By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 18, 2015
In my previous post, I described setting eyes on the rural town of Henderson, N.C., in September 2003. To quote myself:
This part of the road isn’t very picturesque, and there aren’t many landmarks there, but a few things stand out. There is (or at least, there was) a giant Wal-Mart warehouse facility on the east side of the route. Also, there are churches on either side of the highway — lots and lots of large churches with large buildings and enormous parking lots.
[A]s I drove along this unlovely stretch of U.S. 1 for the first time in my life, I muttered something uncharitable about how bleak and unappealing the town of Henderson appeared to me.
Of course, the joke turned out to be on me.
Reader, I moved there!
In May 2003, I graduated with a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In the ensuing months, I sent out dozens of job applications.
I was searching for a position with a daily newspaper. Figuring that my resume might not be attractive enough for a paper in a major city — I lacked internship experience with a large news organization — I was aiming for a slot with a publication in a smaller market.
I didn’t really want to live in a small town, but I figured that I’d be able to do it for a spell — especially if I was living, say, about an hour outside of a large city. This figure wasn’t pulled out of a hat: Growing up, I lived about an hour’s drive from much of Manhattan. I was accustomed to driving 60 minutes or so each way to enjoy a night’s metropolitan adventure.
In late 2003 — November, if I recall correctly — I got an interview with The Daily Dispatch in Henderson. When I went down to talk to the editor, I arrived at night. I ended up driving around town a little bit so I would know the way to the newspaper’s offices and so I’d get a little feel for the character of the town. I wound up getting lost in what I considered to be a very sketchy part of the community, one with gravel roads winding past shabby-looking residences.
After some anxious moments, I emerged onto a major road — probably U.S. 1 Business; with no small relief, I made my way back to Henderson’s downtown.
I ended up being offered, and accepting, a reporting job with the Dispatch. I traveled back down in December to look for housing. I found an apartment on the north side of town that I liked and rented it.
I moved to Henderson in late January 2004 and lived there for more than four years.
These were interesting times for me. I enjoyed a lot of the work that I did at the newspaper. I earned a state press association citation for a piece of business writing. (This was ironic because business was one of the beats I covered least.)
Henderson little resembled the place where I grew up, let alone Manhattan, where I lived for nearly two years before moving to North Carolina. My professional circles, however, contained a lot of college-educated professionals who sported middle-class backgrounds, much like myself. In that sense, working in Henderson was a great situation for me.
My social life was a completely different story. I never really connected with anyone around my age in Henderson or in the places around it where I worked — Vance County (of which Henderson is the seat) and Warren and Granville counties.
In August 2007, a bunch of Teach for America employees working in the Vance and Warren county school systems moved into rental apartments by my place, and I got semi-friendly with these folks. That was fun, even though they were roughly 15 years my junior.
One thing that made life in Henderson much more comfortable for me was the Internet. I got cable Internet service (but not cable television) shortly after I moved in. Consequently, I was able to spend a lot of time listening to radio offerings from my home state — Yankees baseball, for which Major League Baseball required a modest subscription fee, as well as the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station.
Also thanks to the Internet, I was able to track my beloved Stanford University teams closely — reading about Cardinal sports on the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News websites and listening to football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball games on KZSU, the Stanford student radio station.
In March 2008, I transferred to a job in Durham. I moved there in June of that year, and I live in the Bull City, a.k.a. the City of Medicine, to this day.
I realized belatedly that Durham’s environment was much more suited to me than Henderson’s. I’m not exactly a city boy; I have trouble picturing myself as a resident of a high-density urban landscape like Manhattan, where my grandparents spent much of their lives. But I’m definitely not a country boy, and I expect that I never will be.