Friday, March 1, 2013

Taking Off the Memory Glasses

Every year, Sallie and I look forward to our budget vacation to Columbia. Where with adult jobs and $300 in pocket, we're able to eat and drink what we want for a four day trip of films, beers, and memories.

But, every year we come here, I'm painfully reminded that we float ever farther away from those relatively carefree days of our youth. As my knee seems to get weaker and slower, and my ear is ringing, and my tolerance for the sheer amount of people depletes, I look at the college kids, thinking, "My god, that's exactly what they look like to me, kids."

This goes hand in hand when I realized the very same hockey players I root for are no longer these guys I can aspire to become because they no longer are guys 15 years older than me, they are now guys, younger than my youngest brother.

And I was never going to be that alumni, coming back for the football, telling tales of how Harpos used to be a classier joint where you could get quarter draws on domestic beer (it was a terrible place when I went to school, but still a favorite of the alumni) or how Shakespears has the best pizza in town (it never did) while drinking cold but flat beer out of a keg thrown in the back of a student's pickup truck in one of the tailgating lots.

Instead, I'm the guy that seeks out the tastes and atmosphere of my time in Columbia. I will always go to Flatbranch and order the chicken bacon wrap while sucking down a Katy Trail Pale Ale. I'll do this with a smile as I look out the large windows overlooking the Flatbranch office lot, but in the back of my mind I always remember the wrap being a little better and the beer bursting with a little more flavor.

And one by one, the old stomping grounds seem to close and are replaced by more youthful, free-range  all natural, juice bars, with names like in·gre·di·ent (yes, that's a proper noun that starts with a lowercase letter) when sometimes all you want is that greasy burger you gladly ate after a night of drinking or that quick deli sandwich you grabbed on your 40 minute class break.

And then you wander into Brady Commons and the Journalism school, mere shadows of their former selves. Students, sitting there with their new Macbook Airs, totally oblivious that these buildings barely resemble their former selves. These kids will never know the joys of sauntering down into Brady's dank, mildewy basement, and ordering a Sub while listening to bowling pins falling and old arcade machines sing their Midi symphonies.

Every year, I feel a little bit older, a little bit more disconnected to this place I expected to live in my heart the rest of my life. Every year, the downtown landscape is changed by another skyscraper and I find myself feeling more and more like another tourist.

But then I think about the near future and I can't imagine not coming back. Because a new tradition is starting. The adventure of going to Columbia for three days, forgetting all the student loan payments and future surgeries, and discovering something new.