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Thursday, October 05, 2006
Mall of Middle America

I got back from vacation last Saturday, and I haven't written anything, for which I offer no excuses.

I had a good time back in the Midwest, I saw a lot of family and friends, although not as many as I'd have preferred, and I ate very well, and was treated kindly. The buildings where I went to high school are indeed torn down, and as an added bonus, the mall near my house has been demolished. That was truly a hell of a thing to see, especially since all of the wreckage is still laying where it fell.

"Look what Osama did to my mall!"

So, it turns out that all of the money I spent on video games in the arcade, in the food court, the record stores, the movie theatres couldn't save it. I blame myself for ever moving away, otherwise, I'm sure it would have flourished, fueled by the literally dozens of dollars I spent there annually.

I'm not much of a shopper, truth be told.

And even though I probably hung out at the mall less than most kids, thinking back, I did spend a significant amount of time wandering around in there, doing dumb kid crap, looking at girls, the usual. I was an outside kid, but in the Midwest, sometimes even the most idiotic of us are forced inside, and the mall was not an unusual place to end up.

If I could think of a particularly funny story from my time wandering around in there, I'd tell it now, but nothing leaps to mind. So, that's anticlimactic.

But I also went to the house I grew up in. The part of town I grew up in is severely economically depressed, with lots of businesses having moved out. There's only one grocery store left in the immediate neighborhood (Food Town!) and it's a mess. Safeway, Kroger, Thriftway? Nah, they never saw any point in putting up a store in an area that the white folks were fleeing. There used to be an IGA, but it's a church youth center now.

Anyway, the house still looked pretty good, as did the neighborhood. Almost all of the homes were in good shape, and well-kept. It looked pretty much as I remembered it, the trees were a little bigger, and I actually ran into one of my neighbors, who did remember me. He and his wife had me in for a few minutes so we could get caught up. They've been married for 56 years, which doesn't really seem possible for anyone, but there it is. It was fortunate that I ran into them.

The other thing that I didn't know about was that the complex where I had played Little League baseball had been abandoned, apparently for at least a few years. There were two beautiful ball diamonds, all built by the community, and paid for in part by the local businesses that sponsored the teams.

(An aside: One of the sponsors, year in and year out was a dry cleaning store called "S&M Cleaners." Now, as a young boy, I had no idea that this was funny, but you can be damned sure that my parents must have laughed their asses off every time we did battle with the S&M kids. Before I graduated from high school, the name was changed to "D&M Cleaners." I don't know what ever happened to S, and my guess is, I probably don't want to know.)

Anyway, seeing the fields covered with weeds and the outfield walls falling over was really shocking, and a kick in the stomach. I think that was probably the most depressing thing I saw while I was at home, and I'm sure it was enhanced by not knowing anything about its demise ahead of time.

Even more than the mall, we used to hang out at the ballpark, even when we didn't have a game, because you knew that there would be something going on, or someone there to mess around with. If there were games going on and you ran down a foul ball and returned it, you could run to the concession stand and they'd give you an ice pop for your trouble. That was always a good way to get free sugar if dimes were scarce.

The B&O railroad tracks ran directly next to the larger field, parallel with the third base line, and trains still ran all the time, which was awesome, because they were enormous and loud. Also, older kids from days of yore had removed a couple of the wooden ties from the tracks, and dug out a shallow space underneath, where you could lay in safely as trains passed over. I never had the balls to do it, but I was always impressed with the notion.

About twenty yards beyond the left and center field fence was a creek, where of course many stupid shenanigans took place, not the least of which involved throwing yourself off of the railroad trestle that ran above the water. It's a wonder that any kids live to be eighteen.

I grew up in a place that I thought was safe, and certainly seemed so, despite predatory real estate agents attempts to scare the hell out of families in order to get them to sell at a depressed price, and flee, presumably for their lives. There were many factors at play in killing the place where I grew up, but I wasn't concerned with them at the time. I didn't need to be. In every sense that matters, I had a good childhood.

I don't really hold out any hope that there will be any sort of economic recovery that will revitalize my hometown, and frankly, if it involved gentrification, the return of white people, the pricing out of the people who have stayed there, and the ones who continue to move in and make a go of it, then I'd rather not see it happen.

If it wasn't good enough for you when I lived there, stay the fuck out.

posted at 7:15 PM

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