furniture. After a tiresome day at work, 60-some minutes squeezed into a sweltering subway car, and a near-mile walk home from the station, there wasn’t anything like sitting in that little oasis with a cold one. Because when you’re surrounded by overrun lilac vines and shaded by a large maple, the constant rush and noise of the city just fades away.
We spent most of our time out there in the warmer months, laughing late into the evenings after a full dinner prepared on the grill. Our apartment also saw a constant stream of guests who’d join us for long nights of outdoor revelry, the mood set by a single portable speaker and constant complaining about that city we loved to hate. Or perhaps more aptly, hated to love.
In Charleston though, people simply love to be here. And it’s not just because of the history, beaches, waterfront views, pricey real estate, or fancy cocktail bars. New York has all that, too. But some of what Manhattan lacks is drivers who wait patiently for pedestrians, store clerks who love small talk, people who call others back when they accidentally left a message for the wrong number.
Did I mention the small talk? When a bank teller knows the geographical breakdown of your family’s surname, or when the cashier at Whole Foods informs you that your dog’s favorite kibble is back in stock, you know you’re somewhere special. Life really is a little bit slower, but it’s because complete strangers take the time to acknowledge one another.
I may not get to hail cabs, ride an elevator higher than 18 floors, or see the ballet at Lincoln Center on a weekly basis anymore. And here, I may never live in a barrier-island home with palmetto trees and a bluestone patio surrounding an infinity pool or a mansion on South Battery. But like the simple luxury of a quiet space amidst a hectic and earsplitting city, perhaps what I’ll come to relish most about life here are the friendly interactions, the sunny smiles of Charleston’s inhabitants, and those “hellos” passing on the street.
For now though, please accept my misplaced greetings. If you get a “Happy New Year” from me this month, just go with it.