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They say home is where the heart is. If that’s the case, Columbia will forever be my home. My heart lies in the crows that boom from the loudspeakers all over USC campus, the views from the West Columbia Riverwalk, the cheers of the Gamecock fans pouring out of Williams-Brice Stadium, the lights of Gervais St. filling the night, and the Palmetto trees that are sprinkled throughout the city.

Columnist Margaret Chrusciel Wren. Photo by Allen Wallace.

On August 11, 2017, I moved to High Point, North Carolina, bringing my 12 year stint at the University of South Carolina and life as a Columbia resident to an end. It also happened to be my 30th birthday. As a result, it felt something of a monumental milestone. The magnitude of what the move will mean for me has not yet fully come to fruition, but I can already feel the weight of the change.

I have lived three hours north of the famously hot city for just over two weeks. Before the move, I could name 100 things I would not miss about Columbia. Now, it seems like I could name 1000 that I already miss. Although, admittedly, there are still two signature Columbia “features” I do not miss and feel pretty darn confident saying that I never will.

First, yes, pollen is everywhere. But Columbia has taken it to a whole new level. The brutal allergy “season” (a.k.a. the whole year) leaves my eyes watering and the inside of my face itching so badly I would willingly peel my own face off just to directly scratch my sinuses. Since being here, I have remembered what it is like to breathe again, as in whole complete breaths. It’s rather refreshing. I’m told allergy season affects here as well, but if it’s contained to only one season I feel like that’s quite the upgrade.

Second, I cannot quite articulate the freedom I feel being away from Columbia’s beloved state bird, the Palmetto bug. Again, I’m told you can find them around here, but to be able to walk at night without the disturbing scuttle of palmetto bugs in nearby shrubbery is surprisingly peaceful. No longer do I fear that a Palmetto bug (okay let’s be real here–it’s a cockroach) will come swooping out of the sky and land on me. No longer do I shudder when I see a dark spot on the ground at night or think about that crunch that comes with the palmetto bug’s demise. (I know you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t even pretend like you don’t).

The pollen coating on the city and palmetto bugs aside, Columbia is a great city to call home. None of us give it enough credit. It took me about two and a half years of living there to like it and another two years to love it, but I never truly appreciated all the great things about Soda City. All the things that people typically complain about are some of the most wonderful things about it. And well, there are some things I think we can all agree make Columbia pretty amazing. So here it is, the definitive list of the things we take for granted that make Columbia our home, and also make it a place I dearly miss.

Photo by Allen Wallace.

The heat
Yes, it is so ridiculously hot and humid that at times, it can be downright miserable. However, when the rest of the country starts cooling down, you can count on that South Carolina sun to keep Columbia nice and toasty. My first week in NC was blazing hot, but the second was full of cloudy days and temperatures in the 60s. As I would walk to my car shivering, all I could think was how wonderful that SC sun would feel on my skin.

The Saluda River

Easily one of Columbia’s best features is the Saluda River. My husband and I frequently take his johnboat on the river and soak in the sun. We love the Saluda so much that we even got married right on it. There are not words to describe how much I miss it. Each time I’ve been to Columbia since starting my job in High Point, we have been  certain to get some time on the river. But not getting to see it every day as I cross the I-26 bridge or being able to go down and sit on the rocks, well, it’s heartbreaking.

Lake Murray

I think most everyone from Columbia will agree that Lake Murray is such a key element of Columbia. For me, it is so much more than the beauty of the lake. It’s the hot summer days riding around with my dearest friends. It’s floating in an inner tube drinking a cocktail. It’s watching my husband fly off the rope swing, trying all sorts of flips and tricks in the air before he hits the water. It’s home. 

Uncle Louie’s

There is no place quite like Uncle Louie’s. I’ve been going there as long as I’ve lived in Columbia and spent countless nights playing darts, Photohunt, shuffleboard, and pool. Nine years ago, I met the love of my life there, the man I would eventually marry. It is full of so many warm memories of times I will never forget. I never thought I would miss a hole in the wall so dearly, but I most certainly do. Despite having hunted all over and asking everyone I meet, I have yet to find a bar that comes close to Uncle Louie’s.

Photo by Allen Wallace.

The University of South Carolina

It took 12 years of my life and more money than I feel comfortable mentioning here, but I love that school and miss that campus. The pathway when you are rounding the corner coming from the Russell House toward Capstone is perhaps my favorite place in Columbia, especially in spring. It is so full of life, so full of beauty. It’s inspiring and calming at the same time. The smell of the blooming trees and the colorful flowers is something we all come to take for granted. Keep your eyes up when you walk through campus, you may not realize how much wonder you are missing.

The Views

Photo by Allen Wallace.

Every day I drove to campus, my route took me across the Jarvis Klapman Bridge or the Meeting Street Bridge. As you cross the river, you have perhaps the most stunning view of the city. Columbia may not be the size of Atlanta or Chicago, but it is still a city with actual urban infrastructure. It is beautiful. Nothing can replace that view.

