Day two here in Nashville’s worst ice storm in two decades. Area public schools are cancelled for the week as we thaw from phase one and brace for two and possibly three more hits of this epic winter event. Early afternoon Grace and I braved the roads and found them passable in our western hamlet. I watched as a slim, unshaved, casual and warmly dressed man crossed the road in front of me while I stopped at the red light. He looked like the sort that, any other day, would have a clean-shaven face and a white-starched collar, tie, and suit in place of his plaid, untucked shirt, and heavy winter sport jacket. I saw more such men meandering around a crowded Kroger grocery. The men seemed to be getting away with the scruffy look much more than the women folk. Myself included. And, yes, that’s probably sexist to say. Maybe I just have a case of cabin fever—just Grace and I holed up in our 1,200-square foot condo.
Navigating the produce, spice, and health food aisles, I ran into four friends and acquaintances in that old familiar “Nashville small-town feel in a decent sized city kind of way of living here.” One of those four, I’d only met online. It was a face-to-face meeting and a reunion all at once. She surveyed my puffy orchid snowsuit and Grace and my matching purple fleece skullcaps, and complimented our wild choice of colors. None of us were our best selves, yet it mattered not. Like everyone else there, we were grabbing eggs and milk, arming ourselves for the next wave of the winter storm, and Noelle and I were glad to finally meet one another.
I said to her, as we joked about our mismatched layers and bedhead hair, that really, this storm was showing us all our one-ness. She agreed. That nice looking man who crossed the street in front of my car, with a little dirt and a few holes in his coat, could have been one of the homeless people selling the local street paper. Maybe I could pass for a wacky bag lady on another day. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but what I was seeing was that social class was stripped right there in the chaos of Kroger. It felt good.
And then we walked down the sidewalk into Starbucks. I treated Grace to a hot chocolate soymilk. The line was long and curved, and people silent while we waited. Heaven forbid anyone chitchat with a stranger. I placed Grace’s order and made my way through the crowd of a coffee shop full of one person per table, their laptop paraphernalia taking up space in the chair opposite them and their devices. I directed Grace to sit at the only remaining armchair, which was catty corner to an attractive, nicely and casually dressed woman who practically rolled her eyeballs at me when I smiled at her. It was not the first deflection in the shop. I did the same with the pretty young woman with the black leggings, black boots, long navy sweater and neat, long, black ponytail. Nothing but a cold stare back.
Perhaps I was/am the homeless bag lady. I and my ridiculously colored purple snowsuit and striped hat and face stripped of makeup. Grace with a pair of my old fleece pants, too short over a pair of snow boots. (They were Coach brand. Not that I cared or that I cared if anyone else cared. TJ Maxx special. We liked their price, wild colors, and the warm fleece lining.) The confines of Starbucks, on this day, were vividly different than the scruffy necessities-grabbing patrons of Kroger. No, I was reminded, this is the new Nashville now. These folks had their shit together. No mismatched over-puffy layer-wear. These folks were serious. I shoulda known the down-home, we-are-in-this-together-vibe was about to change when I approached Starbucks and passed an uber-tall, skinny legged young woman with cream-colored cashmere leg-warmers casually scrunched up just above her knee caps and a pair of handsome lace up-booties on her feet as she stepped off the sidewalk to navigate a sunny parking lot of frozen chunks of dirty ice and pools of water.
I left pondering this about the influx of strangers who have come to my town, lured by the siren song sung from the pages of The New York times and the dozens of national publications since. It’s hip in Nashville. Hey, they’re cool down there, Ya’ll. Except, of course, they’d never say, “Ya’ll.” I wondered: How do perfectly coiffed hipsters meet other perfectly coiffed hipsters if you never smile when a smile is bestowed. When you look through the person who has just looked in the eye?
Two decades ago, I returned to Nashville, my post-college town, after a decade spent in Atlanta. I reached out to a freelance writer because I didn’t know any others here in Music City, and I’d left an entire community of freelancers back in The Big Peach. Where were the other freelance writers? For years I asked that question and even scrambled to find them when I was the associate editor of NashvilleArts Magazine during its first incarnation. In the nearly decade since, finding them here is no longer a problem. But back to Jim, that freelancer. He’d moved here from LA sometime in the mid-80s or so. I’ll never forget puzzling over what he said:
“When I first moved here, I thought, ‘if one more person tells me to have a nice day,’ I’m going to lose it and punch their lights.” He laughed and explained that in time he mellowed. And he grew to like the kindness, the more mellow way of life here.
Will the young hipsters infiltrating our city, drawn to our creative culture, learn to return the smile extended? To acknowledge the human who has made eye contact with them? Or, will they continue to come in droves, obliterating our Southern way of being like the developers who are gentrifying our nooks and crannies and replacing them with $500,000 skyscraper condos?