Published on Tuesday, May 29, 2001 in the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer
The Single-Wide Life in Six-Figure Territory
by Danny Gotham
CHAPEL HILL -- In the morning, as I leave my neighborhood, directly across the road I see the Summit Apartment complex -- excuse me -- the Summit Apartment Home complex. A quarter mile later, on the right, I pass the Governor's Club. Based on what I've heard, you don't live there unless you have a very good income indeed. Across the way from the Governor's Club is Governor's Village -- very nice houses, but not quite as fancy as the ones behind the gatehouse.
Of course, I'm not certain about this, because I've never been invited to the Governor's Club. Perhaps the governor doesn't know me?
A little farther, and around the corner as I turn onto Farrington Mill Road, I pass Governor's Forest. It's just beginning to come into being in the Governor's universe. From what I can see, it's still bulldozers, trucks, landscapers. The sign on the corner says that they are accepting applications for homesites. Price: mid $300s.
I live in the low $6s. The place I leave in the morning is Nature Trail mobile home community. There are a few double-wides that might be dipping into five-figure territory, but almost everyone in Nature Trail lives in various sizes of basic trailer homes.
I don't have any accurate numbers, but I would guess there are equal numbers of white, black and Hispanic residents. Occupations? The only thing I'm pretty certain is that most park residents don't wear white collars to their jobs. Judging by my neighbors' cars, six-figure incomes aren't commonplace here, unless one trailer contains several wage earners. I have two college degrees, and that, I'm quite sure, puts me in the minority.
For me, a trailer park is the only choice. I have spent most of my adult years playing and teaching music. I wear blue jeans when I work and when I play. Most of my income comes from teaching guitar -- in Cary at a music store and at home -- and a modest-paying day job in Durham. My work can be tedious but it is never high-pressured. My work also doesn't mean a very hefty income, and that's why a trailer park is the only choice.
I discovered Nature Trail about six years ago. Right away, I could see the place was different -- it didn't look like a trailer park, or at least the stereotypical trailer park. The trailers and streets looked clean. No huge satellite dishes. No junked cars. The neighborhood streets were lighted. If you are a speeder, it's not a place where your car will last very long -- the speed bumps here mean business.
There was a trailer for sale -- a 1982 Conner -- 56 feet long by 15 feet wide. Plenty of space for a single person. I had $1,000 saved (thanks to my mother), and that was enough for a down payment. The remainder of my new home's cost, $6,500, was duly paid off in 36 monthly installments, which I lumped together with my lot rent. The grand moment when I paid off my mortgage had an unexpected comic undertone. My certificate of title came from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. I was now the proud owner of an 820-square-foot motor vehicle.
I'm 10 minutes from Chapel Hill, and my church. Thirty minutes to my day job, the music store in Cary and the Bulls' ballpark. I don't have neighbors above, below or beside me who adjoin my ceiling or walls. I have privacy. Most of the time, I have quiet (yes, some of the neighbors like their music a little loud -- but not constantly). Mostly, I have the pride of ownership.
When you live your life the way I have been living mine -- with a certain measure of freedom and a low income that comes with choosing that particular kind of freedom -- the very idea of owning any kind of home seems a bit far-fetched. Yes, I have to pay lot rent. I wish I could own my land, but that's not the way trailer parks work. I will choose to live with the satisfaction that I own my home.
When I browse the real estate ads, and see good "starter homes" going for well over $100,000 I realize that I am living in an alternative universe. In my sphere of existence, $30,000 is a fortune. I would venture a guess that most of my neighbors would say the same. If healthy white-collar incomes and six-figure homes represent the pretty picture the Triangle wishes to paint for visitors and prospective residents, then the Nature Trails represent something else -- perhaps a different reality. Not as pretty, but no less real.
I hold no animosity in my heart for my more wealthy neighbors. I don't believe income has any bearing on a person's worth as an individual, or on their worth to the culture in which they reside. In our culture, mobile home parks might be a representation of lower-class incomes, but I recognize that compared to the majority of our planet's residents, we are filthy rich. There is food in our stomachs, cars that run and roofs over our heads.
I have some good friends who make lots of money and have nice homes. I've had some Governor's Club residents for students, and they were nice folks. In my opinion, being well-off doesn't mean you are automatically a rotten human being. Nor does living a life with a modest income guarantee sainthood. What I believe is that living in the Triangle -- and owning a home -- should not be out of reach for anyone who wants to put their roots down here.
Danny Gotham surveys the growing Governor's scene from Nature Trail, which has a Chapel Hill mailing address even though it's in Chatham County.
© Copyright 2001, The News & Observer