Well I’m takin’ my time


This morning Boston’s Foreplay/Long Time came on the radio, and I listened to it for the I’ll-never-know-how-manyth-time.

Twenty-nine years ago, I used the opening lyric (It’s been such a long time, I think I should be going) as my parting words to my graduating high school class of 1986. Griffin High, the school I graduated from, went kaput a few years later, but I still keep in touch with some of my classmates, mostly on Facebook.

Four years in the same place does seem like a long time, when you’re 17 and itching to get out and see the world. Now, almost three decades later, I realize that four years can pass in the blink of an eye. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.

Another line from the song that I like is “There’s a long road I’ve gotta stay in time with.” That long road has led me out of Springfield Illinois to Chicago, with assorted side trips along the way. Where it leads from here, I have no idea. But I’ll be sure to stay in time with it, all the same.

Welcome to college

I remember the day I left home for college very well. After 18 years of living in my parents’ house, and seeing very little of the world outside of Springfield, Illinois, I was finally able to make my break. I wasn’t going that far away, geographically speaking. In truth, I wasn’t even leaving the state of Illinois. But I was leaving, and once I did that I realized that there wasn’t any going back. And that’s exactly as I wanted it to be.

All of my clothes were packed up, along with the typewriter I had received as a high school graduation gift. I may have been the last American teenager to get a present like this, but it was mine and I intended to use it. I really had nothing else to call my own. So my parents loaded us into our Chevy Impala for the drive northward toward Evanston, Illinois.

When we arrived on campus, my father stopped some students in the parking lot of my dorm to ask where Bobb Hall was located. I nearly died of embarrassment, since this was a college campus and asking for directions wasn’t cool. But on the other hand, the sooner that I got to the dorm, the sooner my college career could begin.

My dad parked the car, and everyone grabbed something to bring inside. Of course, I felt like all eyes were on me, and I was being judged by the older students who already knew their way around the campus. I was nervous and excited and terrified, but I was determined to let none of those emotions come out. Just act cool and everything will be OK, I told myself again and again.

Bobb Hall was, and still is, a dorm populated mostly by Northwestern‘s freshman students. It’s also the biggest party dorm on the campus, but I didn’t know that yet. All I knew is that it was going to be my home from that day until next spring, and that was good enough for me.

I knew that my room number was 104, but beyond that I had no idea of what to expect. Would it be more quiet than noisy? Would there be people there that I couldn’t stand? And where did the girls live? When you’re 18 and about to be turned loose into the wider world, those were the questions that needed to be answered.

When I got to my room, I paused for a moment. On the door there was a piece of construction paper with my name, my room number, and a cut-out from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are“. Not some obscure philosopher, but a character from a children’s book. I immediately told myself that everything was going to be all right, and it was. I felt like I was at home.

Bobb Hall, and the neighboring McCulloch Hall, was indeed a wild place to spend my eighteenth year. There were many rumpuses there over the  course of the school year. My grades suffered as a result of this, and that might be the closest thing I have to a regret about my college years. But Maurice Sendak‘s characters effectively welcomed me, and my fellow dormmates, to college for the first time, and for that reason they will be with me always.

Then and now

After taking my little one to skating practice this morning, lacing up her skates and listening to the details from a sleepover party last night, I went out to the car and found a penny in the parking lot. As I have written about before in this space, I picked it up and looked at the year the penny was minted. And the year I saw–1986–may well have been the most momentous one in my life to this point. In fact, it was the turning point.

The picture above shows me as I was in 1986. I’m in the middle column, at the bottom of the page. The picture was taken by a local photographer, and it appeared in my high school yearbook as well. Seniors had their pictures published in color, while everyone else had to settle for smaller pictures in black and white. Rank has its privileges, both then and now.

The book that this page was taken from appeared in was what we all called the “Freshman facebook.” It’s funny how today everybody knows about Facebook in a different sense. But I, and all the rest of my classmates, were in a facebook of a different sort. And this is helpful for getting at who I was back then.

My name appears along with my nickname and home address. I never actually lived in Springfield, Illinois, but in a small village–a suburb, actually–that bordered Springfield. In hindsight, I wish I had just put Jerome, Illinois as my mailing address, since it did set me apart from nearly everyone else that I knew back then. But setting yourself apart from the herd is not something that the 18-year old version of me wanted to do. Thankfully, I’m more willing to do that now.

