Never Hurts to Look

Why would one escape Northern Virginia to head for the Charlottesville hills, you ask? Well, for one, you could’ve seen Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play this past weekend. (They performed at the Jefferson Theater, a pretty and antiquey venue with the added plus of a slanted floor—so short people like me can see the stage even from the back of a crowd.) Secondly, to see the University of Virginia campus, which is scattered with white-columned buildings and little hideaway gardens. Thirdly, to summit Carter Mountain (by car) and visit the town’s resident orchard, procuring apple-cider doughnuts and apple butter in the process. And fourth: To enjoy glasses of wine on the patio of a little restaurant downtown, busying yourself with some serious people-watching between sips.

Check, check, check and check: I accomplished all this in a happy, quiet weekend away from home. But secretly, there was another mission involved in this Charlottesville getaway. I was scoping out a potential future home city, since I’m thinking about leaving D.C. behind sometime soon. After five years here, I’m feeling the itch to try something new.

Having graduated at the height (depth?) of the recession, it made sense to stay put in a place where you already had professional connections, and even better if you were in Washington, where the promise of stable government jobs beckoned. I did, and that practical decision certainly helped me weather the ongoing economic storm. But I am still inspired by the example of my intrepid college roommate, who packed up everything and moved to San Francisco first and foremost because it sounded like a fantastic place to live. She’d find a job when she got there, but she knew how closely her happiness would ultimately be tied to her home city.

For me, the recession has delayed my dreams of finding a new home city, but it hasn’t dashed them. The process may be careful rather than devil-may-care, but the wheels are certainly turning. Charlottesville caught my eye last Labor Day weekend (see accompanying photos, replete with apple-picking fun!), and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I loved the proximity to the Appalachian Trail, the youthful population, the amazing music scene, the rows of boutiques and wine bars downtown on the open-air mall. Plus, smaller cities just feel homey to me.

As rejuvenating as my return visit was (Sharon Jones rocked the Jefferson Theater, by the way), I found that the city center was a little too small to sustain an entire life built around it. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a place exactly for what it is, without any expectations of what it may be for you in the future.

That said, I’ve now got my eye on Madison, Wisconsin. I’m a Midwesterner at heart, after all! And it never hurts to look around…

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