It was peer pressure, ultimately, that led me to Charlottesville. In May of 2007, I had just graduated from James Madison University, and was entering my 22nd year in Harrisonburg, Virginia (which, by any account, is about four years too many). My two best friends whom I’d known since middle school were packing up and moving over the mountain in August, one to attend grad school at UVA, the other to start her teaching career in Greene County. If I was going too, I had a deadline.
I’ve always thought of Charlottesville fondly. As a teenager, I would take trips to the Downtown Mall with my mom and her best friend. We’d have lunch and shop at Cha Cha’s and, if we hit it on the right day, the now-extinct vintage section of Bittersweet when it was still in the Glass Building. For my first homecoming dance, we came to look for a dress—ultimately deciding on a tea-length black velvet number with hot pink tulle lining from a now-defunct shop on the Corner—and then had lunch at Hamiltons’, which we thought was hilarious because my date’s name was, coincidentally, Brian Hamilton.
About 15 minutes after I sent my resume to C-VILLE that June after graduation, then-editor Cathy Harding gave me a call (“Timing is everything,” she said) and asked me to come in. And come in. And come in. (It was actually a lot of hoops to jump through for a part-time proofreading position, if we’re being totally honest.) I commuted from Harrisonburg to C’ville (and C-VILLE) for about a month after that, making the hour-long trip four days a week. In July, I got another part-time job at Caspari and a one-bedroom on North First Street that I couldn’t reasonably afford. My roots were firmly planted Downtown.
Here are a few things I remember from the next few years: Walking home after overindulging with my girlfriends on wine and bruschette at enoteca, and stopping to get our fortunes read by Ed Rowe, the homeless Tarot card reader who has since passed away; evenings spent on my front porch listening to my neighbor play his guitar, not knowing he had an audience; meeting my friends at Continental Divide for dinner after every paycheck to get margaritas, a Santa Fe enchilada, and a slice (or three) of adobe pie; a late evening spent in Spring Street waiting for my friend to decide to buy a silver dress she likely didn’t need but which looked amazing on her; and taking in Devon Sproule’s New Year’s Eve show at Gravity Lounge, then heading to Blue Light, where my friend cajoled two random men into kissing us at midnight (sorry about that, Guy With Beard). Charlottesville, it seemed, had become as much a part of our friendship those first few years as American Eagle had in seventh grade.
When you’re young, it doesn’t really matter where you are, as long as you have your friends. Now that those particular friends have moved away, and it’s just me and Charlottesville, well, we’re still getting to know each other. But the thing that I’ve learned about this town (and have come to appreciate the most), is that it’s ever-changing. There’s always another concert to see, another dress to buy, another stranger to meet. Or, if you’re lucky, to exchange a midnight kiss with and never see again.