Notes from Kansas, Part 2

I am once again back in Kansas, visiting my parents. My days are mostly filled with trips to Bartlesville for my Dad’s radiation, several trips to grocery stores and bakeries throughout southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, and driving around Independence, with my dog, looking at old houses and buildings. My Dad is doing well, all things considered.  

I get a little bored, our entire day revolves around a 10 minute radiation session. That’s not a complaint, it’s kind of beautiful really. Ten very important and hope filled minutes. 

I like the downtime. I like taking my dog Ricky out with me for a walk or a drive. I take him to Riverside Park and we walk around the fountain. Tonight, after two days of rain, the sun had returned, with a few lingering dramatic clouds. The trees a little greener, the sky bluer, I wondered if maybe this was the most beautiful spot on earth. Had I really travelled the world in search of paradise when all this time it was yards away from me?

I’ve said it before, but I can’t believe that after dreaming, moaning, bragging during my entire childhood that I would someday leave this hick town, that I am back, in awe of its beauty. Also, charmed by peeling paint on old Victorians, haunted by houses in varying states of decay. 

When I am in New York City, another place I once called home, I walk and walk and walk every day that I am there. I try to walk down every street and avenue. I ask myself when I was last on this block? Have I ever been on this block? I’ll see a structure, something noteworthy like a 100 year old church or a miniature park or a just a bakery and wonder, did I know about this and forget or never notice it before? 

And here, in my most hometown of hometowns, I find myself doing the same thing. I drive down streets just for the sake of taking it in, recovering old memories, like the SCF lock-ins at the Nazarene church or the carnivals that blanketed the Washington school playground or that library that I spent so much time in growing up, reading about people who lived in faraway places. 

Also, though, I discover new things, like an apartment building or a miniature park or a bottling plant and wonder, did I know about this and forget or is this completely new to me? 


And while I drive, and sometimes stop and take pictures, I wonder, why am I doing this? Is this going to make me smarter? More successful? What am I gaining here? 

To be honest, I don’t know. The other day, a friend, in all kindness, commented, “Your sincere wistfulness at the past is a lovely memory of the midwest.” I had to laugh as I wondered, am I the Miss Havisham of bloggers, weeping for a time that only lives in my memory which means maybe it never existed anyway? Am I the sentimental guy buying Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel slide machine? 

From that Mad Men episode: “This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

If you’re still with me, I reckon it’s because you have a place that holds that kind of weight for you too. I know I can’t say it better than Matthew Weiner, or Jon Hamm, but this week, these drives, these discoveries, these memories, they have fortified me. 

Maybe just as all children, whether they are close to their parents or not, must eventually make peace with the people who raised them, we must all make peace with the places that raised us too. Am I the only one who sometimes blames a weakness or failure in myself on the town that raised me? That thinks, I would have had so much opportunity if I’d just been raised in New Jersey?!?! (If I am the only one, don’t tell me, let me wallow in my delusions.) 

But this place, it’s pretty special. And not just because of Miss Able and William Inge and that first lighted baseball game. Much of what I am today is because of her. And just as we carry the people we love with us in our hearts, even when separated by miles and states, we carry with us, any place that we have ever called home. And Independence, I know this now, will always be my home.


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Make Lillian Way Great Again

 

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You know, what is a blog if not an opportunity to air one’s grievances? To share what just happened with a plaintive hope that maybe someone out there will say, “I feel you, I see your point, I get it.” And you know, maybe you will get it. Also, maybe you’ll just think I’m a weepy Vanya.

As I was walking to my car this morning, on the street where I’ve parked my car for the last 18 years, my neighbor and friend Mark waved and said he had something to tell me. Long story short, he told me that there had been an initiative to implement permit parking and that the majority of the street had been for it and it went through. The change will go into effect shortly.

So, I live on one street, which is a major street with little parking and apartment complexes with little or no parking garages. So most of us who live in my building, as well as the other buildings of my street, park on another street enchantingly named Lillian Way. Lillian Way is a verdant, lush, old-fashioned street lined with 60-80 year old homes, houses built at a time when Los Angeles was neither old nor young, just hopeful.

I have lived in my neighborhood, on my street, for 18 years. And mostly, every day and night, I have parked my car on Lillian Way. Through the years, I thought I had built relationships with my seemingly friendly, devoutly Democratic neighbors. There were friendly exchanges. My compadres knew, if not my name, at least the names of my dogs.

Many years ago, I read an article in Los Angeles magazine about how when people love living in LA, it’s because they live somewhere where they feel like they are living in a small town. And if you know LA, you probably know that to be true. There are all these villages here, like Larchmont Village and Brentwood Village or Valley Village that say, “Hey, we aren’t a metropolis, just a few hundred cozy hamlets all cobbled together.”

And for 18 years, I certainly would have echoed that sentiment.

But now, suddenly, shockingly, permit parking has come to my abode. I will never again be able to park my car overnight or longer than 2 hours during the day. And most of the other folks who live on my street are in the same position.

I interrogated Mark for details. When does it start?  Who spearheaded all of this?  How long was this brewing? He said that the decision was mostly unopposed. So basically, all (or most) of these people who I thought I had an amicable relationship with had been plotting to prevent me from parking the way I have parked for the last, yes, 18 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that for the people who live in houses on Lillian, having the “apartment dwellers” invade their curbs and walk on their lawns gets annoying. Day after day, year after year. I see trash or dog droppings that litter homeowners yards and while I don’t do things like that, I suspect there are some without my staunch (that’s for you, J.J.) values.  I do get it. And please do not get me going again about people running the stops signs.

BUT, I do think it’s revealing that all these people who put Hillary and Obama and John Kerry and Al Gore (that’s how long I’ve lived here) signs on their lawns have now built their own wall, not unlike Donald Trump’s plans for America’s borders.  They are going to make America GREAT again, by taking away parking for people too poor to own a house.

The line has been drawn and it’s icky and I am well aware of where I fall.  All those people I thought were my friends, as it turns out, were not my friends.  We were not Grover’s Corners of Bedford Falls or Mayberry after all. Since I found out about this earlier today, everyone I talked to about it, and there were a few, all those people said, “Ray, don’t take it personally.  It’s not personal.”

But wouldn’t George Bailey take it personally?

Maybe it’s not personal.  And maybe when the sting wears off, I won’t care.  Maybe parking won’t be as troublesome as I fear. But right now, while it is still fresh, I don’t know if I will stay on this street or in this town or in this state.  Because home is no longer home to me.  That might not be the worst thing in the world, but in this breath, as I type these words, it’s really not a welcome feeling.