Nobody's moving very quickly at this hip, packed Nashville coffee house, which would normally drive me crazy. But today, I don't even care, because the girl at the cashier actually says something that shocked me just seconds after I ordered my iced soy latte: "How is your day going so far?"
Wait -- what? She is even smiling as she leisurely and eagerly awaits my response. She really seems interested. WOW! We're not in the Northeast anymore!
I'd flown into Nashville for a weekend with old friends, and after less than 24 hours, it seemed I'd left my home in DC for a foreign land. Tennessee -- a clearly friendlier land, where people stop and talk nicely to strangers and women don't glare at one another, size up their yoga pants or charge through town in their massive SUVs.
So, here I stood at the coffee counter dumbfounded at this small talk! The cashier must have thought I was an idiot, or really needed that coffee to wake up, because I was so shocked she was actually talking to me that I couldn't answer for a minute. After picking my jaw back off the floor, I said "Great, thanks" and moved toward my table as if in a dream.
My friends at the table were shocked that I was shocked by the friendly banter. One lived in Nashville; the others were from Illinois and Indiana -- the good old Midwest. "You don't understand!" I told them. "People are so nice here. I am blown away."
Onto a nearby apparel boutique, where Nashville salesgirls and shop owners continued to amaze me. In one store, owned by a famous celebrity, the salesgirls were so happy they were literally dancing around the shop and humming. "Have you been offered some iced tea yet?" one even asked us, as we wearily came in from the 100 degree plus heat.
I don't drink iced tea (in fact, I hate the taste of it). But how refreshing -- literally and figuratively!
Back home in my DC suburb, no one rings up my coffee with a smile every day. Most people just bark "Name?!" to scrawl on the side of the cup, and for some reason I always feel startled, hesitant, and almost reluctant to share it with them. But I'm usually in a rush, and I've gotten used to it, so coffee runs almost seem like all business as the days and visits go by...
Stopping by our hotel to freshen up for dinner (a Loews - not sure if their customer service is just great or if it's the Nashville influence), the guy at the front desk gives us free bottles of water instead of pointing me to the gift shop to buy some. Again, I'm amazed.
Everything seems easier here, from the way of life to the way people interact with one another.
I fall in love with the Vanderbilt campus across from our hotel, and daydream about how nice it would be for my oldest son -- just heading into his sophomore year of high school -- to go here, and become one of these nice Tennessee people, and be around nice people. (When I get home, I'll tell him, and I'm sure he'll ignore this wish, but it's worth a try.)
The Uber drivers were nicer, the waiters and bartenders were nicer, and everyone was nicer. Nobody seemed mean, or stressed. I'm sure Nashville isn't perfect, and that not everyone there has perfect days and dispositions. But take me there any time for a break from the everyday and the very real, less friendly world of the Northeast.