It was on a 5-day road trip from Pittsburgh to Memphis that I first landed in Nashville, freaked out, fell in love, and decided that I never wanted to leave. And it didn’t feel like a compromise or a settlement, either; it just felt right, much more right than New York or Los Angeles had ever felt to me. That was more than a year ago, and I’ve wondered every day since then what it was that made this strange Southern city that I had never given much thought to trump all of my best-laid plans for life in Manhattan or another epicenter-type metropolis.
While New York (and L.A., and even London or Paris) are right for some (OK, many, based on their impressive populations), smaller cities shouldn’t be ruled out or undervalued. I’ve loved two in my lifetime, Nashville and my home-city of Pittsburgh, and they’ve loved me back in ways that I could never have expected from larger cities.
In a smaller city, every murky river and strange pothole-covered road will engrain itself in your brain in a way that makes you feel like you could travel them with your eyes closed, and there are never a shortage of hidden alleyways and book-filled cafes left to discover. There are also more inspiring people than you could ever imagine—musicians and writers and artists who call these smaller cities home and work every day to change them for the better and make them just that: home. Believe it or not, these types of people (just like you) exist in just about every city.
Every inch of this planet is good in its own way, and it’s all right in front of you, provided that you don’t let your own seemingly permanent plans get in the way. Drive, wander, stick a pin in a map and throw away all of your ideas about where you’ll be in five years. If it just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t, and if you land on a patch of turf that feels like home but also feels like lightning, then let it take you in for as long as it will have you.
Fall in love with a place, with its darkest corners and its brightest sprinkles of daylight across that one weird building downtown. Let it chew you up and spit you out, because that’s the only way to really interact with a place, and because it can happen in a place that’s not New York or Paris. It can happen even in a quirky Southern music town that seemed to pop up right when you needed it most.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer based in Nashville, TN. She recently relocated from Pittsburgh, PA and spends most of her days getting lost along the strange Southern highways, tasting all of the whiskey ice cream she can find, and writing SEO content about neckties and diabetes medications for e-retail websites. She also writes the occasional freelance piece that makes her expensive journalism major worthwhile. Visit her online here.