Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kicking it Old School - From CAL to CAL - Part 4

This is the final installment of a four-part series.  For the first three, click here, here, or here.

I’ve still got a spring in my step.

After following Hubbards Lane for a few minutes, I came upon an unusually meaningful destination for the walk: Waggener High School.

I never went to Waggener for school.  I maybe only knew one or two kids who went there, and I didn’t know any teachers.  In fact, the only times I was there was for an SAT exam.  Yeah, times: I took the test twice, getting a 1070 the first time and a 1210 the next.  Each time I was there, though, I remember thinking, “this is what a high school’s supposed to look like.”  Nestled amongst quiet, suburban homes, old, worn building, close hallways, stuffy smell.  Those are all the things I saw in movies about what high school was. 

It’s in those halls where you meet the girl of your dreams, protect your friend from a bully, walk peacefully out of an empty building after some meaningful, life-changing experience.  CAL was a brand new building, and I’d watched it get built, more or less, so there was a lack of mystery behind it.  Waggener was an old school when I took my tests as a junior, but it was really showing its years now.

In high school, the school you attended said a lot about you (whether it actually did was another story), and Waggener had that same feel.  Other schools in Louisville have that same, idealized school aesthetic to me: Atherton, Butler, Male, Manual, and Southern all have that same life-building quality in their appearance.  I’m not sure I’m describing it quite right, but there it is.

Admittedly, a day care is not something you would have seen at CAL. 

I’d walked around the building to the bus parking lot, near the stadium and practice fields.  I could tell it was the bus lot because each of the spaces was marked by long, widely set yellow lines three times the length of a car.

I walked to the end of the long lot; several students had gathered in the nearby batting cage to get some early afternoon practice in.  Baseball would be along soon enough, I guess.  They’d probably already been practicing for weeks.

Before grabbing my next road, I looked down, spotting a smashed, empty can of beer and a pack of crushed cigarettes.  The vices of high school: they never change. 

I don’t miss high school as much as I thought I would.  It was a critical time in my life, but I don’t long for it in the way I feared I would.  When I see high schoolers, I see them for what they are: kids.  Sorry, sophomores: you’ve still got a lot of learning to do about life.  I know I’m probably not the only twenty-something that’s told you that, either.  High school was great for me; I know it wasn’t for a lot of people, but I treasure the time I had there and the friends I made. 

I’m not that far removed from it yet; I still remember the names and faces of everyone in my class, all 137 of us.  In the end, high school really is about the people you meet.  The reunion this fall will be fascinating; though we now live in the days of Facebook and instant updates on our old classmates, seeing them face-to-face will be the way we remember who we were, not the way we’ve created in our profiles.

Conveniently, the high school is right up the street from the district’s elementary school.

Yeah, that’s an orthodontist’s money that put that fancy sign up.  Well played, Perelmuter.
A couple of kids were playing basketball in a little side court near to the road when I passed.  They continued their game, but every so often, they’d independently look over at me and I’d smile at them.  They kept doing that, bewildered with each glance.

The houses along this stretch were small, but nice.  It was clear that many of these families had lived there for decades, their claim firmly laid on their lawns, gables, and windows.  Crunchy brown leaves still covered some lawns, while others had been meticulously raked clean.  One even had these funny guys on ‘em.

I guess they must be some kind of seed; only one reason a tree wants to drop part of itself, after all.  They were very yellow.  Maybe I could use them to paint my house? 
After passing these modest, but well-tended St. Matthews homes, I found myself passing a string of different churches, each from a different denomination and congregation.

The second one was particularly curious; it was named Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian.  In all my life, I’m not sure I’ve seen a church named after a non-canonized person.  Seems like God or a saint should be the only name on most church buildings, but this was an anomaly.  Although I’m sure a commitment of love by the congregation to a former pastor, community leader or likewise, it still struck me as odd.  I couldn’t get over it, passing a third church and finding myself on Shelbyville Road again.

Not a mile from Waggener High, you can find Trinity High School, a prominent Catholic high school for boys.  Although I had several friends that went there and considered going there myself, I still think of them in terms of sports first.

