How a Nashville Transplant Found The Florida Sunshine

Humanity, kindness and sunshine when we least expect it
Illustration by Lindsey Masterson

The world is a strange, beautiful place. This is the truest cliché.

I’m parked in College Town after class. It’s 10 at night and frigid for Florida, and I’m dropping a fellow classmate off at her apartment.

A gentleman standing beside my car window taps at his wrist; I roll it down, give him the time.

“Thank you,” he says. “My name’s Kevin. Can you spare 12 dollars?”

Among three college students there is only three dollars and some change, but we hand it over gladly.

He tells us, “Keep studying — that’s the difference between me and other folk. My feet may stink, my breath may stink, but my mind don’t stink. That’s the only difference that matters in the whole world. Keep at it.”

My recent encounter with him reminded me: People, too, are strange and beautiful.

I didn’t realize this early last year when I left sunny Florida for a brief move to booming Nashville, Tennessee. I always saw beauty elsewhere.

The sun was the most beautiful thing I knew, next only to the water. As a Florida native, I could always count on it. In Tennessee, it was hidden from me.

My move there marked my first time in a big city — allegedly, Orlando and Jacksonville don’t count — and the sun always seemed to play peekaboo with the Nashville skyline.

I realized quickly that I wouldn’t find beauty with my Sunshine State expectations. Or in the honky-tonks, or in the landmarks, or even in the Cumberland River — it was in the people.

The weird ones.

One I met walking back from the library.

The downtown public library in Nashville remains my favorite place in the world. It’s within walking distance of my screenwriting aunt’s minimalist loft, so I spent my rst month traversing the concrete jungle that divided them. I called it “exploring the city.”

On my way out, two men standing on Church Street told me I was pretty. I said “Thank you” and kept walking.

Our transaction was finished, I thought. It was only when one of them caught up that I noticed he had run after me, and though he didn’t grab my shoulder, I felt pulled in anyway when I turned to face him.

A note to young men everywhere: Please don’t chase girls down in the street with petty compliments. Chances are, it will not go over well.

We chatted a bit. I was flattered, intrigued — nervous and a little afraid; I had heard all the stories about girls naïve to the big city.

My inhaler was within arm’s reach, but you aren’t supposed to let strangers know you’re scared.

He wasn’t much older than I was. His hair was dirty and his jacket was too thin in the dead of Tennessee winter, but his smile was blinding.

“And a sunny smile, too,” he said, as though he was thinking the same thing. “Has anyone ever told you your eyes are golden?”

I, completely alone but for my aunt in a brand new city that did not smell like salt or sound like the Gulf, felt his kindness like a hit to the solar plexus. No, no one had ever told me that.

Still, when he held up a flip phone and asked for my number, I gave him a fake in my usual practice involving strange men: my real number with a Tallahassee area code.

I had bonded with the other man over our shared hometown, Gainesville, so he looked at me knowingly when I recited “8-5-0” and told his friend, “That’s a fake number.”

Cursing the old 3-5-2, I froze minutely, but the kid just smiled and said with no less cheer, “I know.”

They didn’t follow me, though I checked repeatedly over my shoulder just to be sure.

Although he could have tried to reach me via an easy switch of area codes, I never heard from him. He could have pushed. He could have harassed. But no.

The way I saw it, he had a meaningful, human interaction and left it at that. To be anything else would be superfluous. Now, our transaction was complete.

On my walk home, I should have been scared and disgusted — not because he was homeless but because, due to numerous incidents plaguing women all around the world, I couldn’t trust strange men on the street.

But I was taken away.

Of all the beautiful — yes, Nashville folks are smoking hot — a fluent people who surrounded me every day, not one of them had shown me such humanity and kindness.

Not one of them had just wanted to talk to me.

This strange, beautiful man had, with his kindness, given me a little piece of the Florida sun itself.

The walk home was the brightest Nashville had ever seen.


Natalie Kazmin is a receptionist at Rowland Publishing, owner of Tallahassee Magazine. She graduates in December with a degree in creative writing from Florida State University.

Categories: Opinion