Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kicking it Old School - From CAL to CAL - Part 1

In May, it will have been ten years since I graduated high school.  Ten years. 

Since I was young, I realized that, no matter your age, ten years is a long time for everybody.  You start getting into percentages of your life at that point, even if you’re a century old.  Ten years has always been my mark of “a long time,” and so lately, I’d been ruminating a bit on my time in school.

As a Louisville native and resident for my entire childhood, I had the privilege of attending the same school from kindergarten all the way until I became an adult thirteen years later.  While my sister attended three schools over the course of her primary and secondary education, I just had the one: Christian Academy of Louisville.  For those of us who started in kindergarten or first grade, they called us “lifers,” and on graduation day, we received a plaque indicating our achievement.  I had kindergarten with a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Jackson, a lady whose curly hair and smiling eyes stay fresh in my memory despite the decades of separation from that time.  There were twelve in our class and twelve in the other kindergarten class, taught by Mrs. Collins.  If you give me a second, I bet I can name every single one of them.  In Mrs. Jackson’s class at least, there were seven boys and five girls, and from the original twelve, seven remained on graduation day in 2005. 

Two of them became my best friends through the rest of my grade school days, high school and today.  I was the best man in one of their weddings and a groomsman in the other.  Another lifer in Mrs. Jackson’s class was the president of our senior class student council, and I served alongside her as one of the senior class chaplains.

We were based at the Rock Creek campus, located across the street from Louisville’s Seneca Park in St. Matthews.  The school, which was formed in the 70s, had been here almost from inception.  I have a lot of memories in that place; soon, though, it became clear that Christian Academy of Louisville, or “CAL,” was getting too big for the humble Rock Creek campus.  From there, I had a string of memorable teachers which, in order, comprised Mrs. Martz, Mrs. James, Mrs. Rowe, Mrs. Webb, and Mrs. Law for 5th grade.  Right as I finished elementary school, it was time to move to the new campus on the east end of town, now called the English Station campus.

The English Station campus, a purpose-built school complete with new sports fields and large courtyards, was the future.  I transitioned there at the start of middle school in 1998, where I solidified my friendships, experienced the awkwardness of puberty and where I developed my first crush.  I joined the chess club in sixth grade, and I placed in the top three of the science fair and was the own one in my class to advance to the geography bee finals during my seventh grade year, and I enjoyed my first acting experience the following year.  In 2001, I started high school.  I still remember walking down the hallway that I’d pass coming in the main entrance, scared to death of what high school meant.  I remember watching 9/11 news live in the auditorium, realizing the world I was coming into wasn’t as cheery and innocent as I thought.  I had my first slow dance four months later.  During my sophomore year, I battled depression and isolated myself emotionally.  Soon, though, my spiritual faith was renewed through the fellowship and friendship of several folks at my church, and my junior year was one of revitalization and growth.  I dated my first girlfriend that year, and we dated through to my senior year.  In my senior year, I starred as the lead in the school play, Cheaper by the Dozen, where I first galvanized my love for performance.

Although I clung to my middle school friends exclusively at first, I met lots of other people, learned stuff (I suppose), and built the foundation for my adult life there.  I was socially active and engaged, plugged in at my church, and I even won a superlative my senior year: Most Sincere.  It was a very sweet gesture from my classmates, and I still have the sash they bestowed upon me at that winter’s formal dance.  Perhaps most importantly, I became close to my now-wife, Beth, who was a long-time pal of my sister’s.  I graduated in May, and we were dating that September.  I love her more now than ever, and perhaps that’s the greatest thing that my school gave me.  I’ll always be thankful to CAL for that.

As a child, your world is surrounded in school.  It is your job, so everything you do, think, and experience is through the lens of a student, a social and academic being.  After you graduate from grade school, even the experience of attending college and graduate school doesn’t quite match that feeling of discovery and optimism present in a wide-eyed adolescent.

