It’s been more than two years since my last post here. A lot has happened since then, but most of the details aren’t really that important. What matters now is that yesterday, after nine years away, I moved back to my hometown. I had been in Chicago for almost six years, and very little had changed for me. I’d done some growing and some learning, but mostly, I was restless and tired of doing the same thing every day. I learned that my brother, the Marine, was deploying to Afghanistan, and his two-year-old son (known from here forward as “the nephew”) was going to be without his father for a year. His mother takes care of him, as do my parents, but I knew that coming home was the right thing to do. The timing was perfect, with my lease ending this month. I quit my job, packed a truck, and drove the 220 miles between Chicago and my hometown.
I left this town nine years ago, just as the recession was taking hold. A drive around the city today reminded me that it was a recession elsewhere, but a depression here. Blight, neglect, squalor, and poverty are the norm in much of this town. When I got on the road almost a decade ago, I had (somewhat-high) expectations that once I cleared the city and the state and the region, the world would open itself to me and I would prosper and grow and experience happiness. It turns out that that wasn’t the case, and I was naive to think that way. Life has humbled me since then, in several ways. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep.” I’ve stepped in a few holes, and fallen into a couple deeper ones, since I left, and I’m not expecting that coming back here ensures closure of the circle and the continuation of the life I left behind when I went west. There wasn’t much to leave behind then, and there wasn’t much to leave behind in Chicago. I’d made a few friends and had a crappy job and a tiny apartment that cost me way too much, but staying there just for the food and the culture wasn’t worth my sanity anymore.
So I got a new job, I’ll be moving into my brother’s place when he ships out in a month or two, and I’m reacquainting myself with a hometown that I’m seeing with new eyes and different expectations. I’m not planning on settling down here, because this town hasn’t fit me personally in years, but at least for the next year or so, I’m here. This is the road I’ve chosen, and looking back now would be counterproductive at best, and damaging to my sanity at worst. What follows from here is documentation of life in a depression-ravaged Midwestern post-manufacturing town after almost a decade away. Some of it will be sad, some will be contentious, some will be funny, and some will be up for interpretation. Regardless, the Long Strange Trip continues.