Standing at the corner of Mission Inn Avenue and Market Street in downtown Riverside on a sunny afternoon, the realization was so abrupt that I couldn’t help asking the question out loud: “Wait … is my hometown low-key charming?” Growing up, I’d always resented Riverside — often for qualities that might appeal to prospective residents. The community is tight-knit. My maternal grandparents and many of their siblings moved there from Mississippi in the 1950s and ’60s, which means that to this day I can hardly go anywhere without running into a relative or someone I went to high school with. (Once, I forgot my wallet in the Galleria at Tyler mall and by the time I got home, it was found by one of my grandmother’s friends who recognized my school picture tucked inside it.) Riverside is also quiet — I’ve commiserated more than once with UCR alumni about the city’s perceived lack of after-dark options. One of my main gripes there was, as I’d often bemoan to my mother, there’s nothing to do. Still, it’s hard not to look back at those memories through rose-colored glasses and appreciate how, even when I wasn’t paying attention, Riverside always had my back. In grade school, I’d run through my neighbors’ yards with as much abandon as my own, tumbling through sprinklers and swaying on the tire swings they’d hung years ago for their children, who’d since grown. I think back to dusky evenings when we’d walk our dog through orange groves. Somehow, the picture doesn’t feel so distant from the way East Coast friends describe their own idyllic woodsy childhoods.

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