In 2013, I moved back to my hometown of Rockford from Chicago. I remember thinking it was going to be a big adjustment. In Chicago, I could walk to a dozen local coffee shops and bars and hipster boutiques and salons and bakeries that featured items for both my dog and me. Indie t-shirt shops and record stores and garden centers abounded. Greenpeace workers littered the sidewalks with anti-litter campaigns. There was so much public art on the sidewalks that I would actually struggle not to bump into it or trip over it. In summation, my whole neighborhood was oozing out “character” and “originality.”
I moved to an area of Rockford where my closest grocery store is a Walmart. My nearest place to buy clothes is a TJ Maxx, followed closely by a Target and a Kohls. Unless I want to drive 10 minutes, I can eat out at an Arby’s, a Chili’s, a McDonald’s, or a Burger King.
At first, Chicago Emily sighed, assuming my new existence would be devoid of character.
I have been happily mistaken.
Character is a HUMAN quality. And the humans of Rockford are every bit as original and interesting as the humans you find anywhere else. The existence of box stores and chain businesses does not define the city’s population any more than putting on antlers makes me a reindeer.
Case in point: last Monday, I had to make some copies. The closest store to me is a Kinko’s. It was a tough morning. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and my baby was particularly cranky. When I got to Kinko’s, I couldn’t figure out how to make two-sided copies. My purse spilled out everywhere. At one point, I was literally nursing my baby at their copy machine. The employee at the front desk came over and put her hand on my shoulder. She was young—cool t-shirt, big earrings, kind eyes. She walked me through my whole experience with inconspicuous empathy and grace. Her helpfulness and fun-loving nature made my whole week.
Everywhere we go, we are all just people. And people will always fascinate.
Speaking of people, I’m almost done making my fan list holiday gift for the good people on my fan list holiday gift. (Sign up so I can give it to you!) See you next Sunday, Reader. -Em