For Spring Break my senior year of high school, my Mum and I pretended to be tourists visiting our own town. We went to the visitor's center for a map and talked to the extremely enthusiastic guy who was working there (he owns a local business now, a few doors down from the visitor's center, actually), then spent a week trying restaurants we'd always heard of and going places we'd never been. It was a spectacular experience, and when that week was over, I tried to keep that tourist mindset.
It's too easy to settle into paths and patterns, viewing our familiar surroundings with jaded eyes, but where's the fun in that? I still love Fayetteville, but exploring and discovering here in Little Rock has made it feel more like home.
One wonderful aspect of "loving the city" is that the city will love you back. Taking the time to invest in local businesses is a wonderful way to make new friends. This past Saturday I was determined to have a weekend even though Adam was working. So I hauled everyone down to my car and we went to Dempsey Bakery to get a gingerbread cookie for Brooklyn, a cinnamon roll for me, and a sugar cookie for Adam (so that, even absent, he could be a part of our adventures). We were greeted with smiles, by people who know our names.
Then I decided that a cup of coffee would be nice to have with my cinnamon roll, so we headed to Mugs. It was a bit of a process getting in (I decided to wear Tobin and put Brooklyn in the stroller, to lessen the risk of accidentally watering a potted plant with my drink on the way out) but one audience member (I put on quite a show for the people sitting at the sidewalk tables) kindly got the door for me. I haven't visited Mugs as often as I'd like (it's a little too far away to be practical for an evening of writing) but there's still a welcoming atmosphere that I love.
It may not always be the most convenient way to get what you need to get and do what you need to do - a recent outing for yarn and cards meant waiting for a warm day, then parking at a grocery store and tackling a sidewalk that is very much not stroller-friendly (ok, I could have parked closer, but that would have meant parallel parking and having to get someone out of their carseat while standing in the street, so I elected to walk) for 4 or 5 blocks...
...but it was so worth it! Specialty shops have a depth to what they stock that more than rivals the flimsy variety of a big box store, and since they're passionate about their wares they're also more that happy to discuss them with you while hand writing your receipt and figuring your total-with-tax with a calculator. I wasn't able to do it this year, but last year I got a few Valentine cards (from a local paperie, of course!) and wrote thank-you notes to the shops that had so warmly welcomed us to Little Rock (small business owners are people, too!)
Loving the city means taking risks, doing things you may be a little uncomfortable with, and continuing to come back even when nothing seems to be happening. It means recognizing every person around you - whether they're sitting at your table or standing behind the counter - as people with ideas and stories and dreams and desires, who need to be heard and to know that they're loved.
There's beauty everywhere, if we'll only take the time to see it. And if you step onto the road with the intention of representing Love to all you meet and seeking out hidden treasures and new adventures, there's no knowing where you'll be swept off to.
I offer you a challenge - this week, explore a street you've never been down or a shop you've always driven past, and find an item (or meal) that you were planning to get anyway at a local shop instead of a chain (don't forget to actually have a conversation with whomever you interact with!)