You Can’t Go Home Again

Visit? Sure. Live? No. Once you’ve gone, lived a life beyond the high school, the mall, and the local Taco Bell, you’ll experience far more than those who stayed.

Not to say there is anything wrong with staying. It’s a choice. Some, however, stayed and never went anywhere. Never took a trip to experience what it’s like to stay in another country, or another section of the country. And no, an all-inclusive vacation to Cancun does not count. You don’t experience a country that way, you experience a buffet designed specifically for your American taste buds. May was well save your money and go to On The Border for a week.

Don’t expect me to defend On The Border, I won’t. Today, Father’s Day, the have free queso. My first thought was “Haven’t I suffered enough?”

Don’t expect me to laud a cruise either. Same thing as a Cancun all-inclusive, just add water. Cruises can be fun, but staying at an island for 6 hours does not gain you any perspective, it only loses you a lot of cash. Last time I went on a cruise it cost $40 to get off the boat and ‘experience’ the beach. Such a bargain. I would have rather gone ashore, found a backroom poker game and lost my money that way. It would have been more entertaining, given me the slightest taste of culture, and saved my fair skin from the harsh Mediterranean sun.

It’s simply a matter of perspective. You gain it when you move to a different area of the world, you stagnate if you don’t. People who never leave never grow. You know that by simply becoming friends with your former high school classmates on any social media platform… and then finding out their views have never changed. It’s the cocoon effect. When you don’t leave, you cluster around those who share your views on the world, weaving a tight enclosure around your psyche until anything outside your viewpoints can never penetrate that mental ball wound tighter than a major league baseball.

Case in point, I once came into my hometown for a celebration. Took my former father-in-law (he had been ‘former’ for a while) to a local bar to watch the Stanley Cup Final – finding it on my mother’s TV was for certain going to be an exercise in futility plus I needed a beer. A drunk/high (it’s Colorado, could be both) older man came up to us to invite us to play poker. In a normal situation I might have, but not in my hometown. Once he started talking about being there for over 35 years and raising five kids in the town all of whom had graduated from high school (an accomplishment? I guess), I knew there was no way I wanted to talk to him let alone play poker. My former father-in-law was trying to introduce me as a local who had left for the bright lights of the big city and was temporarily back. I gave him more signs than a catcher gives a pitcher I was not interested in any calamitous curve ball of conversation.

Why? Because I knew the old man. I knew his kids. I had gone to school with at least two of them. I finally agreed to allow a single pitch from him then stated, “we’re not interested in playing poker, good luck dude.” Once he left my former father-in-law glared at me. I said, “I went to school with his kids.”

“How do you know? There must be 5 school districts in this area.”

“When I was a kid? One. One damn school district. Finish your beer, we’re leaving.”

Do you need to abandon your old friends along with the mall and Taco Bell? No, provided they experienced other cultures, moved to a different state, traveled or both. Anything to prevent them from talking about how cool it was to do whatever you might of thought was cool in high school. Having a memory like that is a gift… and a curse. I’d rather fill my head with a lot of other experiences than dwell on the ones I had when I was 17. Not as if it wasn’t fun, but returning to that time after time is just asking for dementia to come at you like a freight train.

See your old friends, laugh with them. Discover what they’ve been up to. If they’ve been up to nothing, tell them you’re sorry the Burger Chef (here’s a sweet ass commercial with Brady kid Eve “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” Plumb) closed two decades ago and they’ve hopefully moved on to another burger joint… or simply returned to the Taco Bell. It, like them, hasn’t budged a bit.

Have any changes occurred in my hometown? Sure, but they’re structural changes. As stated, the Taco Bell hasn’t moved, and the McDonald’s sits right next to it and the Ford dealership is down the street – all where they’ve been for 50 years or so. But the sole movie theater is now an Italian restaurant, and the main drag of eateries and shops is now a mile-and-a-half further north, and of course the “better” restaurants are on the north side of the street – which is not my hometown.

But, not every eatery exited. The Applebee’s stayed put. Applebee’s never changes. In fact, Applebee’s is so popular it put another location on the main drag in the abutting town so there are two Applebee’s within two miles of one another. This tidbit of information, BTW, is the best indicator of the sadness pervading my hometown. Two flippin’ Applebees.

Other changes? Our high school had a swimming pool, the natatorium as it was called. It’s no longer there. They allegedly filled the pool in with cement due to ongoing structural and repair issues but I suspect it was a liability insurance issue. At one point a Jeep was driven into it (I’d share the photo but it’s a Getty Image and Getty will come after our site like a lioness taking down a three-legged zebra so just google ‘Northglenn High School Jeep” and it’ll pop right up). The mall, once a proud structure anchored by JC Penney and Sears coupled with a Woolworth’s and a Denver Dry Goods, has changed drastically. Gone are the anchor stores.

90% sure this was our Sears, but then again they all looked the same anyway

The mall is no longer the vast acreage of inside space populated by an Orange Julius, a Spencer’s Gifts, a Swenson’s Ice Cream Parlor, and a Furr’s Cafeteria – which BTW, the name never did lend itself to having an overwhelming desire to eat there as every meat dish I assumed was beaver. The mall actually survived for 30 years and there’s a Facebook page for it… and someone who went to high school pretty much the same time I did created a nice little short film back in the day… and of course, Christmas is misspelled. Our mall, once the haven of teenagers with an indoor fountain area that smelled like an over-chlorinated pool, was bulldozed to make room for an exterior swath of stores, AKA ‘mall’ where each store has its own dedicated entrance. Our mall has become a dirty t-shirt you put on inside out thinking that makes it cleaner. It doesn’t.

Now why, you may ask, am I going on and on about a place I left 40 years go?

My daughter, raised in Illinois, decided to move to Colorado. Great? Heck yes! I applauded her willingness to move, much as I did when I left Colorado to first go to California, then on to Illinois. True Colorado facts – it ‘s the 8th largest state in America with more than 100,000 square miles with lots of towns to choose from. She could’ve picked Colorado Springs, Steamboat Springs, Manitou Springs, Glenwood Springs, any Springs. Hell, could’ve just dropped herself into Denver. But what did she do? She moved to my hometown. Now, in order to see my daughter and granddaughter, I have to return to my nightmares.

I moved back to Colorado to be close… but not too close. I made sure as was far enough away from my hometown, and I think 45 minutes and a town new to me is perfectly fine. There are things to discover, experiences never done before, and new people to meet. So I am close enough for an emergency, but not close enough for everything I fled to come rushing back at me in a flash flood designed to drown all feeling. To me, that’s what moving back to your hometown will do to a person.

To sum this up, here’s a little bit more knowledge about my hometown – it was managed by ineptitude. One of the first suburban towns, it failed to recognize growth and was soon surrounded by other towns swallowing up prairie, leaving my hometown landlocked. My hometown is effectively Indiana, big enough to sort of sustain itself, but every state that touches it is bigger… and better.

I say to you, dear reader, go live your life, have experiences, and move to different parts of the country or world or you’ll end up as closed in as my hometown.

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