Friday, July 23, 2010

My Hometown

Yesterday, as I was biking through Cherryville, I went past the high school and spotted a bunch of girls--probably from the softball or volleyball team--doing exercise runs up, down, and across the football bleachers. I steered my bike to the side of the road and watched their clockwork pattern. Then I looked across the street and saw a guy with a big straw hat mowing a church lawn on a rider mower. Off to the right, in the parking lot, were two ladies chatting--one of them with a bag of groceries that she kept shifting around. I continued on my way but kept thinking about what I saw.

I'm not sure why these images struck me the way they did. It probably had something to do with seeing people go about their lives. The vast majority of this trip has been on two-lane roads, and I've had the pleasure of passing through hundreds and hundreds of hometowns where I've been able to catch glimpses of how life is lived.

As I write this, it's Friday night in Lillington (where I'm staying). It's pretty quiet in this room, but as I pedalled through town, I could see people heading to a local eatery, where the smells of roasting meat nearly pulled me off the road and into a booth.

And round about this time in Tuba City, Arizona, teens are gathering at the Sonic on Highway 160.

Just like in Monterey, Tennessee, they're coming together at the Phillips 66 at Exit 301.

In Deerfield, Kansas, people are gathering for the free outdoor movie at the park. On July 4th it was "Sergeant York"; no telling what tonight's fare is.

Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, is showing "Up" tonight, but judging by the time, the movie's probably over and parents are now home, trying to wrestle their kids into bed.

But it's more than bearing witness to everyday life. I'm so far removed from the routines and rituals of my own life, that seeing others makes me long for home. And it makes me remember.

Even though I haven't lived there for over 20 years, I'll always consider Downers Grove, Illinois, my hometown. A lot has changed since I lived there; the Just Games on Ogden Avenue is history, as is the Venture on 75th Street and the Dynamic Video off of Fairview Avenue. Even my elementary school is gone, converted into offices for the park district.

But some things remain. Two important places of my youth--the Tivoli Theater and Anderson's Bookshop--are still around. Someday, probably, they'll vanish, but for now they provide continuity with my past.

The same goes for Omega, a restaurant where my friends and I spent most weekend nights after playing D&D at Paul's house or after seeing something like "Ghostbusters" (for the fifth or sixth time) at the Tivoli. We'd get wired on coffee, flirt ineffectively with our waitress, then go to our respective homes, watch SCTV, and recite all the best bits the following night, when we'd get together again.

Seeing people in their hometowns has brought all of this back for me. Those times are physically lost, sure, but they live on vividly in my memories.

I wonder if the kids gathering in all these places will someday look back fondly on the time spent there. In Ash Grove, Missouri, I met some local kids at the city park where I camped one night. They would drive down from nearby Walnut Grove and hang out every night during the summer, chatting at the picnic tables or flitting from car to car. They liked to talk with bikers; it was a common stop for riders on the Trans-Am Trail. I wonder if years from now, Gordon and Turner--two of the teens I talked with--will remember those nights as a treasured part of their pasts. Maybe years from now, the two of them will run into each other and play "remember when...?"

And maybe I'll get to play a supporting role.

Gordon might look at Turner and say, "Remember that one biker from California?"

And Turner might laugh and respond, "That old guy? Oh yeah! I wonder whatever happened to him..."


  1. Hey it's Chris T. After getting your blog address from you at Vince and Jean's party, I thought I would check your journey out. I just now found the slip of paper with the blog address on it. Wow! I can't believe that you're close to the end already. Our paths almost crossed in Cherokee. We were on our way back from Myrtle Beach, SC and we always cross thru Smokey Mountain National Park. We passed by the Harrah's Casino on Route 19, 3 days before you did. I give you credit for making that ride over the mountains down into Maggie Valley. It's a beautiful drive in a car and must be even more so on a bike. Best of luck to you on the rest of your journey and be safe. It was good to see you, even if I did think you were you where your nephew :)

    Chris T

  2. This post brought me to tears. This is going to be one heck of a great book.

    Sarah B

  3. Hey Rocco,

    Your post brings to mind the ever present reality that nothing we go through as adults, no matter how wonderful, ever quite feels as awesome as the little momemts of our youth. You put that in words in such a way that I think we can all relate to it...can't wait to read this book! Better have my box of Kleenex handy when I do...

    Glad you'll be home soon. We were talking about your oldest cutie Nick today...

    Stay safe,