2020 Dreams

So, about this year’s dreams.

Before 2020 went completely sideways, my friend Joel died. After that, he started showing up in my dreams, a lot. Like, an unhealthy amount. The dreams were nothing abnormal or psychotic; it either involved running into him at a party, or the company we used to work for somehow got re-formed and I had to move back to New York and work for him again. The dreams completely fed into my nostalgia obsession/problem, and whenever I woke up, I would know — I would assume — he was still alive. And then I would remember he wasn’t, and think maybe that was an alternate reality or some mistake was made and he was alive. And then the dreams got even more weird, because in the dream he would explain to me that he wasn’t dead, and it was a big prank or for tax purposes or I misunderstood the email or something.

(I realize there’s an easy psychological explanation for this, given the total lack of closure in his death. And duh, I should be talking to a therapist about this. I think everyone’s got bigger fish to fry at this moment.)

* * *

I don’t know exactly when the COVID dreams started. But I started having these intense dreams where I was walking around, like in the context of a normal weird dream, and then I would realize I didn’t have a mask on and suddenly needed one. It was like the typical “naked in front of class” terror dream, and fed into the same fear/paranoia/shame nerve.

I also would frequently have these dreams where someone was giving me COVID. Like I had this bizarre dream where I was competing in some kind of eco-challenge race through the desert with Joe Rogan. And every time he talked to me, he would lean in really close and spit would fly everywhere. And I woke up in a panic, trying to think if there was something I was supposed to overdose on to prevent the virus from catching, like eating a whole bottle of vitamins or drinking a gallon of Listerine.

I haven’t had the same nightmares I had during the SARS epidemic, though. They were based on a nightmare I had as a child. When I was a young kid, maybe four or five, I had a bad pneumonia or something that completely laid me out, and I had these insane fever dreams that everyone but me was dying of a mystery plague. Like I was watching the news, and the anchorman dropped dead, and bodies were piling up outside the house. And finally I was the only person alive, and the earth looked like the surface of the moon, and some alien Vincent Price-like voice or being was laughing at me. It’s one of my earliest memories, and that dream went back into heavy rotation when the SARS boom hit.

* * *

I have always had a lot of dreams about dead malls. Those still happen constantly. (Another big one is being back at IU, or some bizarro version of IU that has all new buildings, which I guess is IU now, since they’ve expanded everything in the last twenty years.)

My usual dead mall dreams — and these happen pretty much every third night or so — involve a strange composite mall. Like in my mind, the mall will be just outside of Queens, but it will remind me partly of Hilltop Mall in Richmond, mixed with some Factoria Square outside of Seattle, and maybe a dash of University Park in South Bend. There will always be vivid dashes of heavy deja vu around a particular store or sense memory, but when I wake, I’ll realize that there’s no way that mall exists at all.

This is also some weird sense of mourning, because I really miss these places and they don’t even exist. I have spent very little time at malls this year (obviously) and a lot of them probably won’t survive the plague, so I’ll miss them forever. So it’s fitting that they end up the backdrop of my bizarre nightmares.

* * *

Similar to the malls, I have a lot of dreams about Wards. These end up being two varieties. One is that Wards never went bankrupt, and they just closed the stores I knew about, and they had locations that still survived. The other is that some vulture cap company bought the name (which actually happened, but for online catalog purposes) and were somehow kickstarting a new retail presence. I’ve had many dreams where the old store #2258 in Elkhart has reopened, the existing Hobby Lobby shut down and the store converted back to its old glory, except it looks like a Sears with virtually no stock on the shelves.

In many of those dreams, I have a permutation of the “I forgot I had one more class to take to graduate” thing, and I’m somehow obligated to go back and work some shifts. (John said he gets the same thing with the Army, that a recruiter shows up at his house and says he didn’t finish his time thirty years ago and has to come back and do more.) In some of those dreams, my original coworkers are still there, although I’m certain that thirty years later, most of them are all dead. Sometimes I go back and I’m the only person who worked at the old Wards and that’s supposed to hold some cachet over the new people. (I have the same thing going on at my day job now.)

In last night’s version of this dream, I was back at the paint department, but as a manager. A weird little fact popped up in the dream that I’d almost completely forgotten. To mix paint, we had this big turntable thing with various pumps of pigment on it, and you would shoot specific amounts of each primary color into a can of base paint. This was all manual, no computers. We had a binder of formulas for the 863 premium colors and 768 standard colors. Each formula was something like 3-B, 6-C, 2Y-F. So you’d turn to the B color on the turntable, pull back the plunger three notches, shoot in that paint. Turn to C, six notches, go. The Y was significant, because that meant you pulled back the lever to its fullest extension, and gave it a full shot. I don’t remember the exact nomenclature or what the primary colors were, but I totally remember that Y.

* * *

I’ll occasionally have a full-on dream of a real mall, and it usually leaves me horribly depressed, and it’s almost always Concord Mall. I’ll leave you with a dream from a few weeks ago:

I was back at Concord Mall for a visit, and there was some major construction going on, like the whole fountain area was completely redone as this giant Rainforest Cafe-looking food court with a waterfall and a ton of mask-less people in it. I was a bit bummed most of the mall was all Simon-ized and bland, but then I found a semi-hidden staircase that went to a second floor that I never knew existed. The upstairs was basically a mirror of the first floor, with a duplicate of the shops below, but they were all in the 70s livery and configuration, mothballed and untouched for 40 years. I wandered an old JC Penney and everything had signs on it like it was a museum exhibition. I was then in the food court and met up with Kurt Vonnegut, who was talking about how he found an article on Dresden right before he wrote Slaughterhouse Five, and it was like the magical key that unlocked the whole novel in his head. He then gave me a mall directory from 1980 and said that was my key.


