We live in disposable times. Our lives are wispy and temporary. I suppose this has always been true, but in the present Age of Momentary Relationships and Passing Glances, I consider myself blessed that I was able to live the first 23 years of my life in the same house. Because of that rock-solid start in a community, I have an indelible sense of home and of belonging and of being a valued and of being a rooted member in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Movin’ On Up
After living in the same house Lincoln for 23 years, life changed. I moved to Washington, D.C. and I lived in two different apartments in no less than eight months. I then moved to New York City and I lived in one apartment for 60 days and then four other apartments over the last ten years. It’s a difficult task to move the essence of your life into cardboard boxes, deciding, after each move into new digs, what you want to keep and what you don’t mind throwing away and losing forever to the trash heap of former experiences.
This redaction of our lives into “save” and “don’t save” piles gives the body of who we are less volume with each move — our experience has been paged through and edited down to the basic nuts and bolts of mere survival.
Murky Bottom Memories
Memory and experience are the only threads back to our past, the physical touchstones have been pitched upon the lakes of our rippling lives and they’ve sunk to the murky bottom never to be retrieved or held again.
There’s a sliding scale of importance that is always prevalent when deciding what to take with you. Something you throw away now that you kept the last time you moved is a large mark defining who you are and where you came from: It is yet another ring in the tree of your life, for once this object had meaning and now it has none except as a breadcrumb of where you at a moment in time.
Mourning the Past
Growth, insight and passions are openly revealed in this priority sorting of a life and this process is to be mourned. Every piece of our lives has value and importance. The fact that the transient nature of our drive for bigger digs and better jobs is tempered by our loss of memory and attachment is unfortunate.
The true definition of who we are is found in ritual sloughing of the skin of our stuff. We are the trail of trash and of belongings we longingly cast behind us. The things we take with us do not define us because we have yet to cleave them into the impartial darkness of our fleeting, ever upward moving, shadows.
Back to Lincoln
I recently returned for a three week visit to my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska after an absence of seven years. The systemic shock of my return home was palpable and indiscreet on two levels: The reclaimed, rediscovered shadows of my old self and the shattering fist of progress and technology upon what used to