I outed myself as a Southerner on 16th Street, just outside downtown Denver, at Little Man Ice Cream. At the stand alone building shaped like a milk jug, I ordered PE-can ice cream instead of pe-CAHN, much to the horror of my new friends. They knew where I was from, of course, because I'd never seen snow, and how it capped the mountains we could see from our shared dorm in the middle of July astounded me. They knew because I staved off altitude sickness with a water bottle attached to my purse.
While I wasn't the only student at the Publishing Institute from a southern state, I also wasn't obviously southern. People move to Florida all the time; that doesn't mean they're from The South. Until they ask a server for a glass of sweet tea. It garnered snickers and giggles, some light teasing from my friends; unintended barbs that poked a little too deep while I was without my husband and so far from home.
I found comfort in the countless wild rabbits I photographed zipping across the small hills of the university campus or the novelty of a metro system--both foreign to my home of Central Florida--as I followed my friends around the city. I developed a taste for beer at Falling Rock Tap House, where patrons saw the working brewing equipment behind glass cases; and artisan coffee at The Market at Larimer Square, where patrons can grind their own coffee. The indifference of my friends only fueled my awe, and once they grew tired of the city, I garnered enough courage to explore on my own. I found a candy shop that reminded me of my father's tales of boyhood, and heard musicians perform on off-key community pianos, their wood and strings well-worn.
When I worked as a concierge in Orlando, a tourist destination as a hometown alienated me from my guests’ excitement upon returning from a night out. It took a month in Denver for me to learn what it means to fall in love with a city.
I live in Omaha, now. I still call them PE-cans instead of pe-CAHNs, but I know better than to order sweet tea with dinner. Wild rabbits still fascinate me, too. My new friends, though, have welcomed me into this community that resonates like a sought melody to the harmony I found in Denver. They delight in my delight of new venues, foods, and the overwhelming array of local wines and beers.
As for my first love, Denver, it's only a nine hour drive. And being born and raised in Florida, that's not a far for me at all.