Death of a Mall Intersection

This is an oddly specific bit of nostalgia, and I’m not sure it matters that much unless you lived right by the Concord Mall in Elkhart, Indiana. But I’m going to babble about it anyway.

[Note: I wrote this post a year and a half ago and never finished it. So, this is even more stupid and trivial now that I’ve gotten around to finishing it.]

So the Elkhart County Commissioners picked a plan to build a railroad overpass in Dunlap, the part of Elkhart by the mall, where I grew up. And while I would have loved the idea of a way to cross the busy train tracks back when I lived there, the plan does cause a lot of change that opens up some odd nostalgia, the kind I get when an old haunt is torn down.

Some background first. There’s a stretch of railway corridor that runs roughly following US-33, from Elkhart to Goshen and further south. A large rail yard, once the biggest one in the country, is northeast of this area, and the result is long trains. A lot of long trains. There were routinely cargo trains of a hundred or two hundred cars rolling through town, multiple times a day. And there were no overpasses or underpasses, unless you drove all the way downtown in Elkhart, or I think there was one out in Goshen. You’d routinely get stuck waiting on a train almost every day, or you’d do the maneuver where you’d drive on a parallel road as fast as you can and try to outrace the train, getting to the next gate down while it was still open. Or you’d go around the gates, and either get a huge ticket, or get killed. (This happened often, especially when it was icy out.) It was bad enough that there were places in the area where two fire stations were built on either side of the tracks, because if there was a Conrail going through, your house would burn down before the trucks got there.

So there’s always been a need for a viaduct or overpass. And they did build two since I left (Prairie Street and Indiana Ave) which I never cared about, since I didn’t live in Elkhart anymore, didn’t pay for them, and both were further north than my old neighborhood. But as I read the plans for the new construction in Dunlap, it was oddly disconcerting to me, what major surgery would happen in my old neighborhood.

The details, which I don’t expect any of you to understand unless you lived there:

  1. An overpass is built where Concord Mall Drive/Sunnyside Road crosses US-33. It goes over the creek, US-33, the railroad tracks, and CR-45. The raised section starts roughly in front of the Chase Bank that is next to what used to be Martin’s Supermarket, and comes back down on Sunnyside, right before Kendall Street.
  2. A little stub of the overpass on the north side goes back down to a new bridge over Yellow Creek and meets US-33. Both sides of this get a traffic light. This stub takes out the little bank building by the mall entrance. (I think it’s vacant now.)
  3. The rest of Concord Mall Drive is removed, including its bridge over Yellow Creek.
  4. Center Drive (the little side street next to Martin’s) dead-ends into a cul-de-sac next to Chase Bank.
  5. Concord Mall Drive and Mishawaka Rd get an improved signal.
  6. On the other side of the tracks, Kendall and Amy Street, which cross Sunnyside, will be blocked off into cul-de-sacs on either side.
  7. Helen Street, which also crosses Sunnyside, will get a slight trim and connect with the last little bit of Sunnyside, leading to CR-45.
  8. Sunnyside and CR-13 gets a traffic light.
  9. The Sunnyside railroad signal is removed (duh.)
  10. The weird part – the railroad crossing at CR13 is removed.
  11. The south side of CR-13 gets a cul-de-sac before the tracks. The north side gets a slight alignment improvement with CR-45.

There’s a lot of weird things that happen because of this.

  • My walk from my old house to the mall would either radically change or be impossible. It’s hard to think of that, because I did the walk so many times as a kid, either to the mall or to school. And if the overpass does not have a pedestrian lane (which it probably won’t — this is Indiana) then it would be impossible to get across the tracks, without walking probably an extra two miles, either north or south.
  • The Sunnyside neighborhood would be radically changed. It splits it in half, and the plan would remove a number of houses. This is a neighborhood that was destroyed in the Palm Sunday tornadoes — there’s a good picture of LBJ visiting, inspecting the remains, pretty much at the exact spot where the overpass grade would start. This area was rebuilt after that, but before River Manor (my old subdivision) went in, with its largely identical, more modern ranches and tri-levels.
  • Fun fact, maybe: I can’t tell which houses will be torn down, but I think one of them was a house that was moved there in the late 80s when the US-20 bypass was built and a swath of land was eminent domained crossing CR-13 just north of this area. (If you look at the map, there are two Rivercrest Drives on either side of US-20 – those used to be one street,)
  • The light at Sunnyside will be nice – I always remember getting stuck trying to make a left turn onto CR-13, and traffic would back up after school or events.
  • All of this would be happening to basically bridge the mall with the other side of the tracks, which is ironic given that Concord Mall is all but dead at this point, as are almost all of the businesses surrounding it.

Anyway, this is all some fairly obscure trivia, and I don’t really know why I’m writing about it. If you grew up near the area, you might find it news, especially since the local newspaper is now impossible to read online, and only publishes high school football scores.



