Category Archives: Suburbia

48th State

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Arizona is the third most recent state to join the Union.  The only two states admitted more recently are Alaska and Hawaii.  This means that, when it comes to mainland U.S.A., this very much was the “final frontier”, an area that remained wild and unsettled for over a century while areas were being converted from frontier, to small villages, and eventually into powerhouses connected by networks of trails, ports, and railroads.

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The primary cultural image of Arizona is the “Old West”.  Cowboys roaming around wide open spaces.  Small isolated towns where outlaws and town sheriffs fight a continuous battle that resembles the internal conflict we all have between the innate desire for freedom and the desire for justice and order.  Crazy games of poker in whiskey salons that often end in guns being drawn.

Historically, it is correct that Arizona, like much of the west, is the site of many epic battles that often lead to gunfire.  This lead to places such as Tombstone, and Rawhide, being depicted in numerous Western themed movies and TV shows.  Tourists today can relive the experience of the wide open, unsettled, west by visiting these places.

However, movies and TV shows can frequently lead people to inaccurate perceptions.  Films and shows are designed for entertainment purposes, and therefore must focus on the interesting aspects of life in a specific place, like a shoot-out between two gangs.  Anyone that compares their lives to those of characters from TV and movies will often come out feeling that their life is uninteresting.  After all, no movie will show someone sitting at a cubicle for six hours, or doing laundry and ironing shirts.  They focus on the parts that will, well, entertain the people that watch them.

Recent studies have indicated that, while these high profile gunfights did occur in the old west, they were the exception rather than the rule.  Some studies (although not all) have even suggested that the western frontier of the later 19th century was actually a safer place than America today.  There is speculation as to why the “Old West” is depicted and thought of in the manner in which it is, leading some to entertain conspiracy theories.  Regardless of what the reality of what life in this time and place know as the “Old West” was truly like, it is encouraging to see people look at it statistically, as opposed to based on anecdotes and catch phrases.

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Arizona may have grown up late, but it grew up fast.  Based on the 2010 census, Arizona is now the fourth most populous state west of the Mississippi River.

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Growing up in the middle to late 20th century, Arizona grew up in a manner that is very car-centric.  Depictions of present day Arizona life, in movies like Bad Santa, commonly show life in car-centic suburbs, with winding subdivisions, malls and such.

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There is also no forgetting Arizona’s position along the famed Route 66, which took countless motorists between Chicago and Los Angeles during the middle part of the 20th century.  In popular culture, the Arizona stretch of this major historic thoroughfare is amongst the most celebrated, providing the inspiration for the setting of the Route 66 based movie Cars.

The most high profile destination in Arizona is the Grand Canyon.  After all, the state’s nickname, which is labelled on all Arizona license plates is “The Grand Canyon State”.  However, by taking a road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas, one will traverse the landscapes that cover a much larger portion of the State.

Passing through the Sonoran Desert, which includes Phoenix and much of the surrounding  area, one will encounter hills covered in sagebrush and cactus plants.

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Periodically, one will also encountered Joshua Trees, mountain ranges, and mesas.

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Closer to Vegas, the landscape transitions to the Mojave Desert, which is sometimes even hotter, drier, and more baren than the Sonoran.

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Two developments made Arizona’s rapid expansion in population possible.  First, is the much discussed invention of, and subsequent proliferation of air conditioning.  This, of course, made living in places prone to hot weather more desirable.  The second is the creation of dams, canals, irrigation systems, and water pipelines, which facilitated supplying these dry regions with the water resources needed to sustain life.

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The Hoover Dam, located at the border of Arizona and Nevada, is one of many places throughout the west that diverts water resources from a major river (the Colorado River) to major metropolitan areas.

 

As is the case with the idealized image of the rugged individual of the “Old West”, present day life in Arizona, when discussed, elicits some divided responses, as well as some different interpretations.

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This is very much the image of standard life in Arizona.  A house in suburban looking neighborhood, a pool in the backyard, mountains, and, in many cases, golf.  Some love it.  Some see it as the natural culmination of the “American Dream”.  Some can’t wait to get away from the frigid winters many experienced in other parts of the country, move down here and enjoy the life.  Others, and particularly those concerned with the environment, feel it is irresponsible for so many people to be living comfortable lifestyles, with swimming pools, irrigated lawns, and golf courses in a climate this dry.  People here seem to adhere to the “haters gonna hate” mentality.  The knowledge that people in some distant land are disapproving of their living, eating, hiking, and golfing in the desert does not seem to phase them.

