It’s been a really good month, one that began with a return to a place I hadn’t visited in much too long — Nashville. For anyone reading who doesn’t know me well, Music City played a rather significant role in my life story. It’s where my professional writing career began, it’s where I made incredible friends who still stay in touch despite the fact I’m 664 miles away, it’s where I met Will, and it’s also where I got a crash course in joy, heartache, adventure and humbling hard knocks in my 20s.
It’s funny how much a place can change when you’ve been away for four years. Sure, I’d heard rumblings about how much Nashville has grown, become a bona fide foodie lover’s paradise that’s attracted real-deal chefs from NYC and transformed into a much chic-er version of its honky-tonk self. But it wasn’t until I started driving around that it all became very real. There were many moments when I was like “wait, what street am I on again?” And that’s coming from someone who lived there for eight years.
While some things were the same, like the long, winding line waiting for breakfast at Pancake Pantry, the pervasive music industry shop talk at Fido or the veritable parking lot that is 440 leading into Green Hills, so many things were different like, say, 12South. Nothing more than a pizza place, a bagel shop and one of my favorite coffee shops, Frothy Monkey, when I left town, F.M. was once so under the radar that I’d meet Will there regularly for a breakfast date before heading to work. If we’d been dating now, let’s just say we wouldn’t have found a parking spot in time for a cup of coffee, let alone reading the morning paper.
Now a bustling collection of jam-packed restaurants, boutiques and cool places to hang out and hear music, 12South also featured a seemingly ever-present crowd of tourists taking selfies the way people do in front of the Eiffel Tower. Making sure I wasn’t alone in feeling downright geriatric hanging out there, many of my friends affirmed how radically the scene had transformed. I wish they’d all go home or people really need to stop moving here because we’re full is a sentiment I heard quite a few times during my visit.
But while much has changed, which, of course, I know is a good thing in terms of a city’s long-term survival, so much of Nashville was exactly how I remembered it. The walking bridge downtown, the one I always thought of as “my bridge” because I lived downtown when it was built, is still such a lovely place to walk and clear your head — something I did almost every evening back in the day while listening to John Mayer’s Room for Squares.
I also loved the familiar feeling of hearing all kinds of music emerge from the iconic dive bars and clubs downtown — bluegrass, blues, old-school country, you name it. With my to-go cup of fruit tea in tow, I felt like I’d briefly stepped into a time capsule. Walking through Centennial Park and up West End conjured up similar emotions. I remembered Spring days with pink trees like the one pictured on the left, the ones that smelled so sweet yet made me sneeze like nobody’s business. Yes, seasonal allergies were one of the not-so-pleasant by-products of life in Nashville.
One rainy afternoon while in the midst of a sneezing fit, I drove by my old office building off Kenner Avenue and remembered how many days I walked across the street to Starbucks or Smoothie King for afternoon reinforcements. That part of town looked the same, although many of the surrounding businesses have changed, and I found myself fondly remembering my five and a half years at CCM, something I hadn’t thought about in a while.
The best part of being back in Nashville, however, was catching up with friends. While dining at a mix of places both old and new, we picked up right where we left off, reminisced, laughed, and hours passed in what felt like minutes. While many friends are still in the creative world like before, it was fun hearing how their lives and careers had shifted, much like the city itself.
Five days later, I was back on a plane headed to DFW with a very full heart. In short, it was wonderful being back in my adopted hometown, and here’s hoping I won’t wait so long before heading back again. Who knows what Nashville will look like by then?