My family spends a week every summer on the beach in Duck, North Carolina, wondering why we live where we live and why we can’t just move to the beach. I’m the guy with the book and the goofy hat, complaining about the heat and trying not to get sunburned. This year for some reason, I was persuaded by a friend that riding a rental bike from Duck to Corolla, twenty miles up a 100 degree asphalt road, would be fun.
Here’s what I learned: According to a sign around mile marker 15, Currituck County was founded in 1668. That got me thinking about the first people who settled this area (I had to do something to forget about how much I hate bike riding). If memory serves, John Smith et al left England in 1607 and some time later that year landed at Jamestown Virginia. They loaded a bunch of salted cod and a few barrels of water onto a boat and set sail to a place called America with no hotels or fast food and bad roads – trails really. (I was struggling on a perfectly paved asphalt road after stopping at mile marker 12 for a cold soda).
Then it hit me. The people who founded Currituck County, which still looks pretty un-founded in some areas, were most likely the grandchildren of those Jamestown settlers. They apparently felt the need to walk almost 200 miles over sand dunes and swamps to find a place that was virtually identical to Jamestown only without all the amenities that had been added in 60 years. I mean, they certainly weren’t moving for better schools or a better job.
At mile marker 18, I concluded that the world would still be flat (or unexplored) if it were up to people like me. I live in Cleveland, Ohio (yes, our river once caught on fire and we haven’t won a pro sports championship since 1964) because I was born here and grew up here and because that’s where my family lives. I own a home, I have a good job, plenty of friends, and every Thanksgiving I play in the annual Turkey Bowl game on the football field I played on in junior high. (This year will be Turkey Bowl 40). In short, I live here for the simplest and most immutable of reasons: because.
I can’t imagine moving to Corolla, North Carolina today in 2011. Calling the moving company, settling my gas bill, getting a new checking account. That’s a lot to do. And it seems like an enormous waste of energy when you consider the fact that I already have a perfectly good place to live.
And yet so many Americans can’t wait to move away from their hometowns. In fact, the pursuit to live somewhere other than where we were born seems to be built into the idea of the pursuit of happiness. I’ve met so many Clevelanders who left for bigger cities the minute they could, only to return to Cleveland to raise families. Many of them confirm the wisdom of whoever it was who first said: Wherever you go, there you are.
Which is what I always say to my family when they ask their annual question: Why can’t we just move to the beach?
Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.