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Where New England Begins

 

Everyone has this idea in their head of the ideal place to live.  For some, it is right in the middle of something; the middle of the big city where everything is happening, the middle of the woods, or somewhere else one can truly immerse themselves in the kinds of activities they enjoy most.  For others, it is places like this, places that are kind of on the edge of two worlds, that combine easy access to several types of amenities.

Greenwich, Connecticut is literally the first town across the border from New York State.  Since the people of New York, and the people of New England have a mutual preference to not include New York in the region known as “New England”, this is the exact place where one enters New England.

But, how much does one really feel like they are in New England when here?  The town is clearly a suburb of New York City.  There is no unincorporated area that separates Greenwich from the adjacent suburbs that are part of New York State.  With an express train, one can be at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan in around 40 minutes.

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The town does have a New England-like charm.  One needs only travel, by foot, several minutes away from Greenwich Ave. (the town’s main street), and the train station, before they enter an area of windy roads, dense trees and quaint houses one often associates with New England.

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It has a charming downtown, as well as a “Commons” outside their City Hall, which is something I have come to associate with New England, as I had not seen areas like this referred to as a “Commons” in other regions of the country.

Perhaps one of Greenwich’s greatest attributes is the beach in an area referred to as “Old Greenwich”.

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One of the largest beaches in the area, and one of the few that permits dogs, it attracts a significant  number of people, even on a dreary day in January.

Once again, here at the waterfront, one can see where this town sits geographically.  Even on a cloudy day, at the end of the Peninsula that extends southward into the Long Island Sound, one can see both the rocky shores that pop up the along the shores of New England, extending all the way from here to Maine, but can also see the skyline of New York City.

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Around town, I got that same hybrid-like vibe.  The pace of life is definitely different from New York City.  In New York City, people appear to have some kind of sense of urgency in everything they do.  I tell people who have never lived in New York to imagine the second or third most stressful day of their past year and assume that every person around them is having that kind of day.  In the short amount of time I spent in Greenwich, I did not sense nearly that level of urgency in the people around me.

Greenwich’s New York-like and New England-like characteristics are overshadowed by one characteristic that seems to define everything here; wealth!

Dealerships selling expensive cars, even Bentleys, line U.S. highway 1 coming into town.  The beachfronts are lined with large, multi-million dollar homes, and downtown is lined with shops selling expensive designer brands.

Gucci, Louie, Michael Kors…  I do not even know the name of all of them.  Frankly, I do not even care.  I can never picture, even if one day I become this wealthy, choosing to spend my money that way.  The only reason I know the names I do know is that they pop up in popular song lyrics, particularly rap music.  While sometimes I can get extremely annoyed by designer brands, particularly if I am EVER pressured into making a purchase, I cannot help but have some kind of odd admiration for the people that managed to market them, and, convince people to spend the amount of money they do on such products.

The people who create and market designer products have a keen understanding of human psychology (albeit, they could have used it for a better purpose).  Anytime anyone spends money (and sometimes time) on something, they want to know what they are getting.  It is the same dynamic that takes place when we ask our friend regarding their experience with a specific doctor, or a real estate agent.  We do not know what we are getting.  Through brands, we create trust.  “I know Subarus won’t break down on me”.  Or, “I trust the Cohen brothers to make a good film.”  So, we buy the product.  Those that created these designer brands managed to create a reputation so powerful that millions of people worldwide purchase this product when they could easily purchase something similar for a fraction of the price!

The two main things that stop people from living in that “ideal place” in their heads are job availability and money (which are closely related).  The fact that people with this amount of additional money chose to live here speaks volumes to Greenwich’s appeal as a place that combines the best of both worlds.  People who live here seem to have the best of both worlds; easy access to New York City, the city with more amenities than any other in the country, and fairly easy access to outdoor activities.  Friends that moved here from Manhattan tell me that the move has reduced the travel time to nearly all outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, the beach) by 30-60 minutes.  While it’s easy to come here and be envious of the fortunes here, it is also quite easy to see, even from someone who might have a different “ideal place” in mind, why people chose to live here.

