The Big Little City

“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”  Aristotle

I am a small town girl.  My lovely little hometown has a population of 1500 or so in the town limits and around 25,000 in the whole county.  To give you a little perspective, on a any given Saturday in the fall there are over 100,000 people in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

So, I am used to knowing everyone and everyone knowing me.  In fact, I am gifted in license plate memory.  I can identify the cars of many friends, family, and acquaintances at home by looking at their plate.  Scary.  I know.  Being the product of a small town means that you also have to get used to people knowing a lot about you.  I went to high school with people whose parents went on dates with my parents before they were married.  There are no secrets in a small town.  And, hey, if some people do not know something for sure they probably will just make it up.

It is different in the “big city” – only a small group of people know everything about you rather than the entire town.

When I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia I got my first taste of anonymity.  No one cared what I looked like at the grocery store, no one knew me at the Rite Aid, and no one told me that they remember me when I was a baby.  Next was Richmond, Virginia – arguably a real city with a million people downtown.  This was a bit different.  No one knew me but I began to see how small communities developed within big ones.  I may not know anyone across town but the 100 people who I work around and go to church with know all about me, or they think that they do.  Same difference, I suppose.  Enter the home of Neyland Stadium.  I was in Knoxville three glorious years.  Of course, law school being what it is – like high school – I was back in the fish bowl.  Where everyone that you interact with on a daily and regular basis knows you.  Then I moved on to a small Virginia town to practice law (where I happily met and bonded with the Cosmic Sisters, more on that later) and we are right back to knowing everyone in the grocery store and seeing people who knew you in diapers.  But, as I said, I am a small town girl and I get it.

Fast forward to 2011, I voluntarily left my tiny little town to set up shop in FW, a city of 250,000 in a state of six million or so (I am guessing).  I knew no one.  But as you have seen I have made a bit of a life of experiencing new things and the culture of the place that I now call home.  And one of the neat things about it is, despite being overshadowed by Chicago to the northwest, Detroit to the northeast and Indianapolis to the southwest, FW really has the feel of a big city.  No, not NYC or Chicago or Houston.  The skyline does not tower and the streets are not stinking and crowded, but it has a lot of big city-ness to offer.  I shall elaborate . . .

I had the pleasure of hosting one of my Cosmic Sisters for her first FW visit.  Sunshine arrived on a Friday bearing gifts from an Amish stop and the Lehman’s Orchard (hello, tasty cider) in Michigan.  The Cosmic Sisters are adventurous too.  Shocking.

An important fact to note is that Sunshine is a city girl.  She was raised in the Bay area near San Francisco, California.  She tells of growing up with kidnapping warnings that kept kids form playing in their front yards and small lots and just general city-ness.  Basically the complete opposite of my childhood experience.  (Also note, Sunshine is now living in a house with a yard, near a park so her babies can play in grassy fields and frolic in streams – she is a convert).  I was a bit nervous of what she would think of FW.  Would it be interesting enough?  Would she have expectations?  Would she be disappointed that the interstate does not run through downtown forcing you to drive 20 minutes to downtown?  Would she be a fan of my favorite parks and restaurants?  I am high strung, please understand.

After her arrival (love her heart, she drove in from Chicago), she rested up and then we spent the weekend hitting the town to cover my favorites . . . The Oyster Bar, J.K. O’Donnell’s, Granite City Brewery.  Oh, the fun of having your cosmic sister around.  There was of course constant communications with the remaining sisters, Daisy and Ruby Falls and one random email to a random dude in Wisconsin (long story).  We also covered a long walk with The Queen at my favorite park – Foster Park.  En route to the park, driving down Broadway, Sunshine proclaimed “you DO have a panaderia”.  Huh?  What?

For days before her visit Sunshine had been counting on being able to go into Chicago and find a traditional Hispanic bakery that reminded her of the ones she used to visit as a kid California.  Unfortunately, she decided to abandon that plan when she arrived in Chicago at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

I, of course, had never really been in a panaderia.  I once walked through one in San Antonio, Texas, but I did not realize it at the time.  So, Sunshine took me on a cultural experience in my own town at a place that I have driven by tons of times on the way to the park or to drive around and look at the pretty homes on Rudisil.

George’s La Baguette located at Broadway and Taylor has traditional pastries, breads, and other treats.  All are made in-house and they are pretty and pretty tasty. Here is some of the fabulousness that we tasted, me for the first time.  It was great.

