We love this town: A moment like this

Illustration: Thomas James Illustration: Thomas James

A Charlottesville moment. It’s not an imaginative thing to name it, I know, but what else can you call those times when you’re talking to a server at Skybar for 10 minutes before you realize you grew up down the street from her and the two of you built an igloo with your siblings during the blizzard of 1996 before she moved away, only to move back to town three months before you did? Oh, and she’s married to the photographer you interviewed for a story last week, her mom is your realtor, and her little sister made the cappuccino you drank this morning at Mudhouse. And then your friend arrives and says, “Wait, how do you two know each other?”

O.K., I embellished that one. But it’s not that far from reality. It’s also not really an exaggeration to say I moved back here because of Charlottesville moments. I was born in the city, raised on a county mountainside, and moved to New Jersey with my family when I was still in high school. And while I’ll defend my adopted state to the hilt—I swear, it’s way better than what you see from the Turnpike—this place has always been home for me, and a place I wanted to end up. And the feeling that I’m always about to run into a friend here is a big reason why.

I’m well aware that what draws me to this town is the same thing that drove a lot of people I grew up with to flee to far-off cities where they don’t know every third person on the street, where there’s almost no chance they’ll run into their eighth grade history teacher, and where the owner of the local video store isn’t the father of their classmate since kindergarten.

But I love it. And the fact that there always seems to be no more than two degrees of separation between you and the person next to you on the trolley is more than just a charming side effect of settling in a city this size. Especially for somebody just beginning to take a stab at some serious adult milestones—like buying a house, which my husband and I just crossed off the list—the web of human connections is something of a safety net.

Banker, realtor, insurance broker. Home inspector, attorney. The kind woman in the public works department who reassures me when I call in a panic that no, I’m not in danger of blowing up my house if the pilot light goes out in my hot water heater. If I’m not on a first-name basis with them already, I can be pretty sure someone I know is. It makes all of us that much more likely to go a little further to help out the person on the other side of the counter or the other end of the phone line, and that much more likely to get a smile back. We follow up, we ask about kids and spouses, we look out for each other.

It’s the essence of community, really. It makes a place feel like home. And it makes life so much sweeter.

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