Ten things

  1. I have this horrible urge to switch this site from WordPress to a static site generator. I’m most familiar with Jekyll, but I also know it would be slow as hell on a site with 1200 long posts. Maybe Hugo. Maybe this is a stupid idea, because it would involve typing metadata by hand and screwing up tags in every post. But it means I could use a regular text editor instead of this piece of garbage in WP. And I could work offline. And I wouldn’t have to worry about break-ins constantly, because WordPress is basically a virus injection device that happens to have a blog engine in it.
  2. I have to take a week off next month. I spent a lot of time researching places to go so I didn’t end up sitting around the house like I did when this happened in November, but I just narrowly missed the window on deals, and airfare is stupid expensive right now. I had about a dozen potentials that I was running the numbers on, and either because of price, distance, weather, or comfort, they all fell out, and I ended up booking another Vegas trip.
  3. I haven’t thought much about it or planned anything yet, but I mostly want to be able to write, take pictures of ruin, and have a car so I could drive out to surrounding areas easily. I also wanted a kitchen. And this seems counterintuitive, but I hate daily maid service. I spend all morning waiting and wondering when my work is going to be interrupted by housekeeping. So I booked an extended stay hotel, similar to the one I had over Christmas. It’s about a mile east of the strip, has a kitchenette, and no daily housekeeping. No casino, no spa, no magic show, no attractions, but also no resort fee, and free parking. That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the trip planning.
  4. I did spend too long shopping for a new laptop bag, because the one I got for free at a 2009 Microsoft trade show has finally fallen apart. After much hemming and hawing, I got this one and it seems good.
  5. The GNC at Concord Mall closed. And it wasn’t part of GNC corporate shuttering stores because they’re going bankrupt or whatever; it’s because they are moving the store a mile or two south, into the strip mall next to Wal-Mart. I found this sad for weird nostalgic reasons, because I had a girlfriend in the summer between high school and college who was a manager there, and I was working at Wards that summer and when we both closed, I’d go over there to meet her and we’d drive around the Michiana desolation all night, looking for 24-hour diners or places to park. That was a big backdrop to a book I’ll never write about that summer. And that was thirty years ago this year. Ugh.
  6. I went to Hilltop Mall in Richmond and they are starting renovation (or not) and have half the stores in the mall covered in plywood and sealed off. It’s really eerie – check my Instagram for a better look. This mall is sort of trapped in time, with a lot of Seventies look to it, lots of brown tile and brick. That will all be gutted and it will be turned all white and generic like an Apple store. I don’t have deep nostalgic feelings for this mall, but I do have a weird connection, and it will be sad when it’s blanded up.
  7. I think my weird deja vu connection to this mall is that it partially reminds me of the old Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, the double-decker design with the open top deck, and the general decor. I used to go to Scottsdale every other Friday morning when I got my paycheck at IUSB, and I have a lot of strong memories of wandering the halls when it was completely dead in there during the day, and Hilltop has a similar vibe. (Scottsdale is long gone, demalled in the early 00s. Very little about it online, too. I already know about the deadmalls post and the South Bend Tribune slideshow.)
  8. I am getting really sick of the whole dead mall thing. Part of it is the inevitability of change that I have to disregard when I pine for the old days of malls. Part of it is that almost everyone in social media groups about malls are absolutely insufferable. Part of it is that many of them hold this MAGA-like belief that we need to go back to an old time that didn’t really exist. It’s all just depressing to me, and I need to get past it, but I can’t.
  9. So yeah, I’m going off to take a bunch of pictures of dead malls in Vegas. And I will walk all of the non-dead malls underneath the casinos. I think if you walked the perimeter of every floor of every Simon mall in Las Vegas, you’d essentially walk an entire marathon, except it would be air conditioned to 61 degrees and full of people drinking yard-long frozen margaritas.
  10. I’m also stuck on the idea of buying a new camera before I leave, and I need to shut that shit down and burn through the large cache of film I haven’t been shooting all year.

Hello from the former 219

Exactly thirty years ago, to the day, I was here.

It was Christmas Eve. We closed at five. I was telling people we had no Nintendos. I probably worked forty hours that week. I’d listened to the same four-hour loop of taped holiday Muzak at least ten times. Mariah Carey was still waiting tables, so no, that song wasn’t on.

Today, I poked around what’s left of the Concord Mall, trying to visualize exactly where this was. The Montgomery Ward where I worked is gone now, having closed 18 years ago. The above picture is what used to be a door and a set of windows going in to the Auto Express department. Take a quick right, and you’d see me at a Nixdorf cash register, telling someone that no, we had no Nintendos.

Most of automotive is now a dentist’s office. Two of the bays, all of my old department, and a good chunk of housewares is now a warehouse-type electronics/appliance store. I went inside, and compared the layout of the poles and roof inside to some pictures I had from 1988 and more or less figured out where my department was. The warehouse store was empty, a ghost town. I talked to the manager, asked him if he remembered the Wards there. He didn’t. I don’t think he was alive thirty years ago.

The rest of the store is now a Hobby Lobby. I nosed around there a bit. You cannot tell it used to be a Wards at all. The area that used to be Electric Avenue is filled with floral arrangement kits, and “live laugh love” placards. I think their bathrooms are in the same place as the ones by the customer service center in Wards. I looked into an open door that led to their warehouse area. It’s the same warehouse where I used to unload trucks at six in the morning back in 1993. Same gray paint. I painted that warehouse at one point.

The mall was absolutely deserted. Echoing Christmas music. Zombie apocalypse. Almost every store closed. I went on facebook live, started doing a tour. Three minutes later, a mall cop told me to stop. Oh well.

Santa was gone. The winter wonderland booth was already partly disassembled. Nobody was around. The mall closed at five. There is no way this mall will survive another year. It was supposed to be torn down in 2017. Maybe if the economy tanks and there’s no money to rebuild it, they’ll chain the doors shut and let it rot. I spent almost every hour of my time there for a formative decade of my childhood. Best case scenario, they will turn it into a storage facility. Maybe tear it down and build some soccer fields for the high school. They turned Pierre Moran into a strip mall, and when I was there today, every store except one was vacant. So no need for that.

I have been on such a heavy nostalgia trip, just wallowing in a horrible pit of memories. I drove by my old house today, saw my dead uncle’s house, cruised past my dad’s post-divorce single-wide trailer. I went to the dead Sears at what used to be Pierre Moran mall, stood in the parking lot where the mall once was, tried to figure out the layout of where things used to be. I went in the Big Lots that used to be the G.L. Perry department store where I’d buy Star Wars figures and Halloween costumes, where I first studied the Kiss Unmasked LP and wondered why the hell they took off their makeup. I went to the grocery store parking lot where my car blew up in 1991. They started remodeling the grocery, ran into asbestos, ran out of money, and abandoned it. There’s a lot of that around the area.

