Back in early May — yeah, it’s been awhile — Mary Jo and I took a quick zip over to Charleston, South Carolina, to check out the city. We’d never been there before, we needed a little getaway, we’d heard great things about it from a bunch of friends and, more than anything, we wanted to see the place for ourselves because … well, because we are officially looking now.
Welcome to our Next Stop Tour.
We’ve lived in Atlanta for 20 years now. Twenty years. I’ve been in Atlanta for longer than I was in Tempe, Honolulu, Agana (Guam), Pensacola, Cincinnati and Columbus put together. I have been in Atlanta for longer than I lived in my home state of Delaware (the First State, the Diamond State, the State that Started the Union). I’ve been in Atlanta for. Ever.
When we moved to our first Atlanta house, on Tritt Springs Way in Marietta in early 1997, I was young and virile without a touch of gray. I could play basketball four times a week, my deep-brown mullet flapping in the wind as I streaked my way toward the basket. I could eat anything I wanted, anytime I wanted. I could have three beers a night if I wanted. I could have three beers and eat 15 wings. With an order of fries. After a good run at the gym.
Now … we’ve been in Atlanta twenty years! An order of fries alone make me feel 30 pounds heavier.
Moving here was especially life-changing for Mary Jo, who was born, raised and went to school in Cincinnati (go Bearcats). She was pregnant when we arrived. We knew no one here. Still, we found our nifty little split-level in Marietta, made it a home, raised a son, found a bigger house, made it a home, worked for some money, put some of it away, got the boy through school and off to college, found some friends, had some laughs, suffered through a long labor (Mary Jo and Luke), a baseball bat to the head (Luke) and a major surgery (me), went on some trips and learned our way, kind of, around this steamy, sprawling city of more than 5 million people.
Now, with Luke just a few years from striking out into the working world on his own (wherever that may be) and us a few away from stepping back from it, we’re looking. For the next chapter. The next adventure. Wherever that may be.
The possibilities are awesome. Exciting. And, sure, a little daunting.
If you could live anywhere in the world — we probably can’t live anywhere, but stick with me here — where would it be?
That’s kinda where we are right now.
We do have some caveats when it comes to choosing our new home.
- It has to be somewhere warm. We’re not moving to Minnesota. We’re not moving to someplace that has a real winter. I define that as, say, more than an inch of snow a year.
- It can’t be too warm. South Florida is great, but the sun down there can be relentless. Walking across a Publix parking lot can be harrowing at midday. It’s brutal is what it is.
- We’d like to live on a beach, or near enough to one. Like, minutes. Not hours. On the beach? Walking distance? We can dream, can’t we?
- We’d like to be close to a downtown area — can’t live in the sticks — with good restaurants and things to do. Walking distance would be absolutely awesome. We always thought a college town would be a great place to live, with all the activities around campus. Is there a decent-sized college town, close to a beach, in a place that’s warm year-round but not too warm?
- We’d like a cool, not-common house — doesn’t have to be big — with a private back yard (yeah, Brodie’s coming with) and, preferably, a pool. The house has to have a place where we can work. An office for Mary Jo. A nice corner for me where I can get away. A screened-in or enclosed porch or deck so we can enjoy the outdoors without getting eaten by bugs. (That’s one of the best parts of the house we live in now.) And it’s got to be new or recently updated. Because tools and me … we have an understanding. Mostly, I don’t understand how they work.
- The cost of living has to be reasonable. The definition of that will change, I’m sure, as we move along in our tour. But we didn’t work on our nest egg all these years to throw it away in a place that’s stupid expensive. And Luke doesn’t want us living with him when we hit 75 ’cause we ran out of money. (I’m sure Luke doesn’t want us living with him when we hit ’75 if we still have money. Lots of money. Ungrateful kid.)
- We also need to be fairly close to Cincinnati, where Mary Jo’s family lives. How close … well, that’s a moving target, too. We’re a 7 1/2-hour drive now. We don’t want to get much longer than that. But a two-hour flight? Maybe three?
So, we’re looking. When I first left my full-time gig a couple years ago, I set out on some recon missions — that’s military talk, fallout from my brothers, every one of whom (all five of them) is a veteran — to North Florida. Places like Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach. St. Augustine. Mary Jo came along for one.
We’re not ruling those areas out. We really haven’t ruled anyplace out. But — how can I put this kindly? — Jacksonville kind of stinks. Like, smells. Like, as my retired Navy brother Jim would put it, the head. You know, the latrine. A bathroom. A porta potty.
The source of the stench, evidently, are the paper mills and other assorted industries — I’m not making this up — which spread their stink along much of the coast, even into South Georgia. As pretty as the beaches might be in some parts down there, as cool as some towns are, that’s a problem. We decided to keep on looking.
So, back to the beginning.
Back in early May, we went to Charleston …
Weather: Steamy but sunny. Atlanta, basically, with an occasional ocean breeze. And a lot less exhaust.
Beaches: Some nice ones, including on Sullivan’s Island, a couple minutes over a bridge from where we were staying at an Airbnb, which was over another bridge from downtown Charleston. The houses on Sullivan’s are what you see on beaches everywhere. Some opulent, some run-down, some new, some looking like they’ve been battered by the trades and hurricanes for a few too many years. All way expensive.
Nice, though, with a nice small stretch of bars and restaurants — I absolutely love a good beach bar — and a beach seemingly free of Marge and Joe from Long Island.
Town: Downtown Charleston is nice, but swarming — absolutely teeming — with tourists. We drove around the city a little, spent too much time looking for a parking space, walked a lot and were damn near smothered by all the fanny packs, faux Hawaiian shirts, too-short shorts and knockoff sneakers from Kohl’s. Walk in downtown Charleston on a nice spring day, imagine those tourists transported to Paris or Nice, and you’ll understand why the French think we’re a nation of doofuses. (In French, I think that’s doofet, plural.)
We stayed in very nice woman’s house in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood — east of downtown, across a cool bridge — a tree-lined, easily walkable area where houses were on the older side and prices were on the high end.
Houses: We looked at a few, from brand new ones in the boonies to newer ones in a planned community north of downtown (Daniel Island) that was really, really nice … and, as far as the planned community goes, a teensy bit creepy. I mean, I love the idea of clean streets and a carefully defined city center, walkable neighborhoods and all that. I think I could live in a place like that. But … I don’t know.
I like a good, dive burrito place once in a while, too. A person needs to go to Target occasionally. Will my 2010 Accord fit in? If I don’t wear pastel polos, will I be an outcast? If I don’t cut my grass quickly enough, will I be arrested?
I don’t know. Then again, though, let’s be serious. We’re talking South Carolina here, right?
Anyway, we wheeled through more traditional neighborhoods as well, though traditional is not what we’re after. Mount Pleasant was cool and hip in many ways. Every city has a place like that. Not sure that’s us, either, but we appreciate it.
Pool: Not many houses seemed to have them. Not sure if it’s because much of the city is in a flood plain or what. Not even sure if it’s flood plain or flood plane. Anyway, not many pools.
Location to Cincinnati: A long drive, a short flight. Close enough.
Final thoughts: Doling out grades is difficult, of course, because we know that it’s a tad unfair to go all thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a place after a short weekend visit. We could have missed the best part of the city. We very possibly did. So grades can change.
That said … Charleston has its good (weather, location) and bad (the fanny packs). We should definitely visit again. We very well might. But it’ll be after a few more stops on our tour.
In the end, we’re not sold on it (by a long ways), but we liked Charleston. The fact that it didn’t smell like the head has to count for something.
The Tour rumbles on …