One of the first walks I’d considered for Miles By Foot was a walk from one campus to the other, a sort of pilgrimage between the two settings of major growth in my life.  They are not close, so the walk would be independently challenging while also being emotionally retrospective.  I’d have lots of time to recall those memories, the faces, the events, the joy of being in elementary, middle, and high school.  Things were more carefree then; even for just a few hours, I could emulate that freedom.

So here’s the charge: walk from one Christian Academy campus to the other, exploring the path that separates them and recalling the experiences, emotions of both my youth and currently. 

In planning, the walk could have been as short as ten miles.

However, the most straightforward route possible did not provide much variety or deviation of interest, or so I thought.  Thus, I elected a convoluted route that would pass things that have historical and current significance in my life and in the city of my own genesis. 

Get it?  Genesis?  Bible joke?  Eh, never mind.


Mid-January is generally one of the coldest periods in Kentucky, but for some bizarre reason, this normally frigid month took the day off and, with a forecast of clear skies and highs in the lower 60s, I decided that this Saturday would be the perfect opportunity to accomplish this long-awaited walk.

To orchestrate the awkward car situation presented by a one-way walk, I parked my car at Seneca Park, directly across the street from my destination, where my mother met me to do something she hadn’t done for me in a decade: take me to school.  We discussed the walking route on the ride down and, as was the case with my St. Louis walk, I felt every mile we drove, knowing I’d have to walk it myself soon enough.  Over the rises and dips of I-64, stretches of long lines of sight that were still short of my destination were laid out before me.  We rolled up to the campus entrance, recalling those moments of CAL that came to mind.  I withdraw my coat, my camera, and my water bottle once we stopped, egressed onto the entrance drive of the English Station campus after a word of love from Mom, then I was on my own. 

I let the silence and chilly breeze of the morning wash over me for a moment.  The biting wind reminded me that, despite the forecast, it was still January. I sipped some water, then I sipped again.  I considered starting my journey at the centralized Great Lawn, just up the rise, but given the apparently recent installation of several trespassing signs, I decided against it.  I’m not sure that a decade-old degree gave me any right to go there today.  Besides, Saturday morning detention was probably underway, unless something had changed, and I didn’t feel like running into a bunch of faculty and disgruntled teens first thing in the morning. 

On the road, then.

Well, actually, hold on.  Funny story.  Once in middle school, Dad came to pick me and my sister up late from school.  When we were about to leave, we noticed another parent getting in his vehicle.  Nothing special there, but we looked on the top of his SUV, and there sat an open laptop, vulnerable and alight.  As you might expect, he closed the door, started his SUV and drove away, his black PowerBook jostling and sliding along the top.  Dad took off in a run after him, calling out, “your laptop!  Your laptop!”

But it was too late.  Dad ran back to the car, started it up, and we tore down the entrance drive where I currently stand and took a left (the road to the right in the second picture wasn’t built for several more years.)  My dad, a fairly conservative driver, took the curves slowly and before long, we’d lost him.   Dad slowed down and scanned the road for the doomed laptop.  After only a moment, my sister’s sharp eye caught it in a ditch about a quarter-mile down the road.  She hopped out, climbed into the ditch and recovered the bulky PowerBook, clamoring up the steep incline back to our van.  It was scuffed, cracked, and covered in dirt and mud.  Dad looked at the machine resting in her lap as she put her seatbelt on, his expression a combination of pride and disappointment.  “I’m sure it doesn’t work anymore,” he confessed.  She unfolded the laptop as I nodded in agreement. 

“Nope!” she cried out, her face aglow with the soft fluorescent light of the screen.  She turned the computer around, and there was the little Apple symbol on the boot screen, and the computer’s fans roared to life.  Dad turned the car around and hustled back to campus, where we found that SUV parked and its driver frantically looking around to find his missing charge. 

Lil bounded out of the car, the still-open laptop in both hands: “Sir! Sir!”  The man rushed over to her, beside himself with happiness.  He ingratiated us, admitting his wife might have killed him if he’d lost such a valuable investment so carelessly.

And that’s what I think of when I see this road.

