This afternoon I wandered through a small strip of the main campus drag, visiting the current incarnations of the shops I used to visit. The CD store is now another CD store, but the alternative bookstore/headshop is still that, and even has the same name it did two decades back. I snagged a CD from a local garage/punk outfit, and a fourth volume of Edward Gorey’s work to go with my other three.
Afterwards, I drove through the neighborhood I lived in for the first three years of the five I spent on that two-year M.A. (It’s a long story.) It’s still basically the student ghetto, but some of the bars have different names. But as I drove through the ratty apartments and overpriced rental houses, I saw the places where I wrote and read, made music and fell in love, and I thought of the people I used to know and the person I used to be.
On the way back to the hotel, I grabbed dinner at the new location of the 24-hour greasy spoon I used to frequent. The old location was where the creative writers would go after our workshops; we’d sit and eat and talk about our writing and our lives and how we could occasionally get those to intersect. Our guru was James Baker Hall, whom we all called Jim, and who would sprinkle salt in his beer and preside over the scene. Jim died a couple of weeks after my folks did, part of a cascade of loss in my life during the summer of 2009.
Although the diner is in a new location now, closer to downtown than the center of campus, the feel was the same, and as I squirted packets of ketchup onto my hash browns, I felt like if I squinted just the right way, I could have seen the 25-year-old I was, worrying about whether he’d ever play anything worth hearing or write anything worth reading. If I had seen him, I would have told him just to go ahead and write and play — down the road, just having done it will have been worth it.