Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the Road to Nostalgia [UPDATED WITH PHOTOS]

OK, I'm back and well-rested; I had a good time on my trip, but it was nice to wake up in my own bed for a change. Meeting up with my sister and her family on the far west side yesterday meant that my journey home doubled as a trip down memory lane:
  • It wasn't that far out of my way to go through my old neighborhood. My first stop, right off the tollway, was Town & Country Village. Until sometime this year, there had been a mall on the property, but that had gradually gone belly-up over the years, and they made pretty quick work of tearing it down. (I had always compared T&C to Prestonwood Mall in Dallas; both were the newest, coolest thing in town when they opened, but they both gradually lost anchor tenants over the years and also suffered by being too close to other malls. Both sites are now rubble.) So while a big open field is all that remains of the mall part, the "village" side of the development--which was way older than the mall--has been completely remade (either renovated or totally rebuilt) as an upscale boutique center. My folks and I were laughing about the fact that the pizza parlor we used to go to when I was a kid (which, as I briefly noted at the end of this post, had separate "adult" and "family" sections --i.e. beer for sale vs. beer not for sale--with the kitchen in the middle) was now a Starbucks, and my old optician's place (which I visited frequently; I was rough on glasses as a kid for some reason) was smack in the middle of what's now a Pottery Barn.

  • From there, I headed out to my old neighborhood, passing right by my old junior high (now called a middle school, which is more accurate, since it's always been grades 6-8), taking a slight detour after a gas stop to go by my old elementary school (which has hardly changed at all on the outside, save for the addition of a gym), and ending up in front of the house where I grew up from third grade on.

    I've mentioned before that the biggest change to the neighborhood is always that the trees have gotten taller, and this was even more evident this year. I'm not sure who bought the old house, but it does look occupied, unlike last time. Having a digital camera, I took a picture, which will go up just as soon as I can get my software-incompatibility issue resolved. (Hey, fellow Mac users--anyone know if there's such as thing as Canon download software for OS 9? I'm not holding my breath...)

    UPDATE: Pictures from this trip have been added, now that I'm in OS X. Here's the first one:

    The old house

  • From that spot, it was a five-block drive (not a bad walk, back in my pre-driving days) to my alma mater, Stratford High School. As I noted last year, the school was closed for the entire '04-'05 academic year as it underwent some massive renovations (long story short, the brick fa├žade was pulling away from the rest of the building). This was my first time to drive by since it reopened, and I must say I was quite impressed; it looked great. The lighter-colored brick makes the building appear brand-new, and they've added a couple of things onto the original design, including a competition gym with a windowed lobby on one front corner, and what appears to be a new band hall on the opposite rear corner. I haven't made it back for homecoming in a bazillion years, but I'd love to arrange a tour the next time I'm the area during the school year.

    Stratford High (front)

    Stratford (rear view); I spent many hours marching on this parking lot.

    I don't think I'll ever get tired of these little side-trips, especially since they tend to happen less than once a year. As I noted two years ago,
    They say you can't go home again, but it's always nice to see the place where I spent my formative years. My old house, my schools, the neighborhood...while they don't necessarily represent the greatest of times--and there's no way I'd trade what I have now no matter how deeply I found myself in the throes of nostalgia--they were a part of me for a long time, and the things I experienced then and there helped make me who I am today.

  • On the way back to Dallas, I went the "back way" up Highway 6 through College Station, not rejoining I-45 until just south of Corsicana. I spent quite a few weekends in "Aggieland" when my sister was in school there, so I decided to take a quick spin through the (mostly deserted) campus. They've done an amazing amount of construction, and the end-zone addition to Kyle Field looks just as impressive from the outside as it does on TV from the inside. A friend had tipped me off that there was a Chipotle across from campus--sho'nuff. And, while I was surprised that there didn't appear to be a Starbucks within walking distance (it was way out towards the freeway), there was a Barnes & Noble cafe pretty close by. I hadn't been to College Station since around 1999, when I was an usher in a half-Jewish Aggie wedding (that's a post--or a song title--in itself), so a lot has changed.

    As Coop noted a few months ago, Texas A&M is a very fine university, and if they ever decided to do a full-blown music department (which, with their deep pockets, would be of very high quality), I'd jump at the chance to teach there. (Imagine it--Kev, the King of Aggie Jazz. Heh.)
All in all, it was a very good day for nostalgia.

The Mills brothers, in a way: Our family lunch place of choice was the Rainforest Cafe at Katy Mills (yes, Dallasites, it's the younger, larger sibling of Grapevine Mills.) I'd never been to the Rainforest before, though I'd walked by it plenty of times in Grapevine. It's a fun atmosphere; the whole inside is covered with fake trees, waterfalls, animals (some animatronic, some stationary) and vegetation everywhere. They also have "thunderstorms" about every fifteen minutes where the lights flash on and off (no precipitation, thankfully). My nephews (ages 2 and not-quite-5) seemed to enjoy the unusual atmosphere, though Caleb (the 2-year-old) was a bit unsettled when the person in a monkey suit walked by. A good time, all in all.

The mall itself is bigger than its Grapevine counterpart, possibly in part because the Bass Pro Shop and AMC theatre are actually attached to the mall, rather than across the street and in the parking lot, respectively. It took twenty minutes to walk a "lap" around the whole thing. It's also laid out a little better in that the food court is in the center of everything, so it opens out into both sides. As you know, I'm not a big fan of the enclosed mall, but the Mills concept (outlet versions of major stores in a continuous oval) makes for an enjoyable destination every now and then.

And they say that TV is bad for your mind: The recent survivor of a shark bite in Oregon probably saved his own life by punching the shark in the nose--a technique he said he learned from watching TV shows such as the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."

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