Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Behind the Blogger: You Can Go Home Again. . .But Everything is Smaller

As I've noted many times in this space, I've recently transplanted myself from Las Vegas--where I'd spent two decades of my  life--back home to central Ohio. The move had been many years in coming, with the timing only becoming "right" in recent months. And yes, the timing was right in several ways, primarily economically, which had not been true until very recently. It was also spectacularly bad timing for some other reasons, not the least of which was landing in Ohio during some of the worst of winter, and in the midst of some coincidental personal turmoil happening amongst some Las Vegas friends' lives.

But on the positive side of the line, we found a house that is already feeling like home. And spring is on the horizon (though I had forgotten Ohio's very moody, very changeable early spring climate). As I live out this stretch of days, wherein I acclimate to my new--if familiar--surroundings, and The Other Half continues to commute back "home" to Vegas for an uncertain amount of time, I still wander in a slight haze. As of this writing, there is no rush for me to attain permanent employment (which is  sweet, don't get me wrong). I've got errands and the many chores of new house set-up, along with my part-time work. I have had no shortage of things to do. And I've still got to get my blogging bug back.
Our poor, desert cars, after just over a week in Ohio.

Mostly, I'm still trying to shake the notion that I'm "just visiting." Every year of the past twenty, I've spent at least some time visiting Ohio, sometimes two or three times. A portion of my (seldom paid) vacation time almost always entailed "coming home." Because of this, and the gauzy reality I feel like I'm living in at the moment, I still don't feel completely gelled. So, I've wandered out quite a bit, to get a stronger feel for my area, my family's areas, and everything in between.

I've done much more driving than I'm used to. Which is necessary, because there's so much more land to travel than back in the Vegas Valley. There, outside of town there just isn't much besides desert and mountains. And my friends were almost exclusively within 5 miles driving distance. A "big day out" for me was the 11-mile drive to Costco I'd occasionally take on the weekends! Sure, once in a while I'd go out to Calico Basin, Valley of Fire, or venture to Primm or down into Arizona for lottery tickets or something. But mostly, I lived inside a 5-8 mile little area. All the time.

Now, in Ohio? Everyone is 20-30 minutes from here! Trips out to the store and back (beyond the grocery down the street) typically take at least an hour, something that really wasn't the case in Vegas. I'm much more likely to group my trips, plan them better, and have had to fill up my gas tanks much more often. At the same time, however, it's kind of startling how close things are.

A) Downtown Columbus B) My Old Stomping Grounds
C) My New Digs: Close together, worlds apart.

(Click to embiggen)
I know that's paradoxical, but what I mean is, areas that my memory holds as "worlds away" from each other, are actually smack-dab beside each other, often with no buffer whatsoever. For instance, I grew up in the small enclave of Whitehall. I'm now in Reynoldsburg, a larger suburb to the east, at one time considered an "outer" suburb. In truth, it's only separated by a ribbon of freeway and a thin strip of Columbus (which long ago oozed between the cracks of any other community here, just about). Moving west from Whitehall is a rather depressing--and Whitehall ain't joyous these days--strip of Columbus again, bumped up against the still quite frou frou Bexley. Then, train tracks and boom, you're in Olde Towne East/Franklin Park/Bronzeville, a hodge podge of enormous Victorian homes that range from dilapidated and condemned to gorgeous and renovated.

Another ribbon of highway to cross going west, and you're Downtown. The entire drive from my old stomping grounds to the center of Downtown Columbus is a little over 5 miles or so. Walking distance. But with at least five distinctly different areas, and several sub-areas, all of which don't fit in my brain into the same space. That's to say nothing of venturing north with the Downtown/Short North/Victorian Village/OSU Campus/Clintonville stretch, which to me has always blurred into one big thing. And I've been grafting onto these areas all of the places in between, shifting my young adult compartmentalized brain over to a middle-age cohesive whole. It's adding to the surreality  of everything.

And don't forget three big factors: a) the enormous amount of changes made to infrastructure and landscape in my absence; b) the simultaneous sameness--but subtly different nature--of many places around those changes; and c) the unreliability of decades-old memories. None of my memories, seemingly, can be absolutely trusted. As a navigator, I'm only as useful as my Swiss-cheese memory and horribly twitchy Android phone let me be. And on top of that, the scale of everything just seems off.

Google Earth promises a greener world than my camera
can currently deliver.
Whitehall in particular seems smaller. Much smaller than I remembered. Much closer to some surrounding areas that I'd have ever thought. And not particularly nice to look at. It's wedged in between two major thoroughfares, both of which were part of US40, the National Highway. And it was settled post-World War II. As such, there wasn't much zoning or thought put into beauty and
aesthetics. It's hemmed in by Columbus, and sits below and airport and a defense construction facility. There's nowhere to grow, and not much to beautify. When they tried, they shoe-horned in a completely anachronistic Victorian theme that still baffles me. But, I'm probably looking with jaded eyes, and at the tail end of winter too.

I know from experience (even with my unreliable memory) that spring and summer bring beauty, even to somewhat unbeautiful places. The dire looking bare trees and brown lawns will give way to gorgeous greenery soon. My mood--as it always used to do--will be buoyed by the sunshine, flowers, grass and trees. Depressing drives across suburbs and country spaces will start to feel more filled with optimism. I'll get there. And soon enough, the surrealness is bound to fade too.

I doubt my experience living 2,000 miles away in the Mojave Dessert will fade away for awhile. I'll be comparing things (notably traffic and traffic infrastructure, liquor laws, and shopping hours) to the way they do it in Vegas for many years to come. I'll continue to miss my friends out there. But I'm finding you can go home again. It's just smaller. And bigger. And different. But also the same.

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