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.

Life On Monument Hill

What does a dog lover do when they suddenly find themselves dogless?  Well, they gladly accept the opportunity to “dog-sit” for their friends when they leave town.

Those that have lost a pet before know the situation.  It is just too soon to get a new dog.  But, I had become accustomed to spending time with dogs.  It still feels sort of strange to come home and not see my dog waiting for me at the door.  So, sometimes the best thing to do at this point, while I am missing just hanging out with dogs, is to go somewhere and spend several days with someone else’s dogs.

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The first time I drove over what is referred to as the “Palmer Divide” it kind of caught me by surprise.  It was my first time driving from Denver to Colorado Springs.  As one who loves looking at maps, I knew there was a ridge between the two towns, and I knew it was referred to as the Palmer Divide.  I was, however, caught by surprise by how high in elevation I got to just simply driving along Interstate 25.  7,352 feet is over 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Denver, and around the same elevation as Lookout Mountain, a place people can go and overlook the City.  It’s way higher than I thought one could go without actually going into the mountains.

A most general simplification of Colorado’s geography slices the state into thirds.  The eastern third is essentially part of a larger region that extends nearly 1000 miles east called the “Great Plains”.  The central third is the Central Rockies, and the western third is often referred to as the “Western Slope”.  In this extremely simplistic model, Monument would technically be part of the eastern third, but it’s high elevation makes it significantly different than most other places referred to as part of the Great Plains.

In some ways, this town has the same look and feel of any fairly recently built suburb.  Although the town was incorporated in 1879, most of it’s population arrived since 1990.  Unlike in urban areas, the roads wind, and subdivisions are all disconnected from one another.

I actually spent the later half of my childhood (7th-12th grade) in a suburb with a similar layout.  My parents house (in which they still live) was in subdivision built during the 1980s.  The area is somewhat more densely populated than this, but the experience was actually quite similar.  Most suburban subdivisions are across the street from some sort of strip-mall.  At my parents house, we happened to be only four houses in from the main road, making the shops across the street quite close.

Over the course of that six year period, I had actually become quite accustomed to an experience that would be considered strange to most people.  Given how close all those shops were to home (the grocery store we always went to was less than a quarter of a mile from home), it seemed strange to me not to just walk there, as opposed to driving.  However, as anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in suburban areas built  in the later part of the 20th Century would attest to, these areas are quite car-centric.  For a lot of people who live in these areas, it doesn’t even cross their minds to walk somewhere.  Therefore, I would quite commonly be the only person walking anywhere in a place not built with pedestrians in mind.  This is an experience I had become accustomed to, but would likely seem strange to most people.

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The apartment complex I stayed at in Monument Valley is across the street from a fairly major shopping center, which includes Wal-Mart, the Home Depot, and several restaurants.  Theoretically, one could live in a place like that, and, other than whatever commute they have to work, be able to satisfy all the basic needs of life without having to drive anywhere.

As the weekend progressed, I walked back and forth across the street to shops and restaurants, the same way I did all those years ago.  I kept thinking to myself about what life is like for people in a place like this.  Obviously, most people don’t walk, even if they are just going across the street, but if I lived here, I most certainly would.  But, if I lived here, I wonder if I would get bored.  Being so close to the mountains (closer than Denver), there were some interesting cloud formations that I would see on a regular basis.  But, as much as I love the weather, and was blown away by this long flat cloud in front of the mountain range, that would not entertain me for an entire day.

For nearly all of my life I have been judging certain areas, where there aren’t any interesting bars, restaurants, or other fun places, as boring.  In fact, one of the strangest things about the Denver, is that there are sections, within the city limits, that do not have anything within walking distance.  When I saw these neighborhoods, I decided I would not want to live there.

