Sunday, November 18, 2007


That's short for bourgeois. It was (is?) my sometime nickname to some of my friends in South Dakota: I'm the sort of person that reads the New Yorker on camping trips, my parents are professors (of a sort; but nicknamers don't make distinctions), and I grew up in Connecticut, in a town that is at least classy enough to have a gourmet dog food bakery, where I once worked. I used to deny the validity of that nickname. I won't deny it any longer.

The Thanksgiving weekend road trip is, somewhat sadly, canceled. School is out tomorrow and Tuesday, meaning the only day of school this week will be a half-day on Wednesday. I was already in Minneapolis for the weekend (cheering on the Goats at the DIII Cross Country National Championships--and man what a jog they did), and, on a whim, I decided to skip said half-day and fly home for the week. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and last year I wasn't able to spend it with my family. My ability to make such a decision already reflects my bouge-y-ness.

So here I am, suddenly and unexpectedly back in Connecticut. This morning, I was having breakfast at Luke's house and correcting his mother's assumption that, since I grew up Connecticut, I must have spent all kinds of time in the woods and mountains. But as my plane descended through the clouds, I was surprised, as usual, at how wooded Connecticut seems. Rather than the giant expanse of suburbia I picture in my mind, there were trees and lakes, and even dirt roads, and when the the plane banked, a glimpse of the Berkshires to the north. I was excited to back in New England in autumn.

West Hartford, though, was as suburban as I remembered--more so, really. After dinner, I went out to pick up some toiletries for the week. A couple months ago, my parents' ridiculous old Ford Festiva gave out, and so they bought a new car. A brand new, cherry red Toyota Prius, complete with a "smart key" and a digital display and a rear-mounted video camera that pops up when you put it in reverse. So in this new car I drove to Walgreens--recently remodeled--and tuned into a surprisingly impressive old punk show on the Trinity College station. Driving through quiet, leaf-littered streets, the music--crystalline through the new speakers and accompanied by the near-silent hum of the hybrid engine--sounded less like angst or discontent and more like luxury: a call to the privileged, cultured, adventurous few, or a badge of idiosyncrasy amidst a sea of well-financed sameness.

In the center of town, the long-awaited Blue Back square, an outdoor pedestrian mall, has been unveiled: Crate & Barrel, National Jeans Company, Cheesecake Factory, Barnes & Noble; all crowned with luxury condos, meticulously styled to suit the not-too-urban, not-too-suburban atmosphere. A cobble-stoned stairway, wedged between the remodeled library and a brand-new "artsy" theater, leads up to the old town green and town center, which now might be relegated to just being being the "restaurant district," with a half-dozen or so restaurants that might rank with the best in the state. (I didn't check if the dog food bakery was still there.)

Two days ago I drove out of Wanblee for the weekend. My car, covered in miles of dust, clinked and growled about its hundred-thousand miles as I pulled onto the highway. As I drove out of town, I passed an old abandoned gas station, weeds sprouting from the pavement out front and trash spilling from its empty doorway. Then nothing but prairie.

This evening my parents' new Prius purred quietly as I parallel parked on a brand-new street next to a brand new Sovereign Bank ("now open," the windows confirmed) in a brand-new development. Two years ago this was a parking lot; now, three stories of condominiums loomed above me and well-dressed youth walked by me, discussing what West Hartford "really needs" (to replace an empty, former grocery store with a laser tag and/or paintball facility, apparently). This is a town where even the municipal trash cans have been upgraded since I was last home.

Yesterday I was somewhere in between: when I got to the Minneapolis airport to pick up my friends, I was frazzled, worn down by the four lanes of traffic, the constant barrage of exits and merges and signage and information. "I'm just a country boy," I told my friends, as I clomped tiredly through the airport in my cowboy boots, sporting my rugged, week-old beard. "I could never live in a town like this again," I said, driving by Best Buys and T.G.I.Friday's.

Tonight, though, walking past the closed up store fronts, I realized I was one of these well-dressed youth: wearing cowboy boots still, but topped with $70 jeans, and a down vest from The Gap, and a crisp, white, buttondown L.L. Bean shirt I salvaged from my closet. There was a bite to the air, and I felt enveloped in the soft light of the closed stores--the glow of growth and commerce dimmed for the night, but still dreaming the American Dream. As I stepped from that unfamiliar car onto that unfamiliar street, I couldn't help myself: I felt at home.


Liz said...

Great story Boyce!

hikerman said...

Sounds like you had an interesting weekend.

Tim said...

how much time (this is a serious question, now) do you put into one of these entires boyce?

hikerman said...

Sounds like you had fun despite of the holiday travel you did. I wish I had your stamina.