April 25, 2006

Gee, I Guess You Can Go Home Again (Kinda Sorta)

KALAMAZOO, Mich., Apr. 12-13 -- WHEN A DRIVER leaves the I-94 at Exit 75 and hangs a right on Oakland Drive, the first sign of commercial activity appears in a couple of miles. When I was growing up in Kalamazoo, the first things I would see taking that route were the Superior Cleaners dry-cleaning service and the D&W supermarket. When I went back to Kalamazoo after nearly a dozen years, those were still the first things I saw upon my arrival.

It is true, as I wrote in my last post about Kalamazoo, that parts of the town have changed. But much to my surprise, I found that Kalamazoo hadn't changed all that much since I left. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that certain parts of town -- like my old neighborhood -- remain practically unchanged. As such, I came to the natural conclusion that my old subdivision was caught in some weird Twilight Zone time warp, and furthermore, that I would soon be in thrall to the sway of a daemonic fortune-telling machine stuck in the back of Theo & Stacy's. But I digress.

Anyway, the old neighborhood was practically the same, and Simon From Jersey's old house was practically the same and Loy Norrix High School was practically the same (as seen from I-94, anyway). Much of the time, it just seemed like folks had thrown a fresh coat of paint on things. Heck, even the Kalamazoo Hilton -- I'm sorry, the Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center -- was largely the same, even if it did have an entirely new exterior design and new shops inside. It was still the grand hotel of Kalamazoo County and its surrounding environs.

Of course, some things did change. Much to my dismay, the old bowling lanes where I hung out were gone, and the pool hall where I used to play was torn down and replaced by a bank, and the old bookstore I liked couldn't hack it against the national chains. However, downtown Kalamazoo actually got a lot nicer. I mean, it was a place where one could go and actually do stuff after the close of business. It certainly wasn't like that back when I was growing up. Oh, and Western Michigan built this huge new campus out on Parkview Avenue, in an area of town that was once entirely farmland. That was a real shocker.

Best of all, though, I got to see Josh Grant on my trip, a Loyal Rant Reader and an old friend from high school. We had dinner downtown at the London Grill, a pub-like place which had the clever idea of serving British food along with Indian food. This was a lot of fun. Aside from the sheer novelty of ordering vindaloo in Kalamazoo -- this was once a town where it was tough finding good Italian -- it was great to catch up with Mr Grant, and find out that he was doing well (and getting married in May!).

I don't know whether the years since I've been gone have been good or bad for Kalamazoo -- based on my trip, they almost seem like a wash. But I was glad to find two things out the morning I left. First, the Michigan News Agency on West Michigan Avenue -- one of the few truly great newsagents out there -- was still in business. Second, so was Theo & Stacy's just a few doors down. I don't care where you are in America, but in my mind, any place where restaurants serve up eggs, bacon, pancakes and a large Diet Coke for $5.83 has the potential to be called home.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 25, 2006 10:46 PM | TrackBack
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