In the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, the city of Lexington thrives in its bounty of resources. How many towns, after all, have so many claims to fame? The “Horse Capital of the World” and the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Lexington boasts the University of Kentucky and its nationally acclaimed basketball program, world class horse racing, 1,000’s of acres of beautifully manicured horse farms, some of the best hospitals (for humans) in the state and one of the best hospitals for horses in the entire world. Founded in 1775, before Kentucky even became a state, the city prides itself on a rich history including everything from Indian attacks to NCAA Basketball National Championships and so very much in between.
I came of age in this city in the mid to late 90’s. As a teenager, I “bummed around” its many coffee shops including the still-brewing Common Grounds on High Street. I spent hours in Joseph Beth Booksellers in the Lexington Green Shopping Center, watching it grow from a single unit nook into the behemoth bookstore it’s become today. During my college years at Transylvania University on North Broadway, I frequented the Kentucky Theatre, High on Rose and Sudsies Laundromat / Bar & Grill. That’s right! Order some buffalo wings during the spin cycle!
Growing up in Lexington, for me, meant eating a full hot breakfast including a tall glass of orange juice for under $2.00 at Tolly Ho. It meant loitering for hours in South Hill Station, once a working rail yard, renovated in the 90’s to function as a retail and restaurant destination, and since, razed to make room for more condominiums. In the 90’s though, it housed The Coffee Stop where I pined over many a college student and drop-out, Yats (my favorite Cajun restaurant) and Laser Quest, the giant laser tag maze where my friends and I tried again and again to beat each other’s top scores, and I had one of my first really exciting kisses with one of the “Marshalls” who worked there.
It also meant learning that Versailles Road turned into Maxwell which turned into Tates Creek Road, and Waller Avenue turned into Mason Headley which turned into Cooper Drive, and perhaps most importantly, Upper turned into Limestone, which turned into Nicholasville Road which you ALWAYS wanted to avoid if you possibly could, though that was a tough since seemingly everything cool was located on that strip.
I could always tell when Sheikh Maktoum was in town inspecting his thoroughbred operations, because his oversize jet sporting the brown and tan stripes on the tail would be parked at the edge of the airport just off Versailles Road. I could always tell when the Lexington Opera opened a new show, because the parking lot next to my college apartment would be full and, sitting on my roof (accessible from my loft window) I could watch the dressed-to-the-nines people getting out of their cars and walking across the street. On sunny summer days, Woodland Park was the place to go and sit under a tree reading my favorite book and sweating in the humidity.
I can’t “sum up” Lexington, because the experiences there resist categorization. The “big little city” tastes like a spice mix beyond sweet or savory. Just listing everything memorable would take more words than I’ve already used. I can say, growing up in Kentucky, places like Hollywood, California and even New York City seemed as far away as Never Never Land. By the time I made it to Hollywood, I realized Lexington was “more Hollywood-like” to me than the actual city. In the real Hollywood, cynicism all but seeped out of the cracks, not at all like the dreamy and idealistic place it advertised itself to be, not at all like Lexington where even cynicism had a certain idealistic ring to it.
Probably most of this makes no sense unless you’ve lived in my “sweet baby city.” Lexington was and is my mother, lover and friend as I wrote in my poem titled after the city, and I miss her. I’ve spent significant time in Hampton Roads, Virginia and now live just over an hour from the Pacific Ocean in Grants Pass, Oregon, and I’ve visited New York City; Hollywood, CA; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Sewanee, TN; Moab, Utah; Austin, TX; Bellingham, WA; Jackson Hole, WY and dozens of other cities where I found this or that to love about them, but never have I found the equal of Lexington for its resources, for its opportunities, for its various diversions for the sheer idealism it bestows upon those who walk its streets. So now, no matter what cities I may walk through around the world, I carry with me a piece of that Lexingtonian idealism bred into me and trained into my soul.