Jun 27, 2012

4 for 20: Changes

[I would have posted this yesterday, but one of the souvenirs I apparently brought back was some sort of Subtropical Death Flu.  I was fevered in a chair all day yesterday.  Wheeee!  Welcome Home!]

During the reunion, I heard someone talking about how some people looked a lot different and others did not.  I was in the "you haven't changed a bit" category.  Several people were like, "You look just the same."  I could have taken a bit of offense to that.  First of all, I didn't have a goatee then.  I had an awesome teen moustache.  Second, I have lost a lot of hair.  Third, I look like I ate my high school self.  (Admittedly, it used to look like I had eaten two of my high school self, but still...)  But I took it instead that I have kept my youthful looks and still have (mostly) black hair.  What's my beauty secret?  Donut glaze and pizza grease.  They really fill in the wrinkles.  People pay all that money for botox when they could just wolf an apple fritter.

No matter how much we want to avoid it, things change.  After the reunion, I stuck around town for another day so I could see how things looked now.  I was very surprised by how different things were. For one, it appeared that the city was becoming a modern day Venice.  Half the roads were underwater and there was a lot of flooding.  "Man, these are NOT good changes," I thought.  Then I realized it was due to a storm.  Seriously, though, things had changed a lot.  I know that when I drive through Orlando, I will find things have been altered since I came to school in 1992.  It is kind of expected in a city like ours.  But West Palm Beach seemed like it was kind of stuck in time for the whole time I lived there - at least the places I frequented were things I could count on.  As I went through and looked for the memorable places from my past, I don't think any of them were the same as they used to be.  It was kind of disconcerting.  I should know this place, after spending so much time there.  But I honestly couldn't recognize large sections of it.

I started with the neighborhood where I grew up.  I had heard about the changes there.  When my mom sold the house, things were undergoing a massive overhaul in the community.  People had told me how different things were.  I was really clued in when one of my friends at the reunion told me they had driven through, looking for my house and couldn't find it.  She said she knew it was the right road, but couldn't find the house.  Our house was very familiar.  It was the big blue house on the corner.  That was how we identified it.  Shoot, that was how everyone identified it.  It was a very old house - built in the 1920s.  The neighborhood itself was all that old.  As we were growing up, it wasn't the best neighborhood, either.  I joked the other day about the local crack houses.  One friend asked what I knew about that? Well, there were all over the place.  There was a prostitution house about a block west of us.  There were crack houses a couple blocks north of us.  So, imagine my surprise when I drove up and found out that now it was Flamingo Park Historic District.  Uh, what?!?  Historic?  Like this is a fancy neighborhood?

The house itself was completely different, also.  Instead of the blue paint is now an off white.  There is Spanish tile on the roof and wrought iron balconies.  WHAT?  Balconies?  The snow-on-the-mountain hedges that surrounded the house are gone.  In their place are different bushes.  The back fence is now a big stone wall with a wooden gate.  And our house isn't the only once that had changed.  The house next door is completely different.  It used to be white with a red chimney.  Now it is yellow with a white chimney.  They even decrease the angle of the driveway.  I remember loving the steep driveway because it helped me build speed on my bike.  Every house on the block has changed.  It is such a startling difference that if someone had just dropped me on that street and asked me where I was, I wouldn't have even known.  People seem surprised when I say that, but there are no distinguishing characteristics remaining for me.  Oh, that house picture with the street sign isn't my old house.  I just wanted the sign.

I visited each of my old schools.  Well, I tried.  The King's Academy, where I went for K-6 (except for 5th grade), has completely moved its facilities.  I actually don't know where it is now.  The old place now looks like it is co-owned by the Sheriff and the local government.  There are a bunch of buses for the school district.  I didn't see an official sign for the place.  Belvedere Elementary, where I went for fifth grade, doesn't even look the same at all.  They have built all new buildings.  The same goes for Conniston Middle School.  All new buildings, nothing recognizable.  I attended Twin Lakes High School in ninth grade - but it relocated during that year.  I had no desire to trek out to that site which is like thirty minutes away.  The old site is now an arts high school.

Forest Hill High School has also completely changed.  I knew they had built some new buildings, but it looked like the entire campus had been redone.  There were all new signs, new buildings, new traffic patterns.  It all was very strange.  I supposed this is commonplace.  Older communities, like the one I grew up in, have to renovate and alter things.  The church we attended for most of my life is still there - but has a different name and new building.  Our old pharmacy is now an antique store.  And my grandfather's fishing supply store is now a fire department.

