"It's always hard to go back there because of the memories," I said to my mom in a phone conversation the night before I left on a trip to Kansas City last weekend.
My parents divorced when I was young and my dad remarried and ended up in St. Louis. After his second wife had two children, I would drive to Kansas City in the summer to meet Dad and/or his wife to bring my siblings back to Omaha to visit. We usually spent the night in a Kansas City suburb called Blue Springs, Missouri, so I got to know the area pretty well.
We stayed at Interstate Inn, and ate at Applebee’s at least once per trip. That exit contained the first Walmart I ever visited, a McDonald’s and a number of other businesses we frequented. After a few visits, the familiarity of the area made it feel like a second home – so familiar that it became the setting for one of the novels I have written that will probably never be published.
One year, my dad taught me how to drive a stick in the parking lot of Perkins in Blue Springs. I was terrible at first – grinding the gears, taking my foot off the clutch too quickly which caused the car to jerk back and forth, nearly giving us whiplash. But eventually I got the gist of it, making it one of those milestone moments you never forget.
I had a desire to see that parking lot last weekend. I was in the area with some friends to see a couple of baseball games. When I got to the parking lot, I discovered that Perkins is now a bank. If I can offer a word of advice, take photos of milestone moments, or have someone else take photos. I would give anything for a photo of the day my dad taught me how to manipulate the stick shift of that old orange Fiat.
I had to settle for reaching out of my car window on Sunday with my iPhone to capture the empty lot in its current form (see above). I didn’t want to keep my friends waiting, so I couldn’t reminisce long at the actual spot, but they were kind enough to tolerate my sentimental side for a couple of minutes.
From there, I looked across I-70 and saw La Quinta Inn – the place where Interstate Inn used to stand. I snapped a picture of that, too, recalling the times my family used to get adjoining rooms and how I would wrestle with my siblings on one of the beds.
Those times are long gone. And that’s okay. Life isn’t supposed to stand still. That’s what pictures are for. But with that said, these slices of life become part of our reservoir of experiences – a pool we can tap into when we need to remember, honor or feel the past. And last weekend, I felt the need to do all three.
I think it was spurred on by what my mom said in our phone conversation. After telling her how hard it is to return to Blue Springs, she responded with the perfect motherly advice.
“Be glad you have those memories,” she said.
I quit college in 1985 without any real plans for the long-term future.
I wanted to see how far I could go in the game of tennis. I wasn’t the best player on my high school team and in college we played on the fastest surface known to man – which didn’t help me since I’ve never been fleet-footed. I was never able to get my ranking high enough to amount to anything, but I still couldn’t quench my desire to chase my dream.
So in 1986 I got into the best shape of my life and signed up to compete in several tournaments in the Midwest. I played okay in most of them, but I don’t think I ever advanced past the second round. One of those tournaments was in St. Louis, which worked out well since my dad lived there. He shot photos that day, including the one you see in this post. (Check out those Bike shorts!)
The guy I was playing in the first round was striking the ball well. His shots were flat and hard and didn’t give me a lot of time to get into good position for my shots from where I was playing behind the baseline. I knew my only chance was to step inside the court (as seen in the photo) against his serve and become the aggressor. I even started doing that on my own serve, serving and volleying or by staying glued to the baseline to use the pace of his shots against him.
That strategy worked well and it slowed him down enough for me to get my teeth into the match. The first set went into a tiebreak, and I ended up losing it. But I still felt like I could pull it out in three sets.
The second set progressed much like the first – lots of good rallies and lots of winners on both sides. We ended up in another tiebreak, which he won, and just like that, the match was over.
I felt good about the way I’d played. In fact, I didn’t think I could have played any better. He was just better on a couple of the big points, but when you are already playing your best, it’s hard to imagine playing at an even higher level.
After the match, a knowing swept over me. I was a good tennis player who would never be great. I had won a tournament in college, but the reality was, I wasn’t good enough to go deep in tournaments after that. Tennis was going to become something I loved, but nothing more.
My story is similar to what happens to most people who pursue something they love. Most of us aren’t good enough to take it to the next level. But that doesn’t mean we should walk away. I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I played in a few more tournaments. I continued to play recreationally. I read books and magazines about the game. And I studied it on television.
All these years later, at the age of 47, I’m no longer able to play the game due to a problem with one of my legs, so now I follow the game for the simple joy it gives me. And that is enough.
I’ve been Blackberry-less for two years now.
My thumbs still miss the keyboard that contained real buttons. As much as I have loved my HTC EVO 3D, and now my iPhone, friends have learned they cannot expect texts from me that make sense since I cut the Blackberry cord.
One day, I sent a text to a friend to discuss the details of our plans for the evening. I can’t remember exactly what I intended to say, but I’m certain I never meant to use the word “ninjas,” but somehow autocorrect thought that’s what I was trying to say. Every once in a while, I’ll include #ninjas at the end of a text or tweet to that friend. It’s gets a good laugh.
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Jeff Idelson, president of the baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. I recorded the face-to-face interview on my iPhone and afterward attempted to name the file, “HOF.” Imagine my surprise when I pulled up the file later and saw it named, “God.” I guess the letters H-O-F are close enough to G-O-D on the QWERTY keyboard for autocorrect to make the change, but it sort of freaked me out. I haven’t learned how to edit the names of audio files yet on my iPhone, so my biggest fear is that I’ll die and someone will find my phone and see that I think I interviewed God.
I’m not the only one who has problems with this technology. I picked up a friend at the airport the other day and she sent me a text that said, “We’ve landed it’s a biotech and do everything.” My response? “No idea what that means. Are you cursing at me? :)”
Eventually, I will learn to adjust. Or maybe not. But holding on to old technology isn’t really an option for me. Oh, I guess a person could do it if he or she so chooses. Who among us doesn’t know at least one person who is using a cell phone from the Mesozoic Era? But staying in touch with family and friends is so much easier with technology that isn’t ancient.
I have family in St. Louis, Kansas City, Florida, and in various towns in Arkansas. And I have friends spread out across the country. I love seeing photos on Facebook of their family get-togethers, or of their kids playing soccer or attending school events while I’m sitting in a waiting room hundreds of miles away. And I love shooting them a responsive text, even if it is a bit garbled.
As I get older, I may not be able to use technology to its fullest, but that’s not even really a goal anymore. For me it’s about using it to maintain connections.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.