By Billy Liggett

Ten years ago this month, I drove from RDU Airport to Sanford on U.S. 1 for the first time. The stretch from Walnut in Cary to Spring Lane in Sanford served as my true first impression of North Carolina.

It was a hell of a first impression.

I’d never seen so many trees before. I’d never seen such “green” before, and this was February. The pines went forever — interrupted only occasionally by a crystal blue Harris Lake on the left, the calm Haw River and rocky Deep River waterfall on the right. For a guy coming from the flatlands of South Louisiana and North Texas, these hills were foreign to me. It was beautiful, and before I ever got to Sanford, I was sold.

I’ve driven that same 40-mile stretch of highway too many times to count in the last 10 years. Familiarity breeds contempt, and suffice to say, I don’t pay attention to the nature around me like I once did. I don’t notice the hills — recent trips to Asheville and other points west tend to flatten the Piedmont after a while. The trees all blur together now.

But there’s beauty to familiarity, too. I never thought Sanford, North Carolina, would be a long stop. I was editor of a small daily newspaper — Sanford was going to be a stepping stone to a larger market. Raleigh, perhaps. Maybe Atlanta. A large city back in Texas or Louisiana. The New York Times. Such is the life for many journalists. I was ready for this.

But something funny happened in Sanford. My wife and I really liked it. We got involved. We made friends. We bought a house. Adopted a dog. Had children.

We planted roots.

I consider myself a Texan — mostly because I spent my “wonder years” there, my teens and my college years (Texas also still holds that air of mystery to outsiders, and I still enjoy that). But I’ve been ev-er-y-where, man. I was born in southeast Ohio, closer to Pittsburgh than Cleveland, the son of a blue-collar steel worker. I spent a few years in Atlanta before moving to Texas, where my mom has family, and even there, I moved around. East Texas, Dallas, Houston. My wife and I lived in her native Louisiana before Sanford called in late 2006. We were here early the following year.

All of those things people used and continue to use as selling points for North Carolina prove correct. The beach really is just a few hours away. The mountains really are just a few hours away. The weather has the correct number of seasons, and none of them are terribly brutal. Sanford gets a raw deal sometimes, but it’s a great city with a future. It’s diverse, it’s growing and it’s getting a Duck Donuts, according to The Rant.

What I’m trying to say is we’re glad to be here. And we’re still discovering new things about this city and this state.

So thank you, which is the other thing I’m trying to say. I hope you appreciate what we have here, because it ain’t so bad.

Billy Liggett helped birth The Rant after nine months of brutal gestation. He might write a regular column if you like it.