Below my address (and somebody lives there today, but not me or my family) are my interests which, if I had been completely honest about it, would have also included drinking beer, but I couldn’t publicly own up to that. The interests that I was willing to share with all of my soon-to-be classmates are kind of funny: basketball (Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, particularly), baseball (anyone who’s ever read this blog knows about that), and rock music (see yesterday’s post about Van Halen’s tour for evidence of that). The basketball interest has faded somewhat, but the other interests are still right up there, a quarter of a century later.

Below my interests are the place I graduated from high school (which no longer exists) and my intended major. I viewed political science as my pre-law major, and even though my school didn’t have a pre-law curriculum, I had every intention at that point in my life of becoming a lawyer some day. Fate had other ideas, as it so often does, but without fate I wouldn’t have been in Northwestern’s freshman facebook to begin with (there’s more about that here).

I drove home from the skating rink, turning 1986 over in my head, and thinking about how different I am from the person who occupied that space at the bottom of page 52. I wondered what the 2012 me and the 1986 me would say to each other. That sort of thing pops up on Twitter every so often, with a hashtag like “#thingsIwouldtelltheyoungerme.” I have become, in many ways, what the younger me wanted to become, but would never say so publicly.

I’ve lived into my 40s, which I’ve learned that not everybody gets to do. I have a family, with a wife and a dog and two kids I would do anything for. I also own a house in a historic part of a city that I love almost as much as my family. I drive two cars–a hybrid and a minivan–which didn’t exist back in 1986 but serve their purpose very well. I have seen some of the world, which the 18 year me had not yet done. I have a career that has allowed me to do some interesting things, while not also consuming my every waking moment. I drink coffee–which the 18 year old me would have thought impossible–but I don’t drink  alcohol, which the 18 year old me would have though equally as impossible. And I still love rock and roll, and am looking forward to concerts by some of the same performers that I listened to back then. The 18 year old me would have really loved the Loop.

The place I’m at in life today is the result of the course I began charting back in 1986. I was on my own, for the first time in my life, and I enjoyed all of the freedoms that came with this. But I stayed on the path, not knowing where it was going to end up. And this morning–as I’m hearing my older daughter laugh with a friend in the next room while writing down some thoughts to share with the wider world–I must say that I am happy with how things have turned out.

One of my favorite songs back in 1986 was “Foreplay/Long Time” from Boston’s debut album. The lyrics of that song include the lines “I’ve got to keep on chasing a dream/or I may never find it”. I left my parents home in 1986 to chase a dream that I couldn’t define very well back then, but what I’ve found since then fits the bill better than anything I could have imagined. I’m not a millionaire or a celebrity or anything that a typical 18 year-old fancies himself to be one day, but I am a middle-aged, middle class dad who knows what really matters in life, and has everything that he needs to have. And I’ll take that every day of the year.

Lincoln’s Hometown (and mine, too)

I was born in Springfield, Illinois, in a hospital that’s just up the street from where Abraham Lincoln lived for most of his adult life. Lincoln wasn’t born there, didn’t grow up there, and didn’t die there, but he did spend a good part of his life there. Or, as he said in his farewell address to the town, he passed “from a young man to an old man” there. And he lies there still.

There have only been a handful of presidents in American history, and I wonder if any of the others are as closely identified with their hometowns as Lincoln is. I rather doubt it, since the men who have grown up to be presidents are usually born in one place, more around at least a little bit in their lives, and win the presidency when they live someplace else. For instance, Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois (the only president who could say that), and then lived in several small towns around Illinois. But nobody knows that about Reagan. He’s associated with California, instead.

President Obama lived in Illinois when he was elected, but I don’t think there’s any danger that Illinois will ever be called anything but the “Land of Lincoln.” Lincoln owns the place, metaphorically speaking, and probably always will.

Every town and city in America has at least a few businesses that are named after Lincoln. And, in all likelihood, they aren’t named for business owners like Jack Lincoln or Fred Lincoln or even Seamus Lincoln. As a surname, it’s just not that common. So a business enterprise that calls itself “Lincoln Plumbing”–such as the one I found in Reading, PA during a random Google search–is hoping that your feelings about “Honest Abe” gives it a leg up over all the other plumbing companies out there.

In Springfield, this is taken to a whole new level. There’s Lincoln Yellow Cab, Lincoln Tower Apartments, Lincoln Greens Golf Course, and many, many others. And these are in addition to Lincoln’s Home, Lincoln’s Tomb, the Lincoln Presidential Center, and on and on. When your most famous resident may just be the quintessential American, why not?