There are some cities that you fall in love with at first sight. You come up from underground, blinking in the daylight, trying to get your bearings when you're hit with the thought, "I could live here." Just as simple as that.
That happened to me the first time I walked around Milan. It happened again in Copenhagen.
There are other cities whose energy and culture are undeniably wonderful. You love visiting. You would never relocate. New York and LA, I love you both, but the daily battles one has to fight to reside in you are not mine to fight.
Pittsburgh has been my home for a decade. I didn't fall for it right away. Then slowly it simultaneaously charmed, frustrated, and comforted me. After 2 years I fell hard and deep for Pittsburgh and here I still am. Pittsburgh is the longest I've done anything.
I didn't like Paris all that much our first time together. I mean it's beautiful, sure. The most aesthetically pleasing city in the world. But it's also aloof. You're kept at arms length. I don't like feeling like I have something to prove. Yet that's also what makes Paris so captivating. I kept going back. I started to feel a little less like a bumbling tourist. I got an apartment there for 5 weeks. I naively thought that would be enough time to get Paris out of my system. I miss it viscerally now. I am always thinking of going back.
If Pittsburgh is my life-long love. Paris is my favorite mistress.
Then there's Boston. A city that so enamored me during a choir trip as a teenager I was convinced it was my destiny. (Being a teenager is nothing, if not dramatic.) I would go to BU and then get a job. I would raise kids there. I was going to Boston. Pittsburgh was the back up plan.
Then Pittsburgh became plan A and I haven't looked back. Would do it all the same if I could do it over. But I held onto this thought that somewhere, in some parallel universe, there was a version of me who did move to Boston at 18. Even after the choice for Pittsburgh was made, Boston remained important.
It was on a trip to Boston nearly 5 years ago that really started Thread. We visited a recycling facility. We had meetings with industry experts despite not knowing what we were talking about. We got drunk in Cambridge after we ran some numbers and confirmed that starting a recycling business in Haiti could indeed be a profitable operation. It was the first place I traveled to with my now colleagues I have been all over the world with.
2 years after that, I found myself retuning for a conference on social entrepreneurship shortly after i had quit my full time job to focus on Thread. I was so overwhelmed and scared of what I had gotten myself into. I walked up Beacon Hill and thought about that bizarro Boston-based me and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. I kissed a boy on a baseball field at midnight. Our paths haven't crossed since, but he's become one of my most meaningful correspondents and friend, and without Boston we may never have met. I came home to Pittsburgh 5 days later - still not sure I was making any good life decisions, but sure that I was going to stick with them.
I hadn't returned to Boston until this past weekend when I went because one of my favorite people in the world moved there in March. We caught up in the way you only can with one of your best friends - talking about everything that's happened since we'd last seen each other, swapping stories, sharing opinions to which you both agree, which, ok, doesn't make for good debate, but sometimes it feels damn good to preach to the choir. And Boston? Well, Boston was lovely. It's a real city, with decent public transit, and multiple languages being spoken around you, and wonderful food. There was a festival in the North End celebrating Saint Agrippina. It's always worth celebrating a martyred blonde princess.
This time though as we wandered around the city and I thought of the version of myself who had come here instead of Pittsburgh, I couldn't picture her as clearly as I could in the past. She was a poorly-formed, ambigious thought, Boston-based me.
Boston may be the city that got away, but I'm happy that it did.