Director of Intent

May 11, 2009

There & Back Again

I traveled down Highway 99 this morning, returning to Corvallis after an eight-year hiatus. The pastoral scenes of sprawling vineyards and weathered barns lulled me into a comfortable distraction for what was ahead.

Passing Adair Village, I felt a certain familiarity kick in, as I knew exactly where I was going. With the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area commentary on 1140 AM explaining the migratory habits of shore birds, the past was suddenly rushing at me.

It was early in the morning, so I figured there would probably be parking near my old house on the corner of 12th and Jackson. Sure enough, the spot I had parked at hundreds of times was waiting for me with open arms. Unfortunately, the house I had once occupied had not been on the receiving end of any repairs or maintenance since I moved out in 2000. Familiar trees had disappeared and the house appeared to be tilting when viewed with a straight gaze. As the neighboring homes and fraternity houses were boarded up, it definitely maintained the theme of the neighborhood.

Wondering if I had romanticized the way it looked years ago, I proceeded toward campus. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia greeted me, as three of my favorite establishments had not only carried on after all of these years, but also had not changed. Interzone, the coffee house I drained more than once, had only changed the art on the walls. Clodfelter's, the first bar I ever entered legally, would have been considered frozen in time if not for the updated Golden Tee arcade game. Lastly, the refuge for my nasty vegetarian habit of the era, Nearly Normal's, still appeared to be serving up vegan fare to dirty students on bikes. I guarantee that it still tastes like gourmet dirt.

Campus itself was unchanged for the most part. The hundreds of colors bursting from petals skirting each hall brought forth an equal number of memories. The classes attended, the deviancy conducted, the classes skipped, the exams aced, the wide-eyed get the picture. At moments, it almost felt like gravity had increased. Was I the same person who a decade ago was walking the very same geographic steps?

As I saw a few groups setting up informational tents in the middle of the Quad, I found myself borrowing a thought: "Your middle-class radicalism is worthless. It accomplishes nothing but feeding your egos."

Thirty years old. Married. Kid. Mortgage. Check-mate.

The rest of my wanderings brought forth much of the same: Remodeled buildings that were improvements for the most part, a favorite pizzeria was now a taqueria, a grizzled bum was recycling the weekend's aluminum and glass remnants while investing in a day's supply of malt liquor, and of course, there were bustling students everywhere.

After a few hours, I left campus and drove to my last apartment in Corvallis. Miles away from the school and nestled in the shadows of Douglas firs, I realized that the apartment was largely a metaphor for how I felt about higher education during 2001: Burnt out, working a graveyard shift full-time, completely distant, and largely depressed. Already somewhat practiced in the arts of complacency and craftiness, I obtained my degree in skipping classes, getting A's on exams, and being content with marginalia.

Beyond the buoying effect of my wife and the love in my heart for her, that year was probably the most painful and wasted of my adult life. Backing out of the apartment complex and driving back home, I realized with much satisfaction that I'm far away from the place I was several years ago. Hell, I might've learned a thing or two since then without the privilege of paying tuition.