You see, in Louisville, we can’t get enough sports rivalries.  There’s us and Indiana, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Western and Eastern Kentucky; we even sprinkle it into our kids’ education.  Trinity is one half of the Trinity/St. Xavier rivalry.  St. Xavier, or “St. X” locally, is the other large catholic boys’ high school in town, and both schools field nationally recognized 4A football teams.  Every September, they get together in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and play their yearly game to a packed house.  It was the sporting event of the year for high schoolers of the year, whether you went to watch the game (like me), or to hook up and get drunk and/or high (the cool kids).  Parents would come, too, whether or not their kids were playing.  I always cheered for Trinity myself.  Couldn’t tell you why, really; I guess I just heard of them first.  Even if you had no skin in the game, so to speak, you had to pick a side.

Before I met Nord’s, blood of my blood, moon of my life, Plehn’s was the best bakery in town.  Their donuts, pastries, and cakes were truly unmatched.  If you got a cake or desserts for any event, you get Plehn’s or you go to Walmart.  It was all the same.

Plehn’s still makes a crazy good donut, but proximity to a superior alternative put Plehn’s out of reach most days.  Don’t think I didn’t think about going in.  I’d earned me some fried dough.  But I was about a mile away from my final destination.  I couldn’t stop now. 

If you say “pharmacy” these days, most everyone thinks of the Walgreens/CVS/RiteAid model: a convenient store with snacks, medical supplies and an out-of-date photo processing facility with a pharmacy counter in the back.  To see a mom-and-pop pharmacy like this was utterly refreshing.  You know that everyone who goes in there has deliberately chosen to keep that store afloat.  Good for you, St. Matthews.

This is the last major road I’ll cross; from here on, it’s neighborhoods and one long city park.

This is the part of town I really consider St. Matthews: small houses, old, lumpy streets with no middle line, naturally bent stop signs and quaint, modest lawns.  The first thing of note was indeed a house, but only in appearance.

I always love businesses run from a residence building.  You know that the people that run it found and chose that place to work; they made it work for them, making compromises and adjudicating the space in the way that suited them best.  There’d still be a kitchen of sorts, a stairway that creaked from decades of use, and maybe even a fireplace or two.  Who wouldn’t want to work a place that actually did feel like home?

Don’t let the modest size of the houses and properties fool you; this is a strikingly expensive part of town.  But really, you couldn’t ask for a much better location.  The centralized nature of St. Matthews and its proximity to parks, services, and even the highway are a huge draw for the cities middle and upper-middle class.  Beth and I had even thought of living here, but we got to figure out that paper first.

What can I say?  I really like big, singular trees.

Seneca Park; arguably one of my favorite parks in Louisville, I built a lot of memories here from my time at school.  It was wide open, flat, and full of fun activities.  I still have a lot of dreams that take place here, whether or not they have to do with school. 
Seneca Park is a pill-shaped park, with rounded corners and a length that reaches about half a mile on one side.  A full circuit of the park is about a mile and a quarter, if that gives you some idea of the scale.  I hang a left, walk across narrow Cannons Lane, and set foot on the edge of the park.

We are really on the home stretch now; Rock Creek Drive is, naturally, the home of CAL’s Rock Creek Campus.  Instead of walking along the one-lane road itself, I decided to cross a grove of trees at the corner of the park and follow the walking path that encircles it. 

I wasn’t the only one out enjoying the day; how often do you get to go for a run in January without a billion layers on?  Some kids were even having a fun game of soccer.
Soccer was never a sport I excelled at.  I’m not a very athletic guy, in truth, but soccer was a particular sore spot for my pride.  You see, we’d frequently cross the street from the school and go to Seneca Park for our P.E. class, and occasionally we’d do some organized sports.  They had baseball diamonds that we used for kickball, tennis courts, and soccer fields, too.  So one day in maybe fourth grade, I’d say, we were playing one half of the class against the other.  As you probably remember yourself, P.E. class usually involved the athletic kids getting into it while the less athletic ones kind of passively participated, maybe clustering in groups of friends and just talking, sometimes ignoring when the ball comes their way.  I was somewhere in the middle; I wasn’t good enough to get in to the intense athletic portions, running up and down the cord, handling the ball adeptly, so I kind of just waited for the ball to come to me. 

