I grew up in a small town in Georgia, one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and people would recognize my name because they knew one of my relatives.
Growing up in this small town always left me wanting more of everything: more excitement, more freedom, more adventures. My inability to drive only compounded this desire, as I was (and still am) bad about asking for rides to things, and there was nothing within a reasonable and safe walking distance from my parents’ house. (While the public library, one of my favorite places, was a walkable distance away, that route also involved a large road without sidewalks. I walked it once. Never again.)
Field trips to Chattanooga attractions happened regularly throughout the years, as that was the closest city (albeit a small one) to where I grew up. Once a year or every other year came field trips to Atlanta, these field trips becoming more frequent in high school thanks to FBLA state conferences and a French class field trip to see a play or a French art exhibit. And every time we entered a large city for a field trip, the excitement only grew to the point where I knew beyond a doubt that I needed the city life.
I moved down to a small suburb of Atlanta for college. Even though this suburb wasn’t the city, it was still an easy and short trip to the city while still possessing many of the characteristics that I love about the city: infrastructure, public transit, a cute square with lots of businesses (and let’s be honest, great food), all a short walk away from the college campus. I had the best of both worlds: a big city and a small town that was built like cities should be.
Every trip into Atlanta was a source of excitement, no matter how frequently I ventured into the city. In early college, Atlanta still felt new to me. But even as the city grew more and more familiar, the excitement never faded. The collective energy, the ability to be anonymous and yet part of a smaller community at the same time, all grew on me.
Paris was the next major city I visited as part of a trip in college. Despite the jet lag from the nine-hour flight, the excitement from visiting a foreign country, not to mention one of the places I wanted to visit more than anywhere on the planet, was almost palpable. Besides falling in love with the language and Paris itself, I had also fallen in love with French history, particularly the French Revolution era (both for France and the United States). I was in love, and that love still remains to this day.
And then there’s San Francisco. 2011 marked my first trip to San Francisco, the first time I had travelled in any significant fashion in two years. This trip was for the Night of Writing Dangerously, and not only was I going to the event itself, I had also planned a trip to NaNoWriMo HQ in Berkeley almost immediately after landing in the city. Good thing I didn’t have much luggage.
Don’t get me wrong, I like smaller towns. I attended college in a suburb of Atlanta that, minus the skyscrapers, still had many of the traits I love most in cities. I’d live there forever, to be honest, if only for all the restaurants and shops and a bookstore and library right there. I can say the same for Berkeley, California (home of NaNoWriMo HQ) and other similar towns.
It’s easy to say that the main source of my city excitement was due to entering a new place, or at least a place I don’t frequently visit. Of course I was excited to see these new places. But even being in a large city that I’m familiar with brings a feeling that is difficult to replicate.
Cities bring infrastructure and history and easier ways to get around than in a small town, absolutely. But cities also represent excitement and experience and a place to truly become part of a community, to find a home within a home. Cities represent freedom, something I didn’t have much of when living the small town life. In a large city, I can be myself and totally anonymous at the same time. I can introduce myself as Sushi without batting an eye in the right circles.
When people rush past me and I look up to see skycrapers, I truly feel alive. Even if I’ve been to that city a zillion times, even in the city I live in now, looking around and up outside and taking in the buildings gives me a thrill that few things can top. I still get excited when heading back to Atlanta and passing all the skyscrapers and familiar landmarks, even though I’ve made that trip a zillion times. Even though this city is so familiar, the excitement builds up in the same way that entering a new city would. When that excitement is gone, I know it’s time to go somewhere else.