The Pros And Cons Of Southern Living

My wife makes a list whenever things get complicated, and it is one of the reasons why she’s a productive person, one who can juggle difficult tasks with ease and bring balance to our chaotic lives. On the flip side, I keep running lists inside my thick cranium, allowing them to fester, modify and multiply, rather than rely on what will inevitably devolve into a yellow, orange and pink tsunami of mostly illegible sticky notes affixed to countertops and monitors.

WelcomeToHarrisburg
Our new hometown.

We both seek structure but go about it in completely different ways—yet it works for us as a married couple with two young daughters, Shannan and Fionna. Case in point: Our respective “pros and cons” lists when deciding if we should uproot our family and move from Long Island to North Carolina matched up nearly identically.

Pros—lower cost of living, less congestion, lower taxes, less traffic, polite people, longer summers, almost no snow days, new opportunities and adventures, and lots and lots of cows, barbecue, fried chicken and craft beers (I think you can see where our respective lists melded).

Cons—leaving behind our extended families, moving inland after living the entirety of our lives within 10 minutes of the ocean, packing and moving all of our crap 670 miles, and familiarizing ourselves with redneck terminology, like “That dog won’t hunt!” (Bad idea, friend), and “Quit piddling around!” (Stop wasting time, Yankee).

As you might be able to ascertain by now, the “pros” ultimately won out and we were recently reunited as a family in our new hometown of Harrisburg. Things are still relatively new for the four of us, and that’s why I thought now would be the best time to compare what we’ve given up with what now lies before us in the south.

And, you know, mercilessly pass judgment on both.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order):

Beaches vs. “The Beach”

Next to leaving our families, moving away from the ocean was the most difficult part of our relocation south and, notably, inland. Living on an island spoils you in many ways, like always having the ability to jump in a car and, within minutes, being able to sink one’s bare feet into the sand or cast a line into the water at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays. Visiting the beach is therapy for many Long Islanders, even those who prefer that their lobster be unshelled for them and served with a side of hot butter.

Unless you’re lost, or searching for a specific spit of sand, the beach is always a welcoming destination—and now it isn’t for us. And that’s still hard to comprehend.

GirlsPool1
Our daughters.

That’s not to say that North Carolina is a “dry state.” There’s beautiful Lake Norman, the Tarheel State’s manmade “inland sea.” It’s enormous, spanning more than 50 square miles, located less than 20 miles outside Charlotte, and offers an assortment of recreational activities, from fishing, sailing and waterskiing to hiking, camping and golfing.

But those who want a true ocean beach experience must go to “The Beach,” what the locals call Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In less than four hours, we can be there, enjoying fresh seafood, sniffing the ocean air and navigating Broadway at the Beach.

Though a tad more “tacky and touristy” than what we’re used to, Myrtle Beach—especially the northern end—is a solid substitute for when us northerners want to sink an umbrella in the sand, jump waves or feel the spray of saltwater on our faces.

While it has much to offer, especially for our younger set, Myrtle Beach will never be able to completely fill this particular void.

Advantage: Beaches (as in Long Island’s many beaches)

The Big Apple vs. The Queen City

Yes, Manhattan is the city that never sleeps. It is home to the Great White Way. It is one of the world’s four fashion capitals. It is also home to some of the most exquisite restaurants on the planet, and the place to be if you have a 2 a.m. craving for kebabs, souvlaki, or baklava.

Charlotte1
Uptown.

But there are plenty of drawbacks as well, starting with the astronomical costs of everything from rent to Yankees game tickets. There’s traffic all the time, whether it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday or 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. And if you spend more than 20 minutes on the subway in the summer, you’ll eventually be floored by stench of urine. (Fact.)

Though considerably younger and smaller, Charlotte is no slouch when it comes to entertainment (especially sports) and upscale restaurants. It also has a thriving downtown—which, ironically, is referred to as “Uptown”—with new companies making it their home base monthly. It is clean, welcoming and boasts a public transportation system that won’t make one constantly mutter curses under one’s breath (I’m talking to you, Long Island Rail Road)!

Named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the queen consort of King George III, the Queen City thrives and bustles without ever being pretentious (or stinky).

It’s also accessible, even as the North Carolina Department of Transportation continues upgrading the city’s ever-expanding highway system. Of course, there’s still traffic, notably during the morning and evening rushes, especially on Route 77, but it’s also quite common for it to only take 20-25 minutes to make one’s way from Uptown to Harrisburg—a trip that should only take 20-25 minutes or so.

Advantage: The Queen City

New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers.

No explanation required from this lifelong, and miserable, Jets fan.

But seriously, Charlotte is a city that caters to sports lovers, and not just football and NASCAR addicts (The NASCAR Hall of Fame is here).

It is home to a pair of professional, and successful, sports franchises in the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets, whose home stadiums are within walking distance to one another Uptown. The Queen City also boasts a pair of equally competitive minor league teams. The Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, also play downtown and their home field, BB&T Park, is both immaculate and glorious. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, play their home games just outside the city, at Bojangles’ Coliseum, which looks like a baked good from a distance and is fittingly referred to as “The Biscuit.”

And don’t get me started on ticket prices. I treated my buddy and his daughter, as well as my oldest, to a Checkers game last season and it cost less than a single ticket to a New York Rangers game, and that included concessions for my daughter and myself.

The only downside for this Yankee (who will remain an uprooted and displaced Mets fan) is that the Atlanta Braves are the most “local” of MLB franchises.