But, I really thought long and hard about life in a town like this.  Would there theoretically be a way to make it work?  I mean, I know that I would miss a lot of urban entities, and taking Ubers, busses, trains, etc. to get around.  But, obviously a significant subset of the population does just fine in places like this.  They just do something else.  Maybe they go out to the park instead of going to a fancy brunch, or they have house parties instead of going to the bars.  I would definitely still prefer to live in areas with interesting entities around me, but I maybe I should not be as reliant on places within the neighborhood for entertainment.  After all, it does get expensive.  If experiencing life in a place like this for a few days can teach me anything, it is that sometimes we need to be creative and figure out something amazing to do with our time on our own, using limited resource.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 2

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I came back to the Chicago area for a number of reasons.  In fact, I had so many reasons to be here, it would have been hard to justify not being here.  Simply put, it was where I needed to be at this particular time, despite the fact that I now live elsewhere.

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The primary reason for my visit was to meet my family’s newest member; my nephew, who was born only a week before I arrived back in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, where both my parents, and my sister/ brother-in-law live.  At the age of 8 days, I got to meet him, and was able to subsequently spend some time with him over the course of the following week.  However, as I sit back at my home in Denver, I cannot help but think of what I am missing out on being 1000 miles away from “home”.  Specifically, I am thinking of this newborn baby, who will go through different phases of development, possibly on a daily to weekly basis for some time to come, as life changes at a faster pace for children than it does for adults.  Even if I come back twice a year, there are phases in his development I am destined to miss.  That is just the way it is.

However, my mind also drifts to all the rest of my family members, as well as my friends, back here in Chicago (as well as the surrounding area).  While adults have lives that do not go through changes in as rapid of succession as children, and it is easier to “catch up”, we still do have experiences on a daily basis.  And, as much as some people post much of their daily lives on social media, or do a decent job of keeping in touch, I do wonder what I am missing.  I dwell on the fun daily events, strange occurrences and “inside jokes” that made all of the people around me so much fun to be around.  But, I also dwell on the ups and downs, and the times when someone important to you just simply needs some encouragement, or, conversely, some advice.

I was wearing a suit the day I met my nephew, as I was on my way to the first of a number of events I would also attend over the course of the week.  This one, a wedding for one of my good friends from college, in Northwest Indiana.

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Here, not only did I get to witness the big day for the bride and groom, but as is common with events like this, I got the chance to hang out with several other friends from college.  In a way it was just like it was back in the day.  There are some people in all of our lives who we can not see for weeks, months, years, and still just pick right back up where we left off as if we had just seen each other the previous day.  I am blessed to have a good number of people like this in my life.

However, there was an obvious difference between now and then, and that is children.  Some of my friends also traveled a significant distance to be at this wedding, and they did so with children.  It is actually pretty inspiring to me, as they had decided somewhat spontaneously to travel to Indiana for this wedding, and were still able to do so despite having a 5 year old and a (not quite) 5 month old respectively.  And, they stayed at the wedding longer than many other people.  It makes me think of a future chapter of life, that my involve children of my own, with a lot more hope, that maybe the “your life is over” camp are significantly exaggerating when they describe the impact starting a family has on one’s life.  So, as was the case with so much of my trip, I was simultaneously living out a past “chapter” of my life, while also getting glimpses of a future “chapter”.

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In fact, the rest of my week was also partially a baby/child meeting tour.  I wanted to try to see as many people, and take part in as many events with my friends, as possible, while still spending a significant amount of time with my family and my new nephew.  Luckily, many of my friends were able to work with me schedule-wise to create a successful trip!  And, I got to take part in all kinds of activities ranging from simple lunches to crazy nights out in large groups.  Over the course of the week, I was living the life I had lived as a child, as a young adult, and as I will live it in the future.  In a way, I spent the week in one place, but in another way, I was in too many different places to count.

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The Chicago metropolitan area is centered around downtown, where trains from all directions converge, as do countless people every day.  It also includes countless suburbs, and even Northwest Indiana.  It is a place where, much like my experiences over the course of the past week, people are doing everything from working hard and playing hard, to relaxing, to trying to do the best the can to raise a family.

And, when I see my newborn nephew, or any newborn child, I see the great equalizer.