Today, though, I’ll eschew that northern road for the easterly one. 

The school is divided into three wings and is roughly the shape of a “Y”: an elementary, middle, and high school wing, with the middle school wing forming the downstroke.  This is the elementary wing, the only one I did not spend significant time in.  I visited there as part of assignments where we connected with kids through art and reading, but I was never there as a student.  Stucturally, it was as a mirror of the high school wing, so visiting there felt bizarre and surreal; colorful, paper-strewn walls replaced the rigid, regulated walls of the high school.  Not to mention the faint apple juice smell.

Despite the fact that it was longer (and I’m convinced slower), my dad took us this way every time we went home.  This fact was confirmed by the first long stretch of my walk.  A hill obstructed the view of the school to the right, and newly constructed homes on the left flanked the other side.  The cold, however, was everywhere, so I found myself focusing on that more than the sights to see.

As is always the case in most of Kentucky and in many other non-urban places in the world, the brand new is built opposite something pastoral.  In this case, this outbuilding, which was adjacent to an occupied property, has stood much longer than the seventeen-year-old school building, but its current use or integrity remained a mystery.  The paint had worn away from physical buffeting and sunlight, no doubt, and its exposed structure had probably seen at least forty years.

Behind the campus, a large, multi-acre plot stretched out, complete with knee-high grass and the rustling music it was playing in the breeze.  Word has it that CAL wanted to expand, adding a real theatre, an art building, and additional athletic fields and classroom space.  If you’ll pardon me, I’ll believe it when I see it; they claimed that years ago but the campus looks largely the same thanks to a little Google Maps sleuthing, with the exception of new tennis courts visible near the entrance.

At present, this is actually on the edge of a gridded subdivision that hasn’t nearly built its stock of residents yet.  As I’m assuming it probably was founded at the end of the last decade, the financial crisis has left its mark on the earth; several streets lay with empty lots or unoccupied houses.  It certainly wasn’t a ghost town, but it was clear that the developers were, how do you say, overly ambitious. 

The developments got more sparse as I neared the I-64 crossing, and at the edge lied this mundane-looking property. 

It looked like little more than a storage facility as it was completely without adornment or activity.  However, an apparent outhouse did grab my attention.

This small building, with its gaping portal, was obviously little use as a latrine anymore, unless you have no decency or use it at night.  Between me and it, tall, uncut grass blocked the way.  I stepped onto the gravel drive to approach the outhouse when I found something sweet, but surprisingly vague.

Yes, that’s a heart, spray-painted in white on the gravel trail.  We can surmise a couple things from this: it’s new, and it was probably made by someone young doing something “dangerous.”  Due to the proximity of the school and the fairly low bar for danger set by a conservative Christian lifestyle, it’s safe to say that a kid did this with, or for, his or her love.  It’s undeniably a heart.  You can tell it’s new because you can actually tell what it is.  Since gravel does not reset (unlike, say, grass), any disturbance will distort the image, even if it’s just one truck.  So, I guess, it’s either new or this place never gets any traffic.  Maybe both.

Onto the outhouse, though.

After wading through the brush, it was clear that a commode hadn’t been there a long time, or even ever.  There weren’t any slots for hinges, and the portal was an odd enough shape that a door might have been impractical, even if it opened outward.  The pipe that came up into the structure was obscured by leaves, and with as weak as the structure leaked, I might break something if I try to investigate.  Thus, it’ll remain a mystery.

Now I was out over the interstate.  Without trees or hills on either side, I felt the wind fully, and my small, internal flame was extinguished.  Although technically above freezing, the shadow kept that ice formation perfectly intact on the south side of the interstate. 

Looking west, the Gene Snyder Freeway roared along; in my opinion, this is the fastest and most dangerous limited-access highway in Louisville, and it always seems I hear about speeding tickets or fatal accidents taking place on this, the wider of Louisville’s two circling highways.