Barf.

What’s one blemish on an otherwise impeccable record?

Advantage: Carolina Panthers (And Company)

Uncle G’s vs. Lowes
(Not What You’re Thinking)

As a full-blooded Sicilian, the south’s lack of quality Italian foods is, in a word, discerning, alarming, traumatizing and freaking me the heck out. In addition to once having several true Italian delis within driving distance—such as Delfiore’s in Patchogue, Scotto’s in Hampton Bays and Nino’s in our old hometown of Smithtown—we also left behind our most lovable of uncles, Uncles Giuseppe’s.

LowesBartender2
The tap room at Lowes.

For those who have never been, it’s an Italian pork store on steroids, a market offering a full line of homemade sauces and pastas, specialty cheeses, salted meats like prosciutto and soppressata, and an assortment of mouth-watering breads that are baked in Brooklyn and trucked in every morning by a guy named Tony.

The trade-off is roughly one-quarter of the local Lowes Foods—a supermarket chain founded by the former co-owner of the home improvement store that shares the same name—features the widest variety of locally crafted beers that this Yankee has ever seen under one roof outside of a distributor’s warehouse.

Our Lowes also features a tap room with a small bar, allowing shoppers to sample the goods while completing their shopping. Needless to say, going grocery shopping isn’t the same arduous task as it is back north, and there are plenty of less interesting (and less tasty) ways to spend a Friday evening.

The only downside—and it’s a fairly huge one—is that all of Lowes Foods’ salted Italian meats are of the pre-packaged variety, and being able to get a buzz while shopping for brisket and baby back ribs isn’t enough to fill this particular hole.

Advantage: Uncle G’s, Delfiore’s, Scotto’s and Nino’s

Smith Haven Mall vs. Concord Mills

It comes as little surprise that both are now owned by shopping mall operator goliath Simon Property Group, though the latter is by far the much cooler, newer and more attractive option.

ConcordMillsMall
Concord Mills.

Concord Mills—it’s so popular that the word “mall” is unnecessary—opened in 1999 and boasts more than 200 shops and restaurants, including a whopping 15 anchor stores (Smith Haven has like three.) Perhaps most impressive is that its nearly 1.4 million square feet of retail space is configured in an enormous oval, mirroring the track of the nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It only takes one visit to understand why Concord Mills is North Carolina’s top tourist attraction with roughly 17 million visitors annually. In contrast, the Smith Haven Mall—named as such as it spans two towns, Smithtown and Brookhaven, and measuring roughly the same size—only has 140 retail options and, most important, no LEGO store.

Advantage: Concord Mills

Riverhead Raceway vs. Charlotte Motor Speedway

One has a 1.5-mile oval track, seating for more than 89,000 racing fans and hosts several prestigious NASCAR events each year, like the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend. It also anchors a 2,000-acre racing compound/mecca that features the ZMAX Dragway—the only all-concrete, four-lane drag strip in the country—which sits alongside the Dirt Track of Charlotte, a four-tenths-mile clay oval that seats 14,000 and annually hosts Monster Truck championships.

The other is the Riverhead Raceway.

CharlotteSpeedway2
Charlotte Speedway.

Advantage: Charlotte Motor Speedway

 

7-Eleven vs. QuikTrip

When pitching our then-potential relocation to our children, my wife and I purposely pointed out that we’d be considerably closer to the Magic Kingdom—it’s less than a 9-hour drive, to be exact.

The second greatest selling point: the abundance of QuikTrip franchises in the greater Charlotte area.

For those who haven’t been, a visit to QuikTrip is magical in its own right. In addition to averaging 20 gas pumps, individual shops offer a salivating selection of freshly made foods, like personal pizzas, flatbreads and hand-braided pretzels that come with your choice of dipping sauce (cheese, marina or icing), as well as a wide assortment of fresh and flavored coffees AND hot teas, regardless of the time of day.

QTslurpies
Behold the “FREEZONI” at QT.

But the clincher for our kiddies was the FREEZONI, otherwise known as the “Wall of Slushie Goodness.” Unlike the 7-Elevens back home that offer three or four different flavors at most, and frequently fewer, all QuikTrips—or “The QT” as they’re known locally—are always stocked with around a dozen different flavors. In addition to traditional flavors, like Coca-Cola and Blue Raspberry, QT’s tease tongues with tantalizing numbers like Orange Cream, Mountain Berry Blast, Strawberry Banana, Cherry Limeade, and so on and so on.

That doesn’t include their assortment of Smoothies, the icy versions of Cheerwine, Sun Drop, Raspberry Lemonade and so on. And there’s also an equally impressive selection of fountain drinks, all reasonably priced.

Advantage: The QT

Jones Beach vs. PNC Pavilion

The Jones Beach Theater—I refuse to call it by its new corporate name—is pure Long Island. The 15,000-seat amphitheater overlooks beautiful Zachs Bay on the barrier island and is a stone’s throw from the Atlantic. As the only local outdoor music venue capable of attracting mainstream musicians and bands, it IS the place to be to catch a summer concert.

What it lacks in waterfront views, the PNC Music Pavilion makes up for in practicality. Even though it sits in University City, just north of Charlotte proper, and can hold up to 19,500 concert-goers, PNC Pavilion is still easily accessible and draws many different performers and bands. Its expansive lawn is welcoming and a great place to catch some sun and tunes.

The slight advantage goes to Jones Beach, however, mostly because of the waterfront views.

Advantage: Jones Beach Theater

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