As I mentioned on an earlier posting in September, I had planned on taking a weekend trip back to Cincinnati this month. Well, I just got back from that trip, so here’s my report.
I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 AM on Thursday to catch my flight out of Newark Airport. Somebody remind me never to book a 7:45 AM flight again, especially when it takes over an hour just to get to the airport from my apartment. Fortunately, once we got airborne, the flight to Cincinnati was uneventful. I absolutely hate flying with a passion that passes all human understanding, and I’ll do anything I can to avoid it, but sometimes there’s no viable alternative and you just have to bend over and take it like a man.
Upon arriving at CVG, I picked up the rental car and grabbed a bite to eat at the Frisch’s in the Cincinnati suburb of Fort Thomas, just a couple blocks away from the house I grew up in. Afterwards, I drove around Fort Thomas a bit to see what, if anything, had changed. To nobody’s surprise, the town has hardly changed a bit in decades. They built an addition to the high school, and there’s been some streetscape improvements in the little downtown business district. That’s about it. Fort Thomas is about as middle-America as you can possibly get, a cozy bedroom community strung along the top of a high ridge overlooking the Ohio River, best known for its excellent public schools and its streets of tidy, well-kept houses. The type of place where you want to wake up on Christmas morning.
For me, it’s always weird going back there. Almost every spot in the city has some sort of childhood memory associated with it. No matter where I’ve been and what kinds of sordid ordeals I’ve been going through in my life, I feel like I can always go back and find Fort Thomas just as I had left it. For better or worse, the town feels like it’s stuck in some sort of time warp where the calendar never got past 1984. In many ways it’s nice to have a place like that to go back to, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d ever be able to live there again without going nuts.
My hometown of Fort Thomas may not have changed much since I moved away in 1984 at the ripe old age of nine, but my friends and family there aren’t getting any younger, and it always comes as a jolt to my senses when I realize how fast the years are passing. I’m now about the same age as my parents, aunts, and uncles were when I was a kid in Fort Thomas. My parents and their siblings are now rapidly approaching the same age my grandparents where at the time I most remember them. My cousin Austin and I were inseparable as kids in Fort Thomas; now he’s married and has a kid of his own. My best friend April is about the same age as me, and we spent countless hours playing together down in the woods behind our houses. She’s been married for a few years now, and has three kids. Her oldest kid is now as old as I was when I moved away in 1984.
I have no regrets about moving around as much as I have, even the moves during my childhood when I had no choice in the matter. I think being exposed to so many places has made me a more well-rounded and open-minded person than I probably would have been otherwise, and I’ve met some great people and made some great friends along the way. But I can’t help but mourn all the things I’ve missed out on while I’ve been away from my hometown, and it’s during these periodic visits when those feelings always come rushing back up to the surface.
For that reason, I made a special point during this trip to touch base with some friends and family members who I haven’t seen in a long time, to rekindle some of those relationships. I visited my aunt Ellen on Thursday, soon after my arrival in town. Saturday evening I was able to get together with Austin, his wife and kid, his sister Emily and brother Eliot, and his mother (my aunt) Lisa down at his place in Silver Grove. We all goofed around a bit while kicking back pizza and cold beers, and Austin and I still hit it off like old times. A lot of things have changed, but people’s personalities seem to stay fairly constant.
Earlier that day, I had met up with April at her place. This was especially emotional for me, as I hadn’t seen her in ages. There’s been more than one occasion where I’d become convinced that we had lost touch for so long that our friendship had become just an old memory, but we always seem to get back in touch. We were such close friends back in grade school that, at the time, I just assumed that we’d eventually get married. But I moved away and now she’s grown into a beautiful woman, happily married to her husband for about ten years now, with three kids and a nice house. I can’t help but think about the “what-if’s” that might have played out if we had been allowed to continue growing up together.
All but one of my grandparents have long since passed away, but Grandma Hillerich, now well into her 80’s, is still more healthy, more mentally sharp, and more active than most people half her age. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on her. She’s actually my mother’s stepmother, but I never knew my biological grandmother on that side of the family, so she’s always been my “real” grandmother as far as I’m concerned. As active and healthy as she is, she’s not getting any younger, and I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I should really make an effort to visit her while I’m in town. I made a couple attempts to call her, but wasn’t able to connect. So this morning, after checking out of the hotel and with a few hours to kill before I had to be at the airport, I decided to take a drive around her part of town. She lives near Mariemont, a picturesque village made up of Tudor-style buildings clustered around a central village sqaure. Up the hill not far away is the site of the hospital I was born in, now converted to a nursing home. Fort Thomas is my hometown, but Mariemont is where I was born. During my drive I happened across a familiar-looking little gray church on Plainville Road, and I realized that it was my grandmother’s church, where she’s been active for decades. I kept on driving, but looking at my watch, I figured she was probably in there getting ready for the worship service. I took a deep breath, turned the car around, pulled into the church parking lot, and went inside. How long since the last time I’d been inside that church? At least 25 years. I soon found her, and she gave me a huge hug and was proud to introduce me to her friends there. I stuck around for the service, and then we grabbed a bite to eat together afterwards. It was nice seeing her again, and for once I’m glad I listened to the little nagging voice that told me to turn the car around.
Eventually we had to say our goodbyes, and I made my way out to the airport to turn in the rental car and get checked in. Unlike the flight out there, the flight back was a living hell, the type of flight that reminds me why I hate flying so much. Two rows in front of me were three spoiled-rotten toddlers, who screamed non-stop the entire three hours I was on board that plane. It was with a huge sense of relief that I finally stepped off the plane, even if I was in Newark. My relief turned to dismay, though, when my baggage never showed up on the carousel, and I was informed that it was apparently never loaded onto the plane at CVG. About half the people on the flight had the same problem. Supposedly the baggage was put on a later flight and they’ll deliver my suitcase to my apartment sometime late tonight, but I’ll believe it when I see it. They said midnight, and it’s now 1:00 AM as I type this. Somebody remind me never to fly anywhere again, ever.
The obstensible reason for this trip was to attend the M.Arch. open house at the University of Cincinnati on Friday. Even aside from the chance to catch up with friends and family and to get my Skyline Chili fix, the event at UC was well worth the trip. I came away with lots of questions answered, and with UC now ranking among my top picks for grad school. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be delaying my application for another year while I finish my BA degree and get some money saved up, but I’m looking forward to sending them my application around this time next year. Assuming I get accepted and decide to enroll there, I’ll be moving back to Cincinnati around June of 2010, about 20 months from now.
I just hope New York City doesn’t drive me crazy in the meantime. Don’t get me wrong; I still love NYC with a passion. But it takes a certain type of person to live here for an extended period of time, and sometimes I question whether I’m that type of person or not. I’m rapidly reaching the point in my life where I need to pick a spot to settle down and sink some roots, and right now it’s looking like that place will either be New York or Cincinnati. Cincinnati has plenty of its own issues and problems, so I guess my task for the next 12 months is to decide which city is least likely to drive me crazy.