Anyway, so I was doing just that, hanging at the far end of the soccer field next to the opposing goal, which at this moment had no goalie (the assigned goalie had lost interest and wandered over to the more exciting part of the game.)  There I was, all alone, when suddenly, I heard the thump of the ball, saw the soccer ball sail my direction and roll across the grass towards me.  The kids were calling out, “score! Score!” 

My time had come.  I stopped the ball with my foot, orbited around the stationary ball, lined up, swung my leg straight back like a pendulum and kicked the ball as hard as I could.  I was no more than five feet from the goal, but I shanked it, and it rolled out of bounds.  The P.E. teacher’s whistle blared, signaling the ball had gone out of play.  I got teased for a long time about that one.  It was right there and I missed it.  Right there!

It was then that I realized that soccer was, in fact, not my game.

I always think of this story when I walk through Seneca; not the great fun we had playing endless hours of capture the flag (a game I was a bit better at), and even when we threw Frisbee for the first time (which I was very good at thanks to years of tossing it back and forth with Dad).  I still love to throw the ol’ disc around.

The Rock Creek Campus is about halfway along the length of Seneca Park, perhaps 60% of its length, if you want to get technical.  Before that, though, was the Rock Creek Riding Club.

I was never a member, and I’ve never been inside or anything, but the riding club still holds a significant memory for me.

Because it neighbored the campus, I passed it every day.  Lots of times, the horses were out, grazing, foaling, or doing whatever it is horses do when they’re not being ridden or trained.  I was familiar with it even though I’d never done anything with it.

My main memory of the place comes from third grade.  Back then, the school hosted a reading sleepover (I think they might have called it a “readover,” in fact) where you would come to the school’s gymnasium on Friday night, bring your sleeping bag, books, and snacks and you’d read for as long as you could stay awake.  Fun, right?  Well, I thought it was.
I went one Friday night, my Where’s Waldo sleeping back and bag of books in tow.  That night in particular, I remember I’d brought The Red Badge of Courage from the Great Illustrated Classics series.  They were abridged classics with pictures sprinkled throughout, and I actually believe I was reading this one for a second time. 

We were participating in a group activity and all having a lot of fun, as I recall.  I recall looking over to the gym’s doors at one point and seeing a bright light.  I didn’t think anything of it, assuming it was the street light that illuminated the school’s parking lot.  It had a strange color to it, though.  Not a moment later, a blonde girl named Rachel Edwards went to the door, peered out the window and called out, “Fire!”

The hundred or so kids and faculty crowded around the door and looked out.  The riding club’s barn next door was completely engulfed in bright hot flames, casting a weird, orange pallor on the otherwise dim trees and fences nearby.  It was a big fire.  You could smell the smoke and, as I recall, feel a bit of the heat when it flared up, even though it was a thousand feet away.  The faculty scrambled, calling 911.  Third graders love horses, so many broke out in wailing and tears, afraid that there were horses inside. 

One of the parents of a fellow classmate, took charge, calming kids down while the teachers called the fire department.  Minutes later, they came roaring down Rock Creek Drive, but it took a long time before the fire was out.  In doing some research to corroborate my nineteen-year-old testimony, it turns out seventeen horses died, but no human was injured.  The newspaper article I found even mentioned Mr. Marshall, as I would have known him, as a key witness and helper.

It appears that, since then, they’ve long rebuilt, but when I left this campus in 1998, it was still a scorched husk, and it would be several years before the barn was rebuilt and the club would recover.  Now, it seems, the barn is bigger than ever.  That was one of my most distinct memories of elementary school, and I’ll never forget it.

With that, I was within a hundred steps of campus.  Just a few more...

I made it!

Not counting this morning, it'd been a long time since I'd seen this campus.  They'd remodeled it since I left, and the office building had been expanded significantly.  That part I didn't recognize at all.  The rest, though, felt a lot like it did when I was a kid.