An old friend from New York messaged me this morning, and said she had stopped in Indiana to eat breakfast at a pancake place, asked me if I knew it. It was literally 1500 feet from where I was sitting. I ran over and talked to her for a few minutes. I think I last saw her in 2002. It was such a weird coincidental mindfuck. It was like walking into a K-Mart and seeing Iggy Pop and Gerald Ford playing Uno. It was a great surprise, but also fed into this weird nostalgia thing I’m far too deep into.

If you’ve seen Mad Men, you’ll know I’m ripping this off from Don Draper, and I’ll steal it from the Apple thesaurus to make sure I don’t screw it up. The word nostalgia comes from from the Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain’. After living in a dozen cities, it’s sometimes hard to say where home really is. But put me in a car in Mishawaka and tell me to go to the Tastee-Freez in Dunlap, and I will make every turn from one to the other without thinking. There is a deep familiarity there, things burned into my head, both good and bad, that are the basis for so many parts of my life. And revisiting that brings some pain I can’t avoid, that I want to continually revisit. I don’t want to move back here; I never could. But I have some sick fascination with going back to those memories, even as the physical world that formed them crumbles.

I feel a great need to stop doing this. I should be thinking about what book I should be writing next, or what I should be doing with my career, not trying to think of every record store that was open in the 219 area code in 1992. This area isn’t even in the 219 area code anymore. And there are almost no record stores. And I don’t live here anymore. You can’t go back. Whatever. I’m mentally ill. I should meditate or jog or take up knitting. I don’t know.

That night, thirty years ago, I got a ride home with a girl I had a crush on, because the starter on my car was broke. The next day, my family went to Chicago, stayed with my favorite cousins. We went to a mall that night and I saw the movie The Naked Gun, going into it blind, not even knowing it was a comedy, which was perfect. We drove back to my cousin’s after midnight in his 5.0 Mustang, blasting the song “Fade to Black,” which is an awesome song to listen to in the middle of the night on a highway in a big city in a fast new car. I was amazed that we were in a place so big and so cool that they played Metallica on the radio, and knew that someday, I would have to leave small-town Indiana. I was a senior in high school. I was getting ready to leave for college, start a journey that would eventually take me to the very end of that same highway, on the west coast, as far as I possibly could get from that point. That’s another story, another set of nostalgia points.

Anyway. It’s Christmas in 24 minutes. I have to Ambien out, see more family tomorrow. Hope your holiday is going well.


Toys R Us

I was not a Toys R Us kid.

No, I wasn’t one of those weird religious kids who weren’t allowed to play video games, and I didn’t have hippy parents who thought GI Joe was promoting war. TRU just wasn’t an option for my corner of Indiana.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, K-Mart was a big part of my childhood. The two K’s really — K-Mart and Kroger. This was before Target, before Wal-Mart, and those two stores were the bulk of my retail experience in the mid to late Seventies. I spent all my time in the toy aisle of K-Mart; I could probably still note its location on a store map, had the store not been gutted and turned into a Big R farm supply. I also did a lot of my toy gawking at a now-gone variety store called GL Perry’s, which was just down from the Kroger in the also-gone Pierre Moran mall. But it was a few years before I really got locked into a proper toy store for my Lego and Star Wars needs.

The Concord Mall didn’t have a Toys R Us, but did have a Kay-Bee toy store. I was definitely a Kay-Bee kid. They originally had a narrow little store just to the left of the anchor that was then Robertson’s, and was later Meis, Elder-Beerman, and most recently Carson’s, before dying. It later moved into a bigger location in the middle of one of the arm’s spokes.

In my mind, Kay-Bee was slightly more disorganized and second-rate compared to TRU. The aisles were narrower, the shelves were more floor-to-ceiling and packed tighter, and the front half of the store was this blue-carpeted dumping ground for pallets and bins of toys, with little walking space between them. All the video games were locked away in glass cases behind the front counter, which was counterintuitive to browsing them for hours. It didn’t have the flow or the larger footprint of a bigger, standalone TRU store. It was a bit of a mess, but wonderful as a kid.

Another thing is that in retrospect, they had a lot more discount/clearance stuff, oddball brands and closeouts. It was a bit of a dumping ground for weird brands on the way out. And I used to fixate on that stuff, both because it was weird, but because it had the magical yellow tag on it saying it was discounted, showing the old price slashed out in red, the perfect argument for convincing a parent that you needed to buy it. And these strange off-brand things are now impossible to find online.

One weird example I was thinking about: so there was this big market for third-party Atari joysticks back in the day. Atari used a common 9-pin connector on the 2600, and they used the same circuit on the Commodore 64. I was always on the lookout for a better controller, a cheaper solution for the C64, and Kay-Bee was the dumping ground for every small company that tried to get in on the video game craze and got burned when it crashed. I remember buying a pair of the garbage wireless 2600 joysticks when those got dumped on clearance. I also had a weird touchpad controller that was like a mix of an Intellivision disc-style stick and the Atari keypads used by Star Raiders and nothing else. It wasn’t that great, but I have some obsession for finding it online, and it’s impossible.

The other big example was that Kay-Bee was a big dumping ground for the liquidation of the Mattel Aquarius, which was my first computer. I’ve already written about this at length, but the bullet is that Mattel crashed and burned about fifteen minutes after they quick-released this underpowered, chicklet-keyboarded machine, and they started showing up at Kay-Bee for like a hundred bucks in a bundle with four games and joysticks and everything else. I got that for my thirteenth birthday, and that started a whole great career that led up to where I am now. (Not sure if that’s good or bad, but middle management at a software company is probably better than coal mining.)

