Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them.
This week we have Luke! A fellow Brooklyn transplant, Luke hails from East Tennessee (Scout supposes will forgive him for cheering on that orange team). He’s got a passion for the music of Appalachia, but he enjoys it more at a small smokey venue in New York than at Bonnaroo. Read on for his thoughts on accents, life sans car culture, and learning to play the fiddle.
Who are you and what do you do?
I work at a law firm in Midtown in business development. I originally moved to New York thinking I would pursue law school so I started out working as a paralegal, but doing that job just made me realize I didn’t actually want to be a lawyer. My current job kind of fell into my lap, but eventually I’d like to work in business development in the renewable energy industry.
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
What brought you to New York?
Work (see above) and my girlfriend, Lori. We were looking for someplace where we could both pursue what we wanted [Editor’s note: Lori works with Scout at the museum, trying to do that arts thing.], and eventually things shook out for us to end up here.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
“You’re from East Tennessee? Why don’t you talk funny?” People are often confused as to why I don’t have an accent. Or people try to pretend like they noticed something when they didn’t. They don’t comment on my accent until I tell them where I’m from, and then suddenly it’s all they can talk about.
People here don’t really get being friendly to passers-by; that’s not really something you have to explain, but you have to get used to being in your own head more. Also central heat and air! No one in New York seems to understand that everywhere else in the country that is basically the standard.
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
Living in New York is a lot more like living in Knoxville than people think. Folks back home either think you’re going out and partying with celebrities all the time, or that living in Brooklyn means you’re at risk of getting shot on the way home. And also you’re a hipster.
The biggest difference about living here, for me, is the lack of car culture, which really does change things…especially how much people drink. We drink a lot here — most of the social events revolve around drinking — because nobody ever has to drive so it’s fine.
Where do you consider home? Why?
East Tennessee is still home, although specifically it fluctuates between Seiverville and Knoxville. It’s where I grew up and it was very formative. Plus, I never really thought New York was a forever place for me.
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
I don’t see myself going back. I miss the place, and I miss my friends and family, but a lot of them have also moved elsewhere at this point. I think it’s more of a nostalgia: I miss a place and a time that’s not there anymore. At this point, my family would be the only thing that would pull me back there; I don’t really see my career taking me back.
And even though I miss the place, I don’t necessarily miss the prevailing culture or some of the politics.
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
I’m definitely a Southerner first. But what makes New York such an interesting place is that so many people come from other places and so the bar for considering yourself a New Yorker is pretty low. Everyone you meet is from somewhere else.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you?
Justin Townes Earle: “One More Night in Brooklyn” and “Working for the MTA”
Both songs are about New York, and Lori and I saw him at City Winery during my early days here. Plus he also very much relates with being from Tennessee and moving to the city from there.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from?
Books: Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel (portrait of life in Asheville, NC in the 1920’s, but the imagery is really similar to the mountains around home) and James Agee‘s A Death in the Family (which is set in Knoxville). My high school AP English teacher actually took us to a lot of places in both the books so we got to experience them in a very real way.
Music: Ben Sollee [Editor’s Note: Z&S saw him at City Winery with Luke and the lovely Lori, and it was a fantastic, nostalgic evening.]
I’ve also decided I want to learn to play the fiddle, because living outside of Tennessee has definitely made me appreciate the culture more.
What is the best cure for homesickness?
Talking to friends. It reminds me that home is not necessarily a place or region, but the people in it.
Bagels or biscuits?
I wouldn’t get a bagel in Tennessee, and I wouldn’t get a biscuit in Brooklyn, but I love both.