Horse of a Different Color

When Dorothy and her friends arrived in Oz they were picked up by a cabby in a horse drawn carriage. Dorothy asked why the horse is a different color. “I’ve never seen a horse like that before!” she says. The cabby responds, “No, and never will again, I fancy! There’s only one of him, and he’s it. He’s the Horse of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about!”

That’s the way I felt on Saturday night when I went to downtown Greenville for a concert with some friends. I felt for a few hours like I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

It’s a feeling I’m not surprised or comforted by, that I’m always dazzled when I follow the yellow brick road to Greenville. Any time I head west on I-85 I think about why they are what they are and why Spartanburg is Spartanburg. I just can’t avoid it. I feel the change with every mile.

To any space traveler approaching the piedmont it looks like Greenville and Spartanburg counties should be exactly the same. They are almost identical in size. Settlement patterns are similar, and until after World War II populations were close to equal.

But since the 1940s Greenville has become a horse of a different color. Now it has 100,000 more people than us, and those extra hordes of consumers have boosted their county and city in ways we in Spartanburg can barely imagine.

Greenville seems to be drowning in prosperity and all that’s good and bad to go with it. There’s more fast food, more exits to the suburbs, more traffic, and many, many more corporate headquarters once you take the exit for I-385.

Though going through an impressive economic micro burst, or “Renaissance” as we like to say, most would agree Spartanburg is still not as far along the road to post-textile prosperity as Greenville. Every economic and social victory is hard earned. It’s a battle of inches in the Hub City, where it looks like next door they’re galloping forward like a race horse.

After parking in downtown Greenville we stepped out into a dazzling weekend nightlife. The sidewalks were lit up from below. There were stone plaques with quotes from famous writers embedded in the concrete. Where’d they find all this money for quality of life? Were these urban dwellers more tolerant of taxes? Did wealthy benefactors take it out of their own pockets?

Tall maples and oaks shaded hundreds of people strolling Main Street. The citizens walked their poodles and multicolored mutts with bandanas for collars. They ate high-dollar ice cream and sipped lattes. They chatted with their million dollar condo neighbors living above the lit up store fronts.

I paused to reflect on fresh memories of my own downtown. Where are the empty storefronts? The pawnshops? Where are the cubbyhole loan companies? Where were the merchants with bars in their windows? Where were the selfish shop owners who turn valuable Main Street frontage into gated parking lots? What drove out Greenville’s economic bottom feeders who feasted once on poverty and neglect?

As my urban lament continued, a horse-drawn carriage (I kid you not) passed, and I realized, Oh, these people live in Oz, and it’s a horse of a different color. I watched as the white carriage made the route from the Poinsett to the Hyatt carrying tourists and locals with disposable income.

The lights of downtown twinkled and I was brought back to reality, to our reality, to the hard work of community building, to the undeniable facts of regional history and destiny, to the effort and satisfaction of loving your place, not someone else’s.

Strangely enough, at the height of that Oz moment I longed for Hub City, for something real as a cheeseburger at Ike’s, for the upcoming downtown crowds at Dickens of a Christmas, or for General Morgan staring off toward Cowpens. I was wearing plastic Crocs instead of ruby red slippers, so if I had clicked my heels together it wouldn’t have sounded like much. I had to wait until a satisfying evening of music and magic was over to head back to Spartanburg and leave the Emerald City behind. Home. There’s no place like it.

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