Post bakery, we hit up the Firefly Coffee House (Sunshine even scored some prizes for her babies and herself) where my prediction that it would be a favorite of the Cosmic Sisters was confirmed!  Then we went to a festival.  Another shock – a festival in the Midwest on a Saturday?  Of course, we did.  The Taste of the Arts is an event hosted by Arts United and takes place in downtown FW.  You can check out cool art and taste the food from all of the coolest places in FW.  One of the fine offerings was from The Harp Condition.  Who doesn’t love artists that travel in the “Cool Bus” and play the kazoo.  Sunshine took home a shirt.   Other artists of note were Dan Gagen from Albion, Indiana.  Mr. Gagen did the most gorgeous painting of Keith Richards (my favorite Rolling Stone) that I have ever seen.  Altra Design 2000, Inc. out of Huntington, Indiana made some super cool yard art (including the corn stalks below).  Also, Elizabeth Balzer, Ph.D., the owner of 3R Gallery in FW on Three Rivers East.  All pretty and interesting work.

The weekend ended much too soon.  Sunday morning left me tired and sad to see Sunshine go.  So tired that I took a four hour nap before church.

All my concerns about her opinion of FW were answered when on her way out she happily said that she was initially scared that she would find me amongst “strip malls and chain restaurants.”  She was happily wrong.  Alas, she was pleased to find me among interesting events, fun places, cool eats, and nice people.  She was won over by FW and is happy that I am here.  That is a big deal.

The moral of this story?  There is more than enough here in FW to please a bona fide city girl and just enough to make a small town girl comfy and cozy.  That, my dear readers, is pretty.


50 thoughts on “The Big Little City

  1. Sounds VERY pretty…and fun!

    I do have to admit, though, that your headline had me thinking you’d be blogging about MY city. I live in Reno, which is commonly referred to as “The Biggest Little City in the World.”

    Big(gish) place with a little(ish) city feel…the perfect combination. Sounds like FW is much the same!


  2. Well I’ve lived in a big city all throughout my life and I’m wondering how could it be like in a small city where everyone knows you and vice versa. From the way you described it, it must be awesome 🙂

  3. I think I would go crazy in a small town. I like having secrets and I like being able to walk away from situations knowing that I’ll never see people again. It makes me feel like I can mess up. I really like what you describe though because I would get lost in a big city. Might as well have the best of both worlds, right? 🙂

  4. I had just the opposite experience, growing up in a large-ish suburb of Washington D.C. and moving to a small town in West Virginia! Talk about culture shock! 😛

    I nodded sympathetically to your Cosmic Sister’s childhood memories of kidnappings, because I wasn’t allowed to visit the local park 2 blocks away from my house without an adult.
    There wasn’t a sense of community with your neighbors…. you minded your business, they minded theirs. Unless your cat wandered into their yard, or their tree was shedding on yours.

    When we moved, during my freshman year of high school, to a village with 700 inhabitants… I felt like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”. I just knew everyone was singing about me behind my back!
    I wasn’t accustomed to being friendly towards strangers, but they viewed it as an insult to ignore them… And you’re absolutely right ~ everyone knows your name AND your business! They make it their business to know yours! I think “town gossip” is an actual paying profession….

    I swore I’d move back to the “big city” after graduating, but you know what? I couldn’t make the transition back to complete anonymity and apathy, and found myself migrating to yet another small town with my husband and kids. 🙂 The sense of fellowship really is pretty amazing!

  5. I think I would just set up camp at George’s La Baguette and stay there for the rest of my life…haha.

    I’m from a big city, so I can’t relate to knowing everyone around me, but your post gave me a great insight into that lifestyle…it sounds like it would be incredible at times and frustrating at others…haha.

    Very cute post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 😀

  6. It took me a while to find where or what “FW” meant, but thank goodness you added some figures to make the search for Fort Wayne an ease to google. I think coming from different background and populace, I liked your metaphors and micro-comparison like that of Neyland Stadium which made me seem like I’m from an even smaller place! The most important part of your nomadic experience is how you’re able to adapt and make use of your available surroundings which indeed you’ve already accomplished in FW, I think that ability and eagerness to accept is the most important where ever you go, live and settle; big or small.