Anyway, Kay-Bee became my default place to go in the mall. Any time there was Christmas money or extra allowance or a birthday coming up, I’d gravitate to that spot in the mall. And every obsession of my pre-teen world was there, almost like a cycle of things I fixated on as a kid. It went from Star Wars to GI Joe to model trains to model planes to D&D to video games. I know a lot of people talk or write about how music or punk rock saved their lives, but for me, in those years, it was everything in Kay-Bee. I don’t know what path, better or worse, I would have traversed if I had not spent the beginning of junior high memorizing the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but going to Kay-Bee (and to Walden Books) to pore over the collection of modules and figurines and dice was a major percentage of my time.

At a certain point, things changed, and the fixation went to the other wing of the mall, the one with the independent record store, Super Sounds. The toy store was somewhat forgotten. It changed its name at some point to KB, and the later, Mitt Romney and friends drove them into the ground, a story that would later repeat itself with TRU. I never shopped at Kay-Bee after a certain point, although sometimes out at College Mall, I’d duck into that location as a nostalgia trip. I remember Kay-Bee going under, but I was tuned out of the news for whatever reason, and never really mourned it in any way.

Much later, Toys R Us did come into focus for me, but it was a place to look for video games. I remember buying a Nintendo 64 there, at the one in Seattle at Northgate Mall, and I’d always check them out to see if they had any weird cartridges, in the pre-Amazon days when you could just look up every cartridge in the world and be a click away from owning it.

But Toys R Us never had that strong reverberation with me, that primal childhood pull, just because it was off my radar. I think Chicagoland had many locations, and there actually was one just north of University Park mall, but I never regularly went to UP until I started driving, and then the interest was in music (and girls, but nothing ever happened there).

I can relate to the same angst that people have about the TRU bankruptcy, and the various rumors about brand necrophilia, the stories that they might come out of bankruptcy court as a holiday pop-up, or a mini-store inside Target, or whatever. I went through this with Wards, which I really missed after working there for years. And some random mail-order place later bought their name and use it for this pickwick-like catalog of Chinese junk, which never sat well with me. Wards vanished quickly, and it’s impossible to find any traces of it anymore. I’m guessing the same will happen to TRU. Lots of people are taking pictures now, but they’re uploading them to cloud services that will also die or be killed. Try finding a picture you put on Kodak Gallery or MySpace ten years ago — that’s what will happen to all deadmall history in a decade.

There was a TRU in Emeryville, a few miles from my house, which is now becoming some sporting goods store. I took a few shots last weekend of the one out in Dublin, which is just sitting there. I’m always curious to see what will happen with these places, and what direction retail would go. I should archive more, but like I said, the more I get into this, the more depressing it gets.


Back to Indiana

I’m back in New York, and a lot went on over the last week, so I’ll see if I can lay down the bare-bones version of it as I eat my lunch.

On Thursday, I woke up early and caught a limo to LaGuardia. This is a pretty quick trip from my apartment, so I got to the airport about 90 minutes before the plane left. It only took me a few seconds to get through security, and I managed to skip the whole line of people by using Delta’s kiosk checkin. So I had some time to kill, and I read almost all of this biography of Henry Rollins I’ve been working on.

The plane didn’t board until about five minutes before we left, but it was a small shuttle flight on Comair, so that didn’t mean much. The plane, the usual Canadair, was sitting away from the terminal, so when we went down the stairs to the tarmac, a big, square airport bus was waiting there. After the dozen or so people got on, we rode about 30 feet to the jet. I once again missed the perfect photo op, a shot looking down the tubular body of the tiny jet and into the engine from the door. Maybe next time.

Nothing much to say about the flight in, except it was short – about 90 minutes. When I got to the airport and sprinted to the rental car counter, I thought everything looked completely different from the last time I was there, maybe five years ago. Most of this was new stores, new artwork, new signs, and so on. When I descended to the luggage area, I saw the airport was almost identical to the many times I was there in the past, which triggered the strange nostalgia in my head.

So after a few minutes at the Thrifty car counter and a quick shuttle over to their lot, I was in possession of a Kia Optima SE which I’d never heard of before. The thing looked a little off in its shape, and the fake wood and chrome trim inside looked butt-ugly. But it had a CD and cassette, a power moonroof, and a decent engine, so I couldn’t complain.

After I got the car, I went to pick up Alana. I’ve known Alana since 1990 or 1991, I think, when we were both in Bloomington and both on the computers constantly. We’ve been in and out of touch over the years, but she recently found me again and we got caught up a bit. I thought it would be cool to meet face to face, drive around a bit, and see some of the landmarks from Summer Rain again, especially considering it’s been ten years since all of that stuff happened.

It’s always weird to be doing this kind of shit, and it really hit some buttons to be driving on SR-37 again, stopping at the Flying J truck stop just south of Indy again like I used to, and pulling into town again. Of course, it was also cool to talk to Alana, who is both a cool person to hang out with and a strange connection to this past I don’t forget. On the way into town, we drove past all of the big landmarks: my old place in Colonial Crest, the downtown, Kirkwood, what used to be Garcia’s, and Tom’s CD store. We ate at a Tibetan place on 4th, then drove past 414 South Mitchell, the College Mall, and checked out Lake Monroe. It’s all there and very strange to see. The quiet college campus I described in my first book still exists, even though a few stores have changed. It really made me wish I was back in town, even if I did have to starve to stay there.

After a few laps around, we headed back and listened to some Bill Hicks, which is pretty much the default music for many of my roadtrips, and I’m always happy to find a new convert to his work. We headed back north, and after I dropped off Alana, I headed up 465 for the ride to Elkhart.

I’ve made the 465 to 31 to 20 trip so many times back in the day, I knew every damn piss-stop and fuel depot and restaurant on the way. So after a few years of mental rust and constant change, I enjoyed the quick whip north. I found a Hardee’s restaurant, which was a strange thing for me. I ate there a bajillion times back in high school, so it was cool to stop there for a cheeseburger on the way up. I also saw that Grissom AFB is now gone, and they chopped it up into some kind of industrial park. Otherwise, the drive felt just like it did back when I used to make it every other weekend. Of course, the hermetically sealed and highly engineered Kia felt much different than my lawnmower-powered and somewhat shaky VW, but I still enjoyed the ride.

