This all started, however unbelievable it might seem, because of a 540 tailtap. For three nights last week, I dreamt of doing 540 tailtaps; the good kind, spinning 360, landing manual, letting the bike come back around, then nosediving back into the transition.
Why? I had no idea. All I knew was, part of my subconscious mind wanted me to do a 540 tailtap and that I should probably get it done so that I could move onto other (more important) areas of my psyche while in REM sleep.
Of course, it’s February. And unless I want to make a round trip drive of 100 miles to the nearest indoor park and pay admission, it’s a bit hard to do a 540 tailtap. So on a whim, I decided to go to Sayreville Skatepark. It was a Sunday night; 31 degree temperatures, with 27 mph wind gusts and snow still on the ground. Luckily, that snow was melting throughout the skatepark, and after about 20 minutes of dodging snow and puddles before, on top of and behind the 5-foot concrete quarter on the street course, I successfully pulled a 540 tailtap that was good enough to hopefully please my subconscious mind. So I loaded my bike in the car, stopped for gas, and thought, “What now?”
Sayreville is about five miles from the town I grew up in, a bay-area suburb called Matawan, so I decided to take a detour. I’d check out the house I grew up in, see what happened to the place I worked at throughout high school and college (a Stewart’s Root Beer drive-in restaurant which just announced it was shutting down for good) and maybe stop at the local watering hole for one beer.
The last time I was in Matawan, and really took the town in, was 2003. So it had been a while, and as time often has a way of doing, my former home had changed. The 7-11 had moved. The Roy Rogers which had turned into a Boston Market was now an Asian Bistro. The kosher deli I once washed dishes in was now an acupuncture studio. And the McDonald’s was still there, right in the same place, packed full of cars.
My first stop was the house I grew up in (from approximately 1986 to 1996 with time away for college.) The house is located on a quiet cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood. I pulled the car up, left it running, stepped outside and tried in vain to take a photo of a too-dark house on a too-dark cul-de-sac on my phone, and it wasn’t working. Ultimately, even though I don’t remember it quite this way, my former neighborhood was extremely quiet and dark. And then it occurred to me that I was now a stranger to this neighborhood, invading the street’s quiet solitude, standing in the middle of the road with the car running, trying to take photos of a house I once called home. More succinctly, I could tell that I looked sketchy. So with the curtains inside my former home opening to see what I was up to, I ducked back in my car, put it in drive and got out of there. Part of me wanted the new residents to automatically understand my plight, invite me in and let me show them where I used to sleep every night. But that only seems to happen in movies.
And as I made my way down my former street, I came to the realization that even though myself and my family no longer lives in that exact physical location, it’s still a part of us, despite the current residents, the shifting tides of change and the passage of time. I paused at the end of our street, took a photo of the street sign that reads ‘Woodman Place,’ and drove off into the cold Matawan night.
Stewart’s Root Beer didn’t quite leave the same impact. It was a job, and I made some great friends there, but as any teenager in the history of the world will tell you, flipping burgers for 40+ hours a week during the summer is still just a job, despite whatever enriching anecdotes one might attempt to attach to the noble position. And the place had barely changed since I left through the rear kitchen door sometime late in the summer of 1996. In the window hung a sign written by the owner, thanking the customers for years of business, capped off with a smiley face. I heard it’s getting knocked down soon. I’m not exactly happy, but I also won’t mourn its end.
By this time I made a loop of the town, and even though the roads haven’t exactly shrunk, my 16-year-old perception of the town as a vast and sprawling metropolis had drastically changed, making the town smaller and simpler. It was time to head home. I gunned it for Rt. 9, hit the Turnpike and drove the 30 miles back to Jersey City.
What significance did the trip have? I’m still thinking that one through. But so far, what I have is this: Sometimes I miss my family, and all the good we enacted while together. In a way, it was nice to see the last place we did that as a cohesive unit, but I think just seeing that physical space was my own little way of jogging loose some cherished memories that I haven’t really touched upon in quite some time. And maybe, in my subconscious world, doing a 540 tailtap was my brain’s sneaky and subtle way of saying, “Don’t forget where you came from.”