“We need to get out today,” my mom said at the breakfast table, staring at the rainy windowpane.
“And do what?” I asked with a mouthful of cheerios.
“Well we can go to Walmart…We can go to JCPenny, watch old ladies buy polyester pantsuits for Thanksgiving…”
I laughed, but my mother had just snarkily summed up the most thrilling activities in my hometown.
Now it’s possible that I have a skewed perspective; I’ve been spoiled for almost 6 years. I lived and went to college in Nashville, Music City, significantly more entertaining than my small town. Plus I was in college, so there was, ahem, plenty of fun to be had. I’ve been able to experience other cities such as Chicago and New York, and now I live in Dallas, the 9th largest city in the US, a city with plenty to do and see.
I’m spoiled, I know it, and I kind of feel guilty about it. When I come back to my hometown I feel like a snob. I can’t just hop over to a Whole Foods or Central Market and buy my favorite local milk or a unique food I’ve never tried. I don’t have my choice of dining options in all styles from all corners of the world, from taco truck to fine restaurant. I can’t walk to an art museum and browse. Hell, I can’t even browse a bookstore.
I can go to Walmart. I can go to JCPenny and watch old ladies buy polyester suits. Actually I can go to any number of places and watch old white people do things.
When I come back now, I find myself repeating “In Dallas we have this and that. In Dallas I can do this and that. In Dallas I would be blah blah blah. Dallas Dallas Dallas Food Food Dallas.”
Have I become a city girl? Or worse, have I become a Texan???
Jokes aside, I am a city girl. I need variety, movement, diversity, modernity, and some damn good culinary options. My hometown has just always felt too small for me. And though I really like Nashville, Tennessee has always felt small for me too. But people I love love Tennessee, so I try not to sound like a broken record about Dallas for fear of sounding like a snobby d-bag. And there are things I love about Tennessee…but not many are in my hometown.
So what did my mom and I do today? We left. We drove 45 minutes to Cool Springs. Went to Whole Foods. Bought some delicious Olive & Sinclair artisan chocolate, a local Nashville company while there. Browsed Barnes & Noble. Watched Puss in Boots at a once-nice-now-shitty movie theater. And we were still scraping for things to do. If not for the heavy rain, I might have suggested driving the extra 15 minutes to Nashville, but that will be another day. We took the scenic route back home. There are beautiful things here, but today the rain and season casts a depressing pallor over everything and obscured one of my favorite things about Tennessee: the gorgeous sunsets. Something else for to save for another day.
When it comes to city life, it’s not hard to impress a small town girl, especially one from a town with an annual festival honoring mules. (Yes, you read that correctly, mules as in that glorious cross-breed of a horse and donkey.) When I came to Nashville a few years ago, it was a revelation; New York this summer was a paradise. Yesterday I was in Chicago, moving my little brother into his apartment-style dorm at the School of the Art Institute. (My dorm is approximately the size of his kitchen, and he’s a freshman. Vanderbilt, you got some esplaining to do…)
Chicago is a beautiful city, at least the area where my brother is located. As everyone has told me, it’s very clean. We went to Millennium Park, a couple blocks away from my brother’s dorm, where I stared at my reflection in the Bean (or the Cloud Gate), and dipped my feet in the Crown Fountain. I took a hard look at the artistic Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and tried to imagine my not-so-little little brother in four years, getting his BFA under the huge cloud of stretched, twisted steel at the head of the amphitheater. Then I realized in four years I would be 25 and became terrified.
Strangely, I saw more pan-handlers in one day than my entire summer working in New York. One, who I suspect was not actually homeless, got major points for creativity: His sign was a large picture of a LOLcat that said, “Halp! Scientology is after my monies!”
After we unpacked my brother’s things, we ate at a Cuban coffee house about six blocks from his dorm called Cafecito. (A “cafecito” is Cuban espresso sweetened with a ton of sugar.) They have been rated best Cuban sandwich in Chicago, and have a delicious variety of gourmet pressed sandwiches. My parents had the Cuban sandwich, which was great but made me wonder if they really had much competition. I had the Choripan sandwich–Argentinian chorizo (a slightly spicy sausage), chimicurri sauce, and grilled onions. It was absolutely amazing, no exaggeration. I let my brother try the sandwich and his eyes almost popped out of his head in amazement.
The chimichurri really made the sandwich. The recipe for chimichurri varies, but it is generally made with parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and red pepper. The sauce in this sandwich was incredibly flavorful and fresh, and it made a sexy marriage with the chorizo. I’m still dreaming about it…
Chicago is supposed to be a great food city, so I wish I could have stayed to explore the possibilities. Since New York is the only other BIG city I’ve been to, I was inevitably comparing Chicago to New York the whole time I was there. My one day visit in Chicago doesn’t qualify me to make an opinion on which is better, but I can say this: I fell in love with New York, but I could probably have an affair with Chicago.
My China Town eating tour:
1. Pork dumplings at a dumpling place
2. Bread and noodles at Malaysian restaurant
3. Almond cookie ice cream
4. Chinese bakery for those custard pastries and sesame balls