The world is a giant place and you need to explore it before you die.
My life up until moving to Tennessee was glossy and pleasant. My parents raised me in the richest county in America (Loudoun County, Virginia) and put me in the best public schools. I did extracurricular activities, took honors classes, smiled a lot, and never worried about the stability of my life.
I realize how annoying that probably sounds and, honestly, I was probably a very annoying and entitled teenager. I didn’t worry about money or my life because my parents kept it that way. They let me be a kid for as long as possible and I’ll be forever grateful for that. Still, they were no strangers to hardship. My bedroom as an infant was the bathroom of the first home my parents bought, a trailer placed in a small town in Connecticut. My brother was in a nearby room and my sister was on the way. My father worked odd jobs, building decks, fixing things, and working on ships. Yes, ships. Like submarines and carriers. My father earned his degree in electrical engineering and was working for his big break just like we all do at the start of our careers. He was and still is the smartest person I have ever met and eventually he did get that big break.
My mom was a school teacher. She was never really a stay at home mom for any extended period of time. I think that would have been a luxury back then. Instead, she taught and waitressed regularly. She got her degree in art and to this day she can draw ANYTHING you put in front of her with insulting ease. An Italian woman from the northeast, she never put up with anyone’s shit and that’s probably part of why, and how, my parent’s pushed their way to the top. It also helped that she was, and is, vivacious and creative and beautiful.
So, because I was sheltered and spoiled, my drive to Tennessee was striking. I had honestly never lived outside of the northeast. Only after a few hundred miles into Virginia, when there were no Dunkin Donuts, no cities, no trains, not really a lot of people did I realize that I had made a very big leap into the unknown. I guess I did this then because I wanted to explore and see the world, something in my gut knew that I needed to get out. Still, I was nearly ready to turn around and hightail it home when I spoke with the mother of a friend I had lost to cancer a few weeks prior. She said to me, “Caitlyn, nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And hell if that didn’t light a fire under me. I live my life by those words even now.
Now, let me be clear, you do not need to leave the United States to have an adventure or take-in another culture. The regions of North America could really be their own countries. In order to experience this though, you need to LIVE somewhere else, not visit for a week, really buck up and dig in. Live there. Work there. Buy cigarettes there. Love there. That’s when people start to show you who they are.
In my experience, there were amazing people in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and there were some not so amazing people, just like anywhere else in the world. Good and bad, it’s the universal balancing act.
I was a northern girl (I had come to be called, I personally didn’t classify myself as such) serving pizza in Tennessee with a cast of restaurant characters as coworkers. One major cultural difference that stands out in my mind was that I had to serve ranch dressing and Coke Zero with almost every pizza that was ordered. Another difference, people constantly asked me where I went to church. That was super weird to me.
A misconception… People are religious in the northeast, it just isn’t a focal point of conversation. I think because there are so many different religions that they sort of cancel each other out and become a moot point. We don’t want to offend and honestly your place of worship isn’t that significant in my life. The Bible Belt is veryyyy different. If you aren’t talking about God or your church then you are very much the minority.
Another event that stands out in my memory was a table of customers that I served that fall, 2013. Before ordering, the woman at the table asked me where I was from. Shocked that I wasn’t from New Jersey…a common guess and misconception, she continued to tell me that people from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were the rudest people she’d ever met in her life. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. When I asked her if she’d ever visited those places she responded, “No! I would never travel above the Mason-Dixon Line.” Again, the world is big, travel and meet people, expose yourself before passing judgement on others. I met several people like this. The south-will-rise-again types who would insult my culture or my life under the guise of southern hospitality. Now don’t get me wrong, again there’s good and bad everywhere, and there were plenty of polite southerners who are my best friends to this day.
But this lady’s perspective was so shocking to me. Growing up in Connecticut and Northern Virginia, I had never called myself a “northerner” nor did I ever think of the south or calling the people there “southerners”. I think it’s the only region of the country that really takes so much pride in distinguishing themselves as apart. So much so that they print it on souvenir tshirts and mugs and even occasionally on their church signs, “It’s the southern way!”
Also, I want to touch on the idea that northerners are rude. I honestly can see how that could be misinterpreted after living in Tennessee. We are loud and we are honest and we don’t want to waste time, yours or mine. But I would take someone who is honest over someone who lies to my face and talks behind my back any day.
The world is a giant place… The United States is a giant place. I might not like camo as a fashion statement or ranch with my pizza, but boy do I love barbeque, skeet shooting, country/Americana music, fishing, my boyfriend, and my TN friends. I have the south to thank for that, and a lot more.
So… I was a northern girl, who had been cut off from her parents (I forgot to mention that), serving pizza and singing for tips once a week in the restaurant, who couldn’t so much as afford a McDonald’s coffee. I will never forget sitting in front of Spring Hill McDonald’s (that outfits its windows with a giant, painted nativity scene at Christmas) with a quarter tank of gas, rummaging through my sticky cup holder for a few dimes. My stable and comfortable life was no more.
During that time, I woke up every morning extra early and applied to countless music industry positions in Nashville with the vision that I’d be working on Music Row one day.
Singing at the restaurant, 2013
(DISCLAIMER: This blog primarily chronicles my six month trip around the country putting on concerts. And really my life in general… You don’t need to, but, if you have the time, I recommend reading the blog posts prior to this one for the full context. Thanks for reading! ❤ Knight Pines)