The West Columbia Riverwalk

Given that I know absolutely no one in the High Point, Greensboro, or Winston-Salem areas, my dog Lucy has been my partner in crime. All the exploring I’ve done has been with my girl by my side. Needless to say, much of my exploration has been to find somewhere to let her run around, smell some smells, and get out of the apartment for a bit. So far, in two weeks, I’ve been to fourteen different parks. None of them can touch the West Columbia Riverwalk. Even with patches of it closed down from flood damage, it is still the best place to walk your dog, take a run, or just walk around and clear your head. Don’t take it for granted. Please go, get some fresh air, soak in the scenery, and celebrate that you have access to one of the most spectacular public parkways imaginable. Do it for me if nothing else.

Photo by Allen Wallace.

Gamecock nation

Our football team may not be the best team in the country, but you bet your bottom dollar we’re the best fans. We are loyal through and through and on top of that, we know how to tailgate! You will never find a Gamecock tailgate without a full cooler, fried chicken, and of course, boiled peanuts. People don’t get it in other parts of the country because they haven’t faithfully cheered for their team despite season after season of losses. But you know what, those losses make us truly celebrate our wins! Don’t believe me? Then you must not have been around when we upset #1 Alabama in 2010 or when we beat Clemson for the fifth year in a row in 2013. Yes sir, we know how to throw down when it counts!

What’s more is that we fill up Williams-Brice regardless of our record. That enormous stadium is exploding with the cheers of more than 80,000 fans week after week. And we’re only talking football here. Did I mention that our women hold the National Championship in basketball or that our baseball team won back-to-back championships? No matter your favorite sport, our Gamecocks are worth cheering for and our fans are worth being among.

My blood will forever run garnet and I will always been cheering for my team no matter where I live. However, I sure do miss living among fellow fans. Go Gamecocks!

The people

It goes without saying that when I moved I left everyone I’ve known and loved for over a decade.  If you happen to be one of my loved ones reading this, I miss you. However, even if I have never met you, I miss you too. People in North Carolina are friendly and kind enough. They’re definitely nicer than folks I’ve met in other places around the country, but I’ll tell you what, they are not South Carolinians. Even within South Carolina, there is something about Columbia’s residents that is unique from everywhere else. People really are warm and welcoming.

You’ll be hard pressed to walk down the street without a smile or a kind nod from a stranger. You cannot walk into a building without the person in front of you holding the door for you. When you hold the door for someone else, a “thank you ma’am/sir” is all but guaranteed. People let you in on the freeway and they will let you in front of them in line at the grocery store when you only have a few items.

Of course there are exceptions, but an overwhelming amount of the people in Columbia really do act this way, mostly without even thinking about it. Despite what people say about the friendliness being an act, I would strongly disagree. Admittedly, I’ve accused the people of Columbia of being fake and putting on a front in the past, but with time I’ve realized that is not the case. People here have embraced the idiom that it takes as much effort to be pleasant as it does to be unpleasant, so just be pleasant. Go see for yourself. Take a walk down Gervais Street and tell me how many people grimace at you. None? Yeah, I thought so.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I miss the kind welcoming faces of Columbia, that last little extra that makes Columbia’s residents stand out from the rest. Don’t lose that y’all, it really makes you wonderful.

The cultural movement that’s happening in Columbia

Last, but not least, I miss being a part of the cultural transformation that Columbia and the state of South Carolina is experiencing. I’ve lived here when the Confederate flag was flying proudly at the Statehouse, when people openly advertised their racism, when everyone lived in little bubbles that kept them apart from the diversity around them. Recently, there has been a very noticeable shift. The flag coming down was the tangible symbol of this shift, but the change has been everywhere.

Residents across the state were outraged at the shooting of Walter Scott. The state rallied behind Charleston after the tragic shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. People came together in truly remarkable ways during the 2015 flood and in its aftermath. I have never been more proud to be a Columbia resident.

This shift continues. Whether you like it or not, one of the most socially conservative places I could ever imagine is letting go of their segregated roots and embracing racial, social, and cultural diversity. I miss being a part of it and being able to witness it in all its glory.

The reality is though, that I don’t think I would have realized the extent of this transformation had I never left. It was only by being on the outside that I was able to truly see the way Columbia’s residents are beginning to expand, if not explode, the bubbles that had previously kept people divided.

I may have moved a state away, but I will forever remain a South Carolinian at heart. I can proudly say I always hold doors for others regardless of age, race, or gender. “Yes ma’am,” and “yes sir” are automatic responses to the cashier at the store or the server at the restaurant and I will always offer strangers a kind smile as I pass them on the street.

Columbia will always be my home and so long as the wonderful people of Columbia don’t lose their welcoming nature, I know it will always be here waiting for me with open arms. And don’t you worry, I’ll be back. How could anyone stay away indefinitely from such a great city?

Photo by Allen Wallace.

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