One of the more shocking changes was next to Conniston.  When I attended that school, there were dozens and dozens of homes across the street.  Now, every last one of them has been leveled.  I knew they had bought up some to deal with airport noise.  But the sight of entire city blocks empty was shocking.  Palm Beach Atlantic is supposed to be building an athletic complex there, from what the signs said.  That kind of wholesale change is very strange to me.  I know this is natural.  I moved from an older area to a very new area in Orlando.  The UCF side of Orlando had only been in existence since the 1960s.  My mom graduated from Forest Hill High School about the same time UCF opened.  Orlando was planned out with great precision.  West Palm Beach just kind of happened.  I never really appreciated just how different those two cities were.

Appreciation is a good topic to move to, actually.  I found myself time and again thinking how I didn't appreciate what I had in West Palm Beach.  As a kid and a teen, I didn't understand some things very well.  I had no clue that our house was literally four blocks from the Intercoastal Waterway.  I didn't think about how rare it was that we were ten minutes from the ocean.  As I have said several times before, I hated Cuban food growing up.  I didn't start enjoying it until living in Tallahassee about three years ago.  I had lived in one of the meccas of Cuban food and didn't even care.

This recent trip, my brother and I went over to Flagler Avenue and walked along the waterway.  I could totally picture me taking my kids there.  They would love to walk the trails, explore the piers, play in the parks.  They all love the beach and would think it was great to be so close.  The old library I spend many hours in as a child is gone, replaced by a park.  I found that a bit troubling until Chris took me by the new gleaming library a few blocks away.  The pool I used to go visit as a child is now an opera house.  There is a beautiful performing arts center, a convention center, an outdoor shopping village.  There was nothing like that when I was a kid.  I think of kids growing up there now and the opportunities they have.  Of course, they probably won't appreciate it either.  That's kind of a hallmark of people.  We are never happy with what we have.

I have always said that I hated West Palm Beach.  I have never even considered moving back there.  But, as I saw there at Havana Cuban Cafe drinking an incredible cafe con leche, or as I walked along Flagler Avenue, I found myself missing this place.  I can honestly say that was a very foreign feeling to me.  I love Orlando and want to stay there.  It is home.  But, for the first time probably in my life, I felt like I wanted to come back to WPB.  That just doesn't happen.  That town has never had any draw for me.  But, in the last few years, things have changed in me.  I have worked hard to look at life differently.  I am not so angry.  I am less negative.  I am less judgmental. (For those of you who know me know and are laughing, trust me.  Whatever you see in me now, I was far worse.)  It isn't just that I like Cuban food and drink coffee now.  It is that I want to make right the poor decisions I have made.

That was one of the goals I had in going back for this trip.  I wanted to work to rebuild relationships with people.  That takes time, just like it takes time to rebuild a city.  I am committed to that.  I have gone through over the last few years and made efforts to fix things with people.  It is a project that will take a very long time, but it is something I need to do.  My old classmates were not the only people who I needed to reach out to on my trip.  I have a lot of family there that I have been neglectful of as well.  And during this weekend I got to see many of them.  I stayed with my brother and my Uncle George.  I had dinner with my Aunt Dee and Uncle Mike.  I played cards with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Kathy and my cousins Kristin and Bryan.  I wasn't able to see Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary Jane as time just ran out.  I loved reconnecting with them.  There was a certain amount of pain in the fact I have missed so many years.  For the most part, though, I chose to enjoy the time I was having.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was I began wondering when I could come back.  I was a bit surprised myself at the reality of that thought.  I have never had a desire to be down there, but now I do.  I actually have begun making plans on when that can happen.  I want my kids to see where I grew up.  I want them to meet the family they don't know and get closer to the ones they do know.  I want to be a better cousin and nephew and brother and friend.  I was so glad for the chance to go because it afforded me the opportunities to at least start that process.  The change in the area was indeed amazing and great in scope.  But I came to realize that the biggest change may have been in myself.

*** Editor's Note.  We apologize if you found this series of post too sappy or self indulgent.  We promise that very soon this blog will return to its normal routine of mediocre sports posts, movie reviews, and lengthy neglect.  Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed your post. I hate I missed you and several others in your pictures. The night went by much too quickly. I share your sense of missing home and all of my friends I had forgotten I loved so much. I had even forgotten we went to TKA together- mostly just remembered high school. Anyway, I'm glad you made the trip. I was so glad I did. I flew out Monday with a smile on my face knowing so many dear friends were happy and doing well! See you at 30! Next time we need a little longer!
Amy Early Adams