James Salter on travel:
It’s essential for me. There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh. I’m used to traveling. It’s not a question of meeting or seeing new faces particularly, or hearing new stories, but of looking at life in a different way. It’s the curtain coming up on another act.
Salter nails it and it circles back to being the stranger in the strange land that is infinitely more interesting than reading about the absolute cellular familiarity. I still feel a little like the stranger in a strange land when I stay at Dr. Doctor’s house.
A few weeks ago, it was high school homecoming in the middle of the middle of nowhere and I must say it made me a little homesick. I grew up in north Texas and the area was 25% bedroom community to both Dallas and Fort Worth and 75% small town to nothing. My high school had a statewide reputation in sports and a band. If you went to a big high school during the 70’s in Texas, you know about my alma mater.
Thursday night, I rolled through the tiny town closest to the new boyfriend’s house, I noticed the high school parking lot was full; the lights were on in the gym and the stadium was empty but lit up. It’s a small high school so my guess was the JV game had ended an hour or so before and decorating the gym was on the schedule for the evening. I remembered for the millionth time my own high school reunion was taking place that same weekend and I was pretty sure it was also homecoming too. I felt a little wistful and like a stranger witnessing the preparation for a festival I wasn’t participating but had complete understanding of the ritual behind it. It’s funny how high school football and often basketball, are the foundation of a community in small towns.
Saturday night, we had dinner at the local country club. It’s the nicest place for dinner in an 80-mile radius. “Country Club” makes it sound posh but really it isn’t. The golf course outside the windows is gorgeous. I love having dinner there because not only is the the food almost always well prepared but the bartender makes the perfect Old-Fashioned. (You can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl, right?) It was late and the place was still busy. Dr. Doctor looked sagely at me and said: “Homecoming.” I’m not sure if he had noticed that on his own if it was because he heard me mention it the week before. Behind us a young woman sat with her date. She had on a bright green taffeta party dress, a tiara, and adorable sparkly tennis shoes. Her date was just as dressed up but a little less colorful. They were shy with one another and the body language wasn’t that of two kids in love but rather good friends hanging out together for this big event at school. Their lack of too-old-too fast bravado was refreshing. These were not the fast kids. This was not the girl who was going to get pregnant the spring of junior year. This was not the boy behind the school making drug deals.
A long crowded table dominated the room. The conversation snippets I caught were about the farms they had grown up and the local football and basketball stories from their own childhoods. My first guess was parents gathered for dinner after dropping kids off at the dance–they uniformly looked the age to have teenaged kids–and had dropped them off at the dance. The women were soft around the edges, their faces wearing faint traces of mothering stress. The men at the table were each carrying at least fifty extra pounds. Comfortably ensconced in the midst of middle-age. A place I had just left. I wondered how many of them were high school sweethearts now married with kids about to launch into the world. I wondered if this was a home coming for any of them. I wondered if there were strangers at the table and how they were coping being new to all of this small town community talk of football back in the day.
After dinner, we drove home listening to the radio and every station was playing music popular in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It was weird and a little disconcerting. I thought I saw a falling star and even if it was a “falling” satellite or space station I wished on it. I wished everyone experience of community I had as a teenager in north Texas and witnessed replaying that weekend 804 miles away and 35 years later from home.