This part looked different, though not for the reason you might think.  You see, Rock Creek had outgrown itself years before we moved.  To combat the huge growth CAL saw in the mid-90s, we were put in "portables," which were effectively double-wide trailers built outside the more permanent campus.  It looks like they just took them out recently, as the indentations in the ground signify.  Maybe a year or two ago.  I spent every year of my elementary in a glorified trailer, but I still built the foundation for my youth there.  Many generations of kids after me would do the same.

Here's a portable that's still there on the right, and the playground is beyond it.  Though it seems to look different now, I jumped off my first swing there, but I wasn't nearly as brave as Sam Snoddy, who would the full length swings to maximum height before jumping off.  Even now I hesitate before making the leap (yes, I do dabble in swinging on occasion.)

It looks like they redid the exterior of the gym (it and much of the campus was blue and white when I was younger, but it looks the same.  The green awning was also new.

It was time for a sit.

There we go.

In my time here, this was a computer lab, or at least this building is on the site of the former computer lab, as I'm pretty sure it was closer to the sidewalk and older-looking.  For most of my elementary years, I was taught by Mrs. Lampton, an octogenarian with a near-sadistic passion for teaching kids to type without looking.  We'd type out "asdf" and "jkl;" endlessly, and on good days, we'd play "Oregon Trail" off a big floppy disk.  No, not even a 3.5" diskette with the sliding metal tab, the old thin ones with the film in the middle that would make a terrible racket if you ejected them early.  We were rocking Apple IIe's a decade after they went out of vogue.  Those were the days, man.

On the other side of the gym sat the courtyard, which led to the cafeteria.  Classes along the courtyard were for high schoolers.  Weird to think, actually, that someone who graduated from CAL as a high schooler the year I started attending kindergarten there would be celebrating their 40th birthday this year.  Anyway, I had a lot of memories in thie courtyard, and none of them particularly pleasant.  The first one's a long story, but it involved showing my dad the soda a friend of mine liked by pressing the button on a vending machine that someone had just put money in, and along the corridor to the left, one of my best friends punched me in the gut for making an annoying sound. 

Good times.

We still called it "the Annex" when I was there, but the building on the right was built to hold additional class space long before I started going there.  I never had classes in there, but a lot of the "legacy" teachers did.  The teachers' lounge was in there, and it was actually pretty neat; it was lined with books like a little library with a really, really high ceiling.  The art room was in there, though; I cut my hand open when our art teacher had the bright idea to let fourth graders carve linoleum tiles with an X-acto knife.

I had so many good memories here, though.  I look a lot different than when I left, but it's all part of the journey.

After just shy of six hours of walking, I’d finally crossed the finish line. 

What was originally intended as a 17 mile walk, according to the map, expanded into just over nineteen miles, with all my stops, exploration, and deviations.   This was my longest single walk to date, beating St. Louis, the Falls of the Ohio, and my original walk.  Thirty-six thousand steps later, I could have actually kept going.

There she was, my kind chariot and (thankfully) still there, despite being parked on semi-private property for six hours.  I got inside and just relaxed for a minute; I had accomplished one of my original walks, and it let me reminisce on the relationship I had with school, the city, and my own history.  Twenty-seven might be pretty young to be retrospective, and I used to be even more nostalgic than I am.  Thus, it’s interesting to see all of these familiar places not only with new eyes, but from a new angle: on foot.  The important thing to remember is that these events are important and valuable, but they were events.  What the future holds is much more exciting.

So where am I headed for April’s posts?  Why, I’m heading up to the Windy City!
Chicago will be my next target, and I’m following the St. Louis model: fly out early in the morning, complete the walk, and fly back the same day.  I’ve got three airports to walk through (two of which I’m not terribly familiar with in-person), a lake shore to walk, skyscrapers to behold, and a whole lot more that I can’t predict.  But that’s OK; I don’t want to predict everything.  To see a city honestly, you have to experience it up close, uncensored and intimate.

Thank you for joining me for this particularly personal walk, and I hope you’ll follow the blog to stay on top of each month’s walk.

Was school important to you?  What would it look like to walk through your own home town, tracing the invisible line that geographically ties your schools together? 

Keep going –

- Matt

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