Monday, October 27, 2008


Being back in my hometown with a lot of time on my hands is proving to be a surreal experience. I lived here for almost 22 years, and one more year living an hour away before shipping off to Norfolk for nearly five years. On my previous three return trips, I was so busy, I really didn't have time to stop and smell the roses (or moss, given the climate here).

Today, I decided to spend some time just being sentimental and driving around some of my old haunts. Specifically, I drove out to North Bend, which is a little town just off of I-90. When I take the back roads, it's a roughly 1 hour drive through some really gorgeous farmlands, forests, and right past Snoqualmie Falls. I have driven that road countless times when I needed to clear my head, spend some time alone, or just get a rush from taking the curves way too fast in my MR2. Sometimes my old Chinon 35mm camera came with me. Sometimes a notepad. I rarely went with anyone else though. It was my drive.

It was a surreal mix of things that have changed and things that haven't. Some things I just don't remember being the way they are. The trees are taller now. Some of the curves aren't quite as sharp as I remember, and the hills used to seem a lot steeper. A few of the old houses and barns are gone, replaced by cookie-cutter suburbia backed up against the same old rows of corn and pastures full of cows. There are some memorials alongside the road that have been there all along, and a few that are obviously newer. Some of the more dangerous intersections have been replaced by roundabouts, and the old gun shop is gone.

I stopped into Twede's Cafe in North Bend. This has always been a favorite spot of mine, especially their famous Twin Peaks Cherry Pie ("Twin Peaks" was filmed there). It was kind of amusing that instead of sitting there with a notepad and pen, I was typing away on my Neo. Modern technology meets memories.

On the way out, I drove past the old-style theatre and thought -- as I do every time -- about going in and seeing a movie there, but decided against I have every time.

There weren't a lot of cars out today, so I sailed along the highway on the way home, reliving the thrill of taking a curve too fast and of careening down the curvy, steep hill after the Salish Lodge. An MR2 might not win a street race, but even it could get going nice and fast; same goes for the Prius.

I also drove through Monroe and saw just how much suburbia is taking over. It's strip mall after ugly yellow strip mall, fast food joints and coffee shops. Cookie cutter houses clog up what used to be breathtaking views of rolling farmland.

The fairgrounds in Monroe haven't changed much, though. I parked in front of the gate to the horse show side, and just looked at it for a while, my mind abuzz with memories of horse shows. I miss that part of my life, and it was surreal to stand outside that gate once again, feeling like a stranger, an outsider.

I've felt like that a lot as I've wandered through my hometown and surrounding cities. Even in my parents' house, where I spent 22 years of my life: much is still the same, but so much has changed. My own bedroom is unrecognizable, and it's like sleeping in a hotel room. The bathroom has been completely gutted and remodeled. Yet it's the rooms that haven't changed -- the office, with the same pictures on the wall and the same books on the same shelf, or the kitchen with the same refrigerator magnets and linoleum -- that are most unsettling. What was once familiar...well, I suppose it's all still familiar, but at the same time, feels somewhat foreign. I'm not who I used to be, and none of this is what it used to be. To be nauseatingly poetic, it's like running into an old friend and looking them up and down, sizing up whether time has been kind to them, wondering what has happened to them over the years, and knowing they're doing the same to you.

This place will always be home, but sometimes I miss what it was then...just like I miss what I was then.

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