For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to move. I told all of my friend and family that as soon as I could, I was leaving Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was, and still am, hell-bent on leaving. I want excitement, hustle, bustle, life in the big city, and I just can’t seem to find that here.
When I was very young, my dad was in the military. For the first three to four years of my life, we moved. I have no actual memories of this, but the photos of three year old me on a beach in Hawaii serve just enough memory to prove that it happened.
Hearing stories and going on vacations only made this desire grow stronger. Why am I still here? Why do I still live here? In high school, my friends and I would dream up stories about where we would go and what we would do once we graduated and had the freedom to leave.
However, when given the opportunity to leave, I didn’t, not completely. I made that decision based on safety. Had I gone away to college, I would have been alone, working and studying hard. I was afraid to make that jump and take on that responsibility, so I opted for something a little easier by staying close.
To some degree, I did leave. I went to college an hour away. I was only down the road, but I was far enough away to not run into any family. I felt like I was finally on my own. The only thing is, I swapped out the what I thought was the drab city of Baton Rouge for the homey small town that is Hammond.
I love Hammond. It’s almost what you think of when you see those movies with small towns in the south. It’s basically that without the blatant racism. Hammond is small, quaint, and quintessentially southern.
Everyone knows everyone. A lot of the college kids went to high school together. Everyone knows about Parish President Robby Miller and the Wong family. Older kids remember the Buzz and the Mezz. Hammond is so small-town southern that its people actually refer to it as Hammond, America.
Although those are things I loved about Hammond, those were also the things I grew to resent. I wanted to live in the city, not the old south. I went there to get an education, but once a job fell into my lap, I stayed. I made friends and established a persona there. I was happy for a while. But soon the desire to leave grew stronger and stronger.
As I was looking for a way out, I met a girl. I hung around to get to know her. I liked her a lot. I told her my dreams and aspirations and she listened. She believed in me. We grew together, and I’m proud to say that she’s now my wife.
Two years ago though, I was presented the opportunity to work in Baton Rouge. The city I spent most of my teenage years trying to run from was calling me to join its workforce. Because I wanted a new experience, and more money, I took it. I returned to the city as a commuter. For a little more than a year, I drove from Hammond to Baton Rouge every morning for work.
Working in South Baton Rouge was different than when I left it. There were new stores and spots to hang out. There were new things to do. The city seemed to be thriving, not in a New York kind of way, but in a way that gave me hope. It made me believe that the city I once despised could become the city I dreamed of.
After driving back and forth, and after my wife graduated from college, we moved. We packed our things and left small-town Hammond behind. She went to LSU for her master’s degree and I found yet another job in Baton Rouge. While it’s not the move to the city I wanted, it felt like a step in the right direction.
At least Baton Rouge is a city, technically. It has large buildings in downtown. The state capital buildings are here. There are festivals and activities to do. There are things like Rockin Rowe and Live After Five, but it’s missing the element I love about big cities. There’s no life here.
The city streets aren’t full of people. The people here aren’t full of hustle or grit. Sure there are the select few that are, but they are scattered throughout the large area of the city. There are no midday meetings and night time office calls. The city shuts down around 9 pm.
I know it sounds like I’m just putting the city down, but I’m reaching a point. Baton Rouge may be my home, and I still want to leave. But I’m learning to love this city. I’ve made photography friends here. I’m exploring parts of the city I didn’t know existed. I don’t like how spread out everything is, but I’m finding my way.
I’m discovering the magic in mid-city, the nostalgia in North Baton Rouge, the history that surrounds the city, and the wonders of living here. It’s not the city I want to live in, but there are people and opportunities here that I can relate to.
I have to search and dig and find them, but they are here. I love the opportunities that I have found in this city. I’ve found local artisan shops, a local coffee shop that I love, small businesses that help other small businesses, and genuine hard-working people. They are amazing and are shaping me into the person I’m becoming.
I still want to leave Baton Rouge and experience the city that exists in my mind. But as long as I’m here, I’ll make the best of it. I’ll continue to learn to love the city and take whatever it throws my way.