When we moved to Nashville’s east side 14 years ago…. Well, let’s just say that it was before they made the Tshirts. No one was bragging about living in East Nashville – we were pretty much just fending off friends’ wide eyed horror that we had moved into Nashville’s most notorious ghetto. It’s true that 14 years ago, most of East’s reputation was based on its shady past and passed-down legacy. And I can’t lie – it wasn’t exactly life the suburbs. Our house boasted a lovely rusted chain-linked fence surrounding a massive satellite dish in the front yard, steel bars on the windows and, much to my dismay, a baseball bat in the kitchen. And somehow, I don’t think the bat was a joke left by the previous owner. It was more like a “welcome to the ‘hood – you might need this” gift.
In those days, our quiet street saw an ironic influx of traffic due to the hospitality of our prolific drug dealer a mere two houses away. We had animal control programmed into our phones to report weekly sightings of wild dog packs congregating on our corner. We had ONE coffee shop (Bongo Java) and it was mostly just a roasting company back then, so the hours were minimal.
I remember one day shortly after moving in, while tearing out urine-soaked carpet and painting the nicotine/grease-stained walls of our new (old) house, we took an exhausted break to go find lunch. It’s hard to believe that back in those days there was nary an trendy lunch spot to be found. We ended up at a very sketchy Wendy’s on Gallatin – with me crying on my baked potato because I’d been duped by the East Nashville brochure. I was sure we’d made a huge mistake moving here, despite our realtor’s claims that this area was ‘on the upswing’ (which I realize now, was a huge understatement).
On the flip side, our musician neighbors Brian and Natalie invited us to a party within the week we arrived where we met singers and songwriters whose names we thrillingly recognized. We were within walking distance (although I might not recommend walking there at night) of one of the coolest bars in town – the Radio Cafe. We were literally surrounded by creativity — by this euphoric feeling that giving up on your dreams was an absurd notion — not exactly the vibe you get in Iowa, where you were considered a spinster if you weren’t married with children by age 25. Even the door-to-door salesman trying to sell us a security system was a hit songwriter.
Over these past 14 years, you could say that East Nashville has changed slightly. I can now walk to three coffee shops, an array of restaurants and a bakery – and that’s just within two blocks of my house. The proliferation of coffee shops, restaurants and businesses nowadays is so copious that going out to eat/drink/shop could very easily require a spreadsheet. And the beautiful historic houses that triggered my love for this eccentric location in the first place? They have been improved, remodeled, flipped and sadly, demolished to make way for 2, 3 and 4 houses – often “Tall skinnies” where one quaint bungalow once stood (because the sky’s the limit, right?). It’s gentrification and density at its finest… Or worst.
And I have to admit that I’ve jumped on the backlash bandwagon. I’ve joined the established neighbors who feel like we own this part of town and how DARE those greedy developers ruin its appeal? I have cast many a rueful eye upon those dreadfully cheap houses-in-a-box.
But then something surprising happened. I realized that my and (seemingly) everyone else’s indignation at the way our beloved neighborhood was evolving was doing nothing (NOTHING!) to stop its progress. It was going on despite the “build like you live next door” signs we angrily stabbed into the ground and our outspoken coffee-shop diatribes…. The construction rumbled on noisily outside our windows as if we weren’t even there.
I wouldn’t say that I embraced apathetic resignation, but I came to understand that this was happening and I could either devolve into bitterness, or I could move forward, too. I would move forward in my own way, of course, but I couldn’t stay there rooted to hopelessness and a stubborn grasping for control. Because progress is life, like it or not. Change is inevitable.
Whether it’s a town, a church, a person, a marriage or a business, the fact is, the day you start refusing to accept change, you begin to turn bitter and you start to die a little. The essence of creativity itself is making something out of nothing – creativity is literally the epitome of change. And I can’t deny that creativity is thriving in this part of town, as well as this whole city. All I have to do is open my windows at night and listen and I’ll hear the pitch of a snare at band practice a few doors down or the roar of a concert in full swing downtown or the twinkling lights and laughing voices from a front porch nearby.
True, sometimes change comes in Crate and Barrel colors to cover cheap particleboard and factory moulded plastic. But that’s life. We don’t have to like everything everyone else does. But it sure helps to notice the good stuff. Like the big-hearted dog rescuers that have replaced the packs of mangy dogs. And the drug dealer’s house that is now rehabbed and boasts a charming family of four (musicians, of course). And the 20-somethings that are filling this edge of town with their hopefulness and tangly freestyle hair and Magnum P.I. mustaches. I have even driven by tall skinnies at night and noticed a Grammy or two on the mantle and I can’t deny that makes me happy and a little proud.
To see the good in change does not mean that you’re endorsing everything about it, it just means that you’re willing to evolve personally. To be willing to concede that maybe there is life beyond the confines of your own constructs and maybe, just maybe, change could be an improvement.