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Every single person, from the most successful to the biggest failures, from Bill Gates to habitual criminal, from the most personable to the biggest asshole, began as a vulnerable newborn infant, just like this.  No matter who someone is, they started out in this position, as a baby, completely dependent on someone else to survive and reach adulthood.  And, in the pool of newborn babies at the hospital at any given time, are people that will one day go on to become influential individuals both good and bad, people that will make their families proud, but also people who will one day disappoint, and people who will be nothing but kind and generous to their fellow human beings, but also people who will treat others with contempt and recklessness.  But, for now, each child I met over the course of this week is just a child, a person trying to figure out the world around them in various stages.  All we can do for them is give a good example.  Over the course of the week, I found myself repeating one phrase to the children I had encountered; “A positive attitude is contagious”.  When I smiled at a child, they would often smile back.  It is basic human nature, and one of the most powerful tools we can take into our day-to-day lives to produce the best possible outcomes.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 1

It was an average day that I suddenly found myself in a strangely familiar place. Wednesday the 22nd of April is a day where most people are simply going about their daily routines, particularly in suburbia.  But, on this day, I unexpectedly found myself headed west on 159th Street, entering the town of Homer Glen, Illinois. And, although I have not been here in nearly a decade, traveling this stretch of road brought back a flood of memories from my college years.

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Homer Glen is just over an hour away from both my parents house and my University.  I was never here for an extended period of time, nor did I come here on a regular basis. However, I had made several friends who were from this area, and ended up partaking in some social events here. There are plenty of other places I could go and encounter a similar amount of memories.  However, this visit came unexpectedly, and on a trip where I am already visiting a plethora of places near and dear to me, from past chapters of my life.  Maybe that is why the images from my past came back to me so powerfully.

Most of my memories from this place involve standard young people shit; drinking, debauchery, partying, etc.  However, some of them involve some specific experiences that remind me of the way my life truly was. One summer evening, we had used a friend’s house in this area as a meeting point, as we had on several occasions, particularly in summer.  We had all not see each other in around two months, which, for 20-year-olds used to being at college together all the time, seems like an eternity.  As a result, we spent roughly 20 minutes taking pictures.  I don’t even remember why we took so many pictures, but we did so until the one person with even less of an attention span than me finally had to put a stop to it.  His exact words were “I love you guys, but we need to do something.”

Looking around, I eventually realized that I was not even really in the same place that I had remembered.  At that time, the area between Orland Park and Lockport was called Homer Township.  It would later be incorporated as the town of Homer Glen.  Instead of the four-way stop signs I had seen throughout the area, signaled by red flashing lights in all directions, most intersections here now have full traffic signals.  McDonald’s is now accompanied by a bunch of other establishments, and an extension of Interstate 355 has been built just to the west of town. So, although some of what I saw looked familiar, and brought back memories, there is not way to avoid clear evidence that this is now a completely different place than it was a decade ago.

One mistake I tend to make is to associate certain past experiences with a specific location. Periodically, I need reminders that when I think of a set of experiences from my past, I am really looking back to a “chapter” of my life, which, unfortunately, cannot be truly relived no matter how hard I try.  College is a chapter of life, and one cannot return to this chapter of life by simply moving back to their college town.  Even those who chose to stay in their college town enter a new chapter of their lives when they graduate, one that commonly involves either graduate school or their first “real job”.

Not only is this physical location fundamentally different from the place I had all of these experiences, but I also, unfortunately do not have the same relationship with some of the people I had these experiences with. The different physical surroundings right in front of my face serve as a clear reminder that the chapter of my life, with all of the memories that I am suddenly flashing through in my head at nearly lightning speed, is unequivocally over. AlI I can do is smile, and remember with fondness the small part of my life this place once played.

For the entire week, I have been visiting both the past and the future.  We travel for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes for business, sometimes for relaxation, and sometimes for pleasure.  Sometimes, we travel to places to attend specific events and visit specific people.  And, while some trips are primarily about exploring places we have yet to be, and about having experiences we have yet to have, others are about places we have already been, people we already know, and experience we have already had.  For me, this trip, which I will discuss more in Part 2, is turning out to be a hybrid.  On this trip, I am trying as best I can to balance relaxation with activity.  I am trying to visit as many people as possible, but also to have quality experiences, as opposed to simply rushing from one activity to the next. I am also, in a way, visiting both the past and the future, as I can see my life’s previous “chapters”, but also some of my life’s future “chapters” in the places I am going and the people I am seeing over the course of the week.