Like many, my husband and I moved from our smallish town of Paducah, KY to the largish city of Nashville, TN almost 4 years ago. Even though I had traveled here many times – Nashville being a vacation destination for many in our area – I still found myself intimidated by our new urban community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a completely wide-eyed traveler. Having moved throughout my childhood I’m somewhat accustomed to life in a new place. And with my husband’s Alma mater being MTSU he already had some familiarity with the area which made getting around that much easier. Even so, new arrivals tend to spend their first few months feeling like the new kid in the class; but instead of not knowing where to sit at lunch, you do other embarrassing things like….turning down a one way street downtown? (Never happened to me.) Between traffic, panhandlers, and generally feeling very crowded, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in this wonderful city. So if you’re new(ish) to Nashville, here are the three things I found most alarming and how I learned to deal with them.
Traffic is a pain point for many who live in and around Nashville. For me, the hardest thing to learn was how to properly estimate time frames for getting from place to place. Back home, we estimate how long it will take to get somewhere based simply on the distance alone. Here, I have to factor in game days, holidays, days of the week, time of day, location, road work, special events, wrecks….you get the idea. Planning my daily route is like doing a 7th grade word problem:
If John Smith is in Franklin on a Friday and needs to be in Hendersonville by 6 pm, what time should he leave? Answer: noon on the previous Thursday.
I’m always either grossly overestimating my commute time and arriving a half hour early or I’m overconfident in my ability to navigate traffic and end up 15 minutes late. There is no in between. A road that is jam packed one day is suddenly empty the next. Or your daily commute, which is the exact same every single day, suddenly comes to a complete halt. Why? You guessed it: because it rained. Precipitation, of any kind, is the enemy of the southerner.
So how does a type A personality deal with spontaneous and schedule altering traffic patterns? By intoning the following phrase: “We’ll get there when we get there.” In other words, Hakuna Matata. You cannot change the traffic anymore than you can stop the rain. If you find yourself staring at the same Salt Life bumper sticker for half an hour, try some helpful distraction methods. Jam out to some tunes, finish that audiobook, or maybe catch up on your favorite podcast (ahem, The Nashville Podcast). Find a way to make your commute time as beneficial and relaxing as possible. Because as long as there’s Nashville, there will be Nashville traffic.
After living in Nashville for about two weeks, I decided to venture out on my own. I drove an entire 1.6 miles down the street to Wendy’s. This was my first time driving alone in the big city and I was pretty on edge. While I waited in the drive thru line I suddenly received a knock on my driver’s side window. I yelped and jumped about a foot in my seat because it was night and raining and the gentleman who approached me was dressed in all black clothing. He seemed to appear out of nowhere. I panicked and had absolutely no clue what to do in this situation. I cracked my window a couple inches – to keep the rain out is the excuse I told myself; not because I was afraid of being murdered in a Wendy’s drive thru.
The man asked for money and I told him I didn’t have any cash – which was true. He walked away and I rolled my window back up with shaking hands. I was completely rocked by the event and my nerves were on the verge of breaking. I even started to tear up a little bit. I was in a new city and I didn’t know the rules yet. Driving home I finally calmed down enough to wonder, “What could I have done differently?”
Homelessness in Nashville is a very real and prevalent problem. Since that first encounter, I have taken the time to learn more and debunk some long held myths. I plan on writing more about this later but let me say this for now: they’re just people. They’re broken souls, just like you and me, who are looking for help. When friends or family have visited us here in Nashville, I have noticed comments about the people who distribute newspapers on street corners or wait outside businesses. They’ll say things like, “They make me really nervous.” or “I just don’t feel safe with someone like that near.” Given my first experience, I can understand where they’re coming from. But I try and explain that they’re just people to be spoken to and treated with dignity. No, you do not always have to give (more on this in the future) but you can always smile and nod hello. Moreover, the people you see selling newspapers are actually employed to do so and are to be feared no more than the barista at your local coffee shop.
So what could I have done differently with the gentleman at Wendy’s? I realized later that, even though I didn’t have cash, I could have offered to purchase him a burger and drink at the drive thru and ask the employees to deliver it to him inside. This would have been a simple and safe way to give him some food. Who knows, he may have turned me down because food wasn’t what he was looking for; maybe he needed bus fare or enough money to stay at the local shelter. The point was, I did have a way I could help if only my fear hadn’t blinded me to his need.
3. Crowded City
There doesn’t seem to be any place in Nashville where one can go without encountering large groups of people. Whether going out to eat or just shopping at Target, the masses are teeming everywhere. And more are coming every day. Studies estimate around 100 people a day are moving into Nashville and its surrounding areas. That’s wonderful for the city but intimidating for the current residents. Moving from a rural Kentucky county we noticed an immediate difference. While we struggled to adjust to the extra noise and light pollution, we immensely enjoyed the convenience of having everything so close at hand.
At this point, nearly four years in, I’d say we’ve settled into the rhythms and routines of city life. A couple times a month we enjoy a fun game we’ve titled “Gunshots or fireworks?” and it brings a little levity to living in such close proximity to our neighbors. I’m not sure there’s any practical advice I can give for this particular issue; only the promise that eventually the hum of traffic and the closeness of homes will become old hat and not matter as much anymore. There’s something unique about being able to lose yourself in a crowd and just exist with the group for a time. Whereas, in Small Town, USA it’s hard sometimes to blend in and disappear. Likewise, living in large city gives infinite amounts of ministry opportunities. Our interactions are so much more varied now as we encounter people from all over the world. I consider it a privilege to be living alongside my fellow Nashvillians, even if I wouldn’t mind a little open field or to see some stars once in a while.
In the End…
…the benefits far outweigh the costs when moving from a small town to the big city. We have met people and had experiences that would have never been possible where we’re from. Moreover, we have the opportunity to raise our daughter in an environment that is culturally rich and ethnically diverse; that alone is worth it all. Because she will be influenced by people of all generations and races, we are raising a future leader with a heart for people. And while I often miss certain aspects of our hometown, I rest in the peace given by the Creator that Nashville is where we’re meant to be.