This is looking east, towards Lexington; that big expanse, flanked on either side by transmission towers and rolling hills, is the first thing I see on the long stretch of driving to see my in-laws.  Similarly, seeing this part of the road coming back means that you’re back in Louisville proper. 

It was really bracing on the bridge, so I hurried off the span to the last segment of this leg.
Once off the bridge I felt a sharp pain in my leg.  Not a strong pain, but a prickly pain.  I looked down and realized that my pants had collected prickly seed pods from the tall grass I’d waded through a few moments ago.  I plucked each one off, eventually moving to brush large clods off that had clung to my thighs. 

Shortly after doing so, I found this intriguing scene off to my left.

I don’t know if it’s the “No Trespassing” sign, the gate behind it, or the gravel road leading into the woods, but this seemed surprisingly rural.  I liked it; this could be anywhere in Kentucky, or even Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee or Virginia.  It just looked rural.
I followed on the side of the old asphalt for another quarter-mile, warming my hands in my hoodie, keeping my camera stowed.  I came to my first turn and followed the bend westward to a nearly one-lane road.  To my left is a property with something that I would totally want if I had the money.

“Oh, that’s a nice barn.  Oh, and a lake too!  But, really, Matt?  That seems –“
Look closer.

That’s a windsock, my friend, which means only one thing.  He has a runway on his property.  You might think I’m exaggerating, but when I was younger, I would see him lift off, hitting his takeoff roll as he came into view.  I’ve seen him flying around, too low to be a plane landing at Bowman Field or SDF.  Can you imagine?  “Beth, I’m gonna fly to Lexington.  Back in an hour or so.  Just practicing.

After looking longingly and realizing he probably wasn’t planning to take off today, I marched on to the next turn.

This could also be about anywhere in Kentucky.  As with many rural towns, churches are the nicest building in town, the anchor of the city.  While the town seems to be pretty detached from this isolated church, it still has that same look.  This is Poplar Lane, but intriguingly, the church is named Poplar Level Baptist Church, named for a road located on the southeast part of downtown Louisville.  It’s not unusual for a church that’s moved to retain the street from which they left, but I’m pretty sure this church started here, not ten miles in towards town.  Weird.

When my sister and I were younger and Dad would take us “the back way,” we frequently saw several white horses at this water trough.  On the frequent occasion that we saw four together, we would begin singing a Caribbean song we’d learned in music class as kids: “Four White Horses.”  Do you know it?  Four white horses, on the river, hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow, up tomorrow is a rainy day!  That’s all I remember anymore, but I always think about it when I round the bend in the car.  That doesn’t change when I’m on foot.

This little pond stretched out to my left; a thin sheet of ice bobbed on top of the melted water at the shoreline.  A toss of a bit of asphalt confirmed that yes, it was a stone’s throw away.  The ice crackled around the impact, and the morning fell quiet again.

Now, they might be new, but in the hundreds of times we curved along this road, I never noticed these.  They are as isolated as they look, right in the middle of a field, one on each side of the road.  I assume that they work; part of me thought they’d have a twisting switch like a floor lamp, but I guess that’s pretty silly.

This fallow field was covered in frost; you can just see the hoary coating in the shadow, but it was actually scintillating in the shade.  The sunlight had melted the exposed frost into dew, no doubt.

As can be made clear by the positioning of this photo, traffic was practically nonexistent at this time of day.  After being on the walk for nearly an hour, I’d encountered perhaps five cars.  It was an early Saturday morning, though, and few people in this part of town work on a Saturday, if you know what I mean.

In case I thought again that it was a typo, there it is again: “Poplar Level.”
At the corner of Pope Lick and Poplar Lane, we find this recognizable landmark.

No, I don’t know if there’s anything significant or important about this home, but its bright red roof has always been a landmark on the drive home.  It appears to be a well-restored farmhouse, tended by a single owner, or series of owners, who care very much about the state and upkeep of the home.  I’m glad they did; I love taking pictures of neglected buildings and natural decay, but it’s nice to see something well-kept once in a while.


The next steps will post each Wednesday!

Keep going,


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