  7. I grew up in Toronto and Montreal and had only lived in big cities like that when I moved for 18 months to Lebanon, NH. I’m decidedly not rural but it gave me my first taste for small-town comfort and ease. I now live in Tarrytown, NY, a gorgeous little spot on the Hudson River only a 40-minute drive or train ride into Manhattan.

    I have the very best of both worlds; a charming, intimately-scaled historic town to live in affordably and well, but the Big Apple just down the road.

    I recently spent five days in Minneapolis and immediately saw the appeal of a smaller city with character.

  8. Interesting read and beautiful photos!
    I spent the first fourteen years of my life in a big city, where no one really knew me or my name and I moved to a very small city last year. Regularly seeing the same faces actually gave me a bit of culture shock–it was so different I had no real idea how to act! Awesome post though, really. 🙂

  9. At least by staying in the Midwest/South culture zone, even in the cities, eye contact is maintained with a lot of people as you come and go, and space is respected. If you go to other frontiers, such as South Korea or China, you will find that you do not exist in others’ minds at all unless formally introduced and there is never a time to say “excuse me” when bumping. All the best in FW, Indiana!

  10. You should visit Tucson. With nearly a million people I am constantly running into people I know, or people who know people I know. Everyone in Tucson knows about this phenomenon. They say we have one degree of separation instead of six. I don’t know the reason for this, I just know it is the way it is.

  11. Growing up internationally and moving from country to country I’ve never had the chance to really experience ‘growing up’ in one place and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to experience it. I see movies and read stories where, as you described, everyone knows everyone else since they were babies. Sounds pretty awesome to me! Glad you’re enjoying your new home – it sounds like a blast too! Not too big, not at all small and just the perfect fit for you 😉 Congrats on being Fresh!

  12. Anonymity is precious, particularly for me. However, my husband is from a small town in Missouri that sounds a lot like your town of origin. It has completely shaped the way he thinks – he could care less about the ‘fast’ life, and finds joy in smaller, simpler things, and pure human connections. Plus, several years later, he’s still got the chivalry, opening doors for me, and standing up at the table when I need to go to the ladies’ room. What a lovely story – thank you for sharing it.

    • I’m currently in Chicagoland and am finding it challenging to find a sense of community without everyone knowing my business! I’ve also been exploring smaller cities in the Midwest.

  13. Great post!
    I’m also from a small town and am used to EVERYONE knowing what is going on in your life (Sometimes before I’m even aware of it). WIth that said I love it and can only be in a big city of small doses of time!

  14. Great post, I currently go to school in a small college town in Idaho of 25 thousand population. Or so I thought was small until I read what you had to say. But I guess your right, you can adapt wherever you live and have that happy medium. Great post!

  15. I come from New York City, so trying to think of growing up in a small town is impossible. Many of my friends, though, who come in to the city for classes and events come from small towns, and say exactly what you did: that everyone knows everything about everyone. I sort of like that, though: you’re very close to your neighbors, whereas in the city, all neighbors pretty much hate one another (mostly because of noise). But that’s great that you’ve adapted so well to a larger city. I also love the bakery pictures. I just love bakeries!

  16. I grew up in Chicagoland and now live in North Manchester. Love reading your take on some places I’ve been many times as well as hearing about those I’ve never heard of or been to before (even though I’ve lived in the area for over 15 years)!! I’m assuming you’ll be hitting up the Johnny Appleseed Festival next weekend?? …it’s not to be missed!!

  17. thanks for this great story. I grew up in a small community in Nigeria where every family knew the others; and we knew it when a visitor or a stranger arrived. in my community we say, “the mother gives birth, the community raises the child.”

  18. Pingback: [ III ] That vampire, big cities, small towns « My wicked world

  19. Great post. I just stumbled on it during a Google search expedition re: 3rgallery. Please visit the gallery when you get a chance. For hours and a preview of the current exhibit for the works of Elizabeth Balzer and Brandon Zsolnay go to Starting January 6, we will exhibit the best digital photography works of the 2011 graduates of IPFW’s continuing studies program in professional photography.

  20. Pingback: Cultural Access: Big Little City | It is pretty.

  21. This is just so good….I never realised what fun a small town is. As sunshine, I too am growing up in a big city with constant warning about kidnapping and other crimes.

    I really enjoyed it… 🙂

  22. Pingback: A Big Time’s A-Coming | It is pretty.

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