Chris White commentary: Tough to say farewell to Columbus

cwhite@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 15, 2011 

In my profession, it’s easy to see each career stop as little more than a paycheck, a freshly painted apartment and a new paragraph to be squeezed onto a résumé.

Certainly, I did not plan on spending the rest of my career covering high school sports when I moved to Columbus three years ago this month, so I anticipated an eventual move.

Yet, as I prepare to move to Athens, Ga., this weekend to pursue a great career opportunity, I feel a tinge of regret at having to leave Columbus because at some point in the previous three years it became my home rather than a stepping stone.

I learned a lot about journalism here, I met so many people I can hardly go out without bumping into at least a few of them, and my daughter was born here -- all things that tie me to this town.

Maybe part of it was the Southern charm, too. Yes, I said Columbus has charm. Many of you, particularly if you are younger than 30, likely feel much differently. You might have spent your life here, and, as my theory goes, no one appreciates their hometown until they are at least 40.

The suburban landscape that surrounds my former home on Florida’s west coast has a plastic, temporary feel, and few things are truly old. In fact, most of it was built up beginning in the 1960s and sold to retirees from New York who simply could not bear to pitch another shovelful of snow across their driveway. Developers constructed sprawling subdivisions full of pastel-colored homes, filled lots with palm trees and lined every highway with strip malls.

The next time you walk past one of the historic markers that dot Columbus like stop signs, take a look and appreciate that you instead could be from a town with a history that could fit into a pamphlet.

Whatever it was about Columbus, it was more than history and it stuck fast to me.

Within days of moving here, I began regaling my friends in Florida with tales of driving through Pine Mountain -- ”There are actual hills and rock faces. Can you believe that?” -- as they rolled their eyes, unimpressed. And when I visited my parents for the first time after living here for about six months, they caught me saying y’all. Twice.

This was a truly remarkable milestone.

Nearly everyone in the area where I grew up has some variation of a Northeastern accent. They might be from New York, Massachusetts, Maine or, like my family, New Jersey, but they definitely weren’t from the South.

As difficult as it was to pick up on some of the thicker drawls I have come across, people have had an equally hard time with me as I use “wooder” for water and “galf” for golf and often speak at a rate comparable to an impatient auctioneer.

It definitely helped that my job was enjoyable, too.

Saddled in the middle of SEC football country, I spent many Saturdays covering some of the best teams in the nation. The overall competitiveness of the Bi-City’s high school sports and the depth of the talent pool hardly could have been better or more interesting to report on every day.

And it was like a vacation covering Columbus Lions games as it featured two sports writer fantasies: air conditioning and no hoops to jump through for access to coaches and players.

And you have hockey, Columbus.

I don’t even mean that you just have the Columbus Cottonmouths. I mean that you can decide you want to play ice hockey and be skating by next week.

When I was job hunting for positions as a sports reporter in the Southeast, I had just about written off playing the sport again. When I stumbled upon a position in Columbus and learned there was a rink in the Columbus Civic Center and possibly another on the way, I could not get my application in fast enough.

Mix all of those things together, and it is why I love Columbus and why it is going to be so difficult calling a new city home.

Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.

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