I made it to Elkhart in good time, and pulled in to Ray Miller’s place, where I’d be staying. We went to Meijer to get my nephew a present for his birthday, and I marveled at this cavernous, 24-hour store bigger than many neighborhoods in New York. On the way back, we cruised my old neighborhood and looked at my old house, which was a bit strange. At Ray’s, we watched some Mr. Show episodes, and I had a minor freakout because the jacket I just had pressed for the wedding was wadded up inside my suitcase, and I was almost certain I’d be fucked on getting it straightened out before Saturday.

Because of the paranoia on the jacket, I woke up at about seven and immediately got showered and out the door. I found a cleaner with three-hour service in downtown Elkhart, which was cool except it basically meant I would have to kill three hours in Elkhart. (I couldn’t go back to Ray’s because he sleeps about 20 hours a day and that kept me locked out.) So I drove around pretty much every major road in Elkhart, and did a lot of nothing.

I never had any strong feeling for Elkhart, and never thought I’d miss it after I left. And I don’t really miss it, especially now that half of the stores there have failed and left a big chunk of the city a hollow shell. But way back when I first got a car, I drove around Elkhart a lot, cruising the strip, cutting across the city to go to the malls of South Bend, or hunting down comic books at various stores that are now long gone. Crossing through downtown and other main strips of Elkhart reminded me of my time in high school, or the year I spent going to IUSB. Circling down all of these roads made me realize I could still drive them in my sleep, even if many of the surroundings had changed.

I went to the Concord Mall, which is now nothing more than a fragment of what it used to be. The Montgomery Ward store where I worked in high school is now boarded up and vacant, and the neighboring K-Mart has also vanished. The Osco drugs and Supersounds record store in the mall are gone, as well as many other small stores. But, I stopped in an Athlete’s Foot and found a bunch of plain, colored t-shirts that I could not find when I was in New York, and got 5 for $20. But other than that cool discovery, the mall was a very depressing site to see.

Cycling around, I went through my old subdivision a few more times, and saw that pretty much everybody I knew had moved away. Maybe some people had moved into newer parts of the area, with more updated subdivisions and fancier houses. Or maybe they just left the area. Most houses still looked the same as they used to; although a few had new paint or new trim, I could still cruise up the streets and remember the kids from my childhood that lived there. When I got bored of this, I drove over to Ox-Bow park, which is next to the subdivision and a place that I spent a lot of time as a kid, riding my bike, climbing the wooden tower, and digging around the woods and trails. The park looked pretty much the same, although it seemed smaller to me. And they replaced the old-fashioned green metal pumps on the artesian wells with generic electric-powered water fountains. That was a drag, because I always remember the fun of pumping the water pump and starting the water going, and then drinking this cool and pure water. It’s not as fun when you just flip a switch.

After a lot of driving, I ate at a Dairy Queen in Elkhart, and then got the jacket. It was only like $4.50 and when I tried to give the woman $7 including a tip, she absolutely wouldn’t take a tip. So that was both cool and strange. After I got the jacket, I called my sister and headed over to my mom’s place. She lives in Bristol, so the drive took a few minutes and I got a bit turned around on the way over. I got to her house before anyone else showed up, so I had a few minutes to kill, just standing around.

After a minute or two, my sister Angie showed up with my nephew Phillip. He’s going to turn five next week, and he’s in the stage of development where he’s fully mobile, cognitive, and aware of everything, yet he’s also young enough that the first feelers of real life haven’t reached him yet and his innocence and childhood are fully intact. I still remember that age well, and I’m envious of it, but it also makes it that much more fun to hang around him.

I gave Phillip his birthday presents, which consisted of a Spiderman puzzle, a Star Wars puzzle, and a Lego set that contained two pull-back type cars. I helped him build the Legos as my mom and her husband Jeff arrived. We hung out for a bit, but most of the time consisted of everyone else getting ready for the rehearsal dinner while I played with Phillip. After a bit, I suited up in my dress clothes for the dinner, and everyone split to go register at the hotel before then. I didn’t have a room, and I knew Ray would still be asleep, so I drove around for a while longer, and headed into South Bend.

I took the same way into South Bend that I took every day of the 1990-1991 school year. Once again, a few things were different, but I drove the stretch like I was on autopilot. I cruised through Mishawaka, into South Bend, and stopped at IUSB, mostly to use the restrooms but also just to see what was up there. The campus has changed pretty radically, with the old Coca-Cola bottler gone and a brand new building in its place. Also, the strip of pavement and parking that led up to the library as I knew it was now a grassy pedestrian mall. I stopped in the main administration building, which looked largely the same. I thought about walking around more, but the whole thing freaked me out enough that I had to get the hell out of there.

I don’t even remember where I went next, except that I had hours to kill and I was so damned bored, but I didn’t want to go to University Park Mall or the Notre Dame campus because, well I don’t know. I headed down 31 toward Plymouth and looked around for some place to kill some time, like a book store or something. No luck on that – the small Indiana main street didn’t have anything promising, so I went to a park and wrote in my paper journal for a bit. Then I cycled back to the place for the reception dinner and hung out for a bit. This was a small bed and breakfast where everyone looked at me like I was a drug dealer as I sat in the car for an hour playing games on my Palm Pilot.

Finally, everyone showed up, and we filed into the dining room of the place and sat down. I can’t say too much about the dinner, other than it was strange to see both my mom and my dad in the same room at once. Phillip was there and since he was in the wedding, he got a gift of a bunch of Star Wars Legos. I finally saw my sister Monica for the first time, and also finally met her fiancee Derek. I didn’t actually go to the rehearsal, so this dinner went by pretty quick.

After dinner, Monica needed a ride back to Walkerton, so we headed back there to her house. She bought a place a few years ago and I hadn’t seen it yet, so I wanted to check it out. When we got there, we met up with Angie and my cousin Cathy, Phillip, my sister’s friend and coworker Maggie, and Sheila, a friend of Monica’s from our old neighborhood that all of us have known forever. Her house is pretty decent, a hundred-year-old two bedroom with nice wood floors, high ceilings, and a very quiet neighborhood in a tiny Indiana town. I like it, but I also understand why she wants to eventually sell and get into a bigger place. Anyway, the bunch of us sat around and talked for a long time, mostly a bitch session about various families and relatives. Between the stories of past weddings, my grandfather’s thriftiness, and various people at Monica’s school, we were up for hours until everyone had to split. It was weird to be the last one there and tell my sister goodbye, knowing it was the last time she’d ever be a Konrath. But I got a good drive back with Henry Rollins in the player, and met up with Ray for a 7-Eleven run and some episodes of Mr. Show on DVD before I had to collapse.

I slept in, got dressed, and shot down to Plymouth again for a 3:00 call. They reserved a new convention hall at the Swan Lake PGA golf course, and by the time I got there, people already filled the place. I saw a lot of folks that I hadn’t seen in years; all five of my mom’s sisters were there, and a lot of my dad’s family was around, plus a bunch of Derek and Monica’s coworkers. My old Bloomington pal Julius Cooper, who previously worked with Derek, was there with his fiancee, so I sat with him and chatted in between rounds of hellos with other people. Once the food got started though, I sat between my dad and Phillip.

The wedding was one of the best I can remember. The hall looked great, my sister had a great dress and both her and Derek looked pretty happy about the whole thing. I expected a lot more tension with both of my parents there, but everyone on both sides got along well, and people from opposing families who hadn’t seen each other in decades talked to each other, which was great. Phillip, Derek’s son Ethan, and the handful of other kids were running all around but were pretty well-behaved and entertaining. And everything in general fell into place without incident.

I felt very strange during the wedding, for a few different reasons that are hard to explain. Going to a wedding alone can be an uncomfortable experience, especially when the dancing starts, and it made me wish I had more people to hang out with during the whole thing. My family members were there, but sometimes talking to that many distant family members at once is more like a press junket than anything else. I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy talking to people, I just mean that I wished I talked to them more often so I had better topics of conversation than “so what’s been up the last three years?”. And the strange thing was that I actually enjoyed seeing a lot of family members, but I felt uncomfortable knowing that I wouldn’t see them again for a long time, and I didn’t know what the next occasion would be. Part of me thinks I should see my family more, but it’s difficult to simply climb in a plane and meet up with a hundred people on a whim. And of course, I hate to admit the slightest amount of jealousy. I mean, I am very happy that my sister is happy, but of course as a single person with no real prospects on the horizon, at least part of me wished I had a person I was happy with. These aren’t things I can simply dismiss, so they tugged at me a bit as the reception went on.

A small pet peeve: if you know someone who was in or near any of the attacks in 9/11, don’t ask them about it as a conversational icebreaker. I got really fucking sick and tired of telling the story over and over. Maybe some people are into it, but I’d rather not talk about it. So if you go to a family reunion and meet someone from New York or DC, ask them about baseball or something. The Yankees are a much more socially acceptable disaster to discuss.

The whole thing was over quick, even though I was there four or five hours. I stayed while everyone rounded up the last of their stuff, and made the drive back to Elkhart, where I met up with Ray and his girlfriend Maria and we went to Perkins for some dinner.

Next morning, I drove to Edwardsburg to see my Uncle Jim, who was not feeling well and didn’t make it to the wedding. He recently had angioplasty and a pacemaker, and he’s still fatigued from it. My Uncle Jim was a career Navy man, who returned to live with my grandma and take care of her until she passed away a few years ago. He was everybody’s favorite uncle and spent a lot of time with all of us kids. I always realized this, but really saw it when some of us grew up and had kids and he also nurtured them the same way. The positive experience of my Uncle Jim has really motivated me to be the same kind of role model for my nephew Phillip, and it makes me happy to see Phillip enjoy his time with me.

I talked to Uncle Jim in the kitchen at my grandma’s old house, where we spent so many Sunday afternoons with my parents and many of my other relatives, reading the comics pages and playing with the box of toys my Grandma kept there. The house is a Konrath museum of photos and other keepsakes, and it was great to be back after so many years and to talk about everything with Uncle Jim.

After about an hour, I took some pictures, then headed back to Walkerton. I drove past my old old house on Redfield Road, where I spent my time from infancy to the end of the first grade. The tiny pine tree my dad planted in the front yard now stood twice as high as the old house, and everything else looked close to the same. I drove down state line road and took the old route to the University Park mall. The strange thing is that on a spot on Cleveland Road, a good friend of mine from childhood, Peter Elias, was killed in a car accident in 1991. And on SR 23 just south of the mall, my grandfather was killed, also in a car wreck, long before I was born, when my dad was a kid. That only adds to the strangeness of this trip, the roads I drove on so many times ten years ago.

Back in Walkerton, I headed to Monica’s to watch Mr. and Mrs. Owens open gifts. She told me to be there at one, but everyone checked out of the hotel early, and by the time I got there, everyone was gone except her, Derek, and Maggie. So the four of us piled into Maggie’s car and drove to the Scottsdale Mall for lunch at Hacienda. It’s really weird being in that mall, given that I used to go to that Target all the time when I worked at IUSB. Service at the Hacienda SUCKED, and they took about three times as long to get us through lunch, finally culminating in us tracking down the server for the check and leaving in disgust. After a quick run through Target for some last-second vacation stuff and Maggie’s wedding party gift (a croquet set), we got back to Walkerton and said our goodbyes.

By the time I got back to Elkhart, I was hungry again for dinner, so Ray, Maria and I piled into the car and drove to Great Wall for some Chinese food. The food was so-so, but I like that restaurant because the big sign has been the same ever since I was a kid, and has that old-school Oriental restaurant look to it. Back at Ray’s, we watched some wrestling, then I collapsed so I could wake up early the next day.

My dad just bought a new boat – it’s a Ranger 16-foot aluminum bass boat. He’s a huge fisherman, and it’s a great size and setup for him to plunk around on some of the local lakes, or head up to Traverse City every year for some more involved ventures. He just had the boat in the shop to replace some decals, and he offered to take me out on a quick run. I jumped at the chance, because I absolutely love boats (and wish I could buy one), but also because it would let me spend some time with him. So despite the 9:00 meeting time in Millersburg, I was excited to get down there.

I met him at his place, and we took his truck out to Ligoneer to get the boat. I have many fond memories of driving around in my dad’s various GMC trucks over the years, including the time all of us went to the Catskills in upstate New York for two weeks. So it felt good to be back in the pickem-up truck and on the road. We went to the boat dealership, and I saw many ways to blow many dollars, like all-fiberglass bass boats with 3.1L, 220-horse engines. My dad’s boat is a meager 40-horse, but it’s set up for fishing, with swivel seats, live wells, a trawling motor, and a steering wheel, electric trim, and throttle for the outboard motor.

We went down to Oliver Lake in LaGrange county, backed the boat down a ramp, and got in. The first channel has vegetation on all sides and looks like something out of Apocalypse Now, but quickly opens into a decent-sized lake with almost no traffic, and lots of big houses on one side. Dad took the boat out and got it up to speed, which brought us up to about 30mph without too much strain. The boat isn’t built to be a demon on the open water, but 30 in an open boat seems faster than 70 in a convertible, so it’s still fun. We then went to the next lake over through a narrow channel, and dropped the throttle to almost no-wake speed. The next lake had no houses on it, just DNR property. They stocked the lake every year, and there was no bank fishing allowed, so there were some great fish to be found. My dad has a great bass hanging up in his house that he caught in this area, and there were probably many more, but the heat kept them to the bottom.

It’s unbelievable to spend so much time in a big city, fighting traffic and fighting noise and everything else, and then find yourself on an open lake with nothing but pure green on every side of you, no noise whatsoever except the occasional trout jumping out of the water. It could have been 1902 or even 1802 on that lake, and even though we weren’t fishing (well, my dad threw out a line a few times to see what was biting) I really liked it. Now, I just wish I could do something like it more often.

It was also good to see my dad in this element, talking about something that he really enjoyed and knew a lot about. I previously encountered something similar in 1990 when I worked for a summer in his factory. I never doubted that my dad worked hard for his money and that the people there liked him, but spending a summer on the factory floor with him really made me realize how true this was. This wasn’t something I could see when I was younger, but it’s interesting for me to watch because I know I have many personality traits of my father, and watching him makes me realize a lot of things about myself. I don’t know if this sounds sappy or stupid, but it is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon on a lake.

We went to the next lake through another big tunnel, then returned to the original lake and swapped places. I felt nervous getting behind the wheel, considering this was a boat so new, it was still on its first tank of gas. But I hit the throttle, and got the boat up to a decent clip. It’s a little weird steering a boat as opposed to a car – there’s a bit of drift or slop you need to take into consideration. But I figured it out in no time, and we circled around a bit more, looking at houses and parked boats. After a lap or so, we switched places, and took the boat back to the trailer. After some slight trouble getting back on the trailer with the semi-crooked ramp, we got back to Millersburg and hung out for a bit before I headed to Bristol to see my mom.

Oh, first I went to Goshen and ate at the Long John Silver’s, which I haven’t seen in many moons. I also circled back to SR15, which has a strange connotation because my first girlfriend lived down there, and 13 years ago, I used to make that drive often. I also used to work in Bristol at the Bristol Opera House, and took the same trip every night. I drove into Bristol and south to my mom’s place.

That afternoon, my mom had all four of her foster kids plus Phillip, and her husband Jeff was there. This meant I got to spend some time with Phillip and help him assemble his Star Wars Legos, but it also meant the other kids were nagging us the whole time. Angie showed up after a bit and took Phillip home, and I spent the rest of the time with my mom, as she herded around the kids. I don’t really want to get into the politics of the whole situation that much except to say that it’s a very rough load of work on my mom and it’s really a difficult battle. I hung out for a while until my mom was getting supper started for them, and then said my goodbyes and cruised back into Elkhart.

Back at Ray’s, Maria was cooking some chicken for us and Ray was preparing to watch wrestling. We ate (the food was great) and watched and made fun of the WWE Raw show. I’m not a wrestling fanatic, but I watch it enough to be able to keep up with Ray’s conversations and make fun of various wrestlers with inside jokes. After the show, I packed up my stuff and talked to Ray more while plotting the final leg of my trip back to New York. Since he would be going to bed about an hour before I’d be waking, we said our goodbyes, and I went to bed.

In the morning, I took a lightning-fast shower, chucked the luggage into the car, and hit the road by 7:15. Once again, this was a strange roadtrip that reminded me of many trips south, reminders mostly of the times I moved to Bloomington. I had to make it to Indy for a 11:55 flight though, so I kept my eyes on the clock more than anything else.

After a fast drive to Indy and the car rental place, I caught a shuttle back to the airport and got checked in with no problems whatsoever. I fell half-asleep waiting for the shuttle flight, then got aboard and drifted off during the 90-minute jump to Laguardia. When I woke up, I saw Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the now-misaligned New York skyline before we cycled back to the airport. After a $10 cab ride, I got back home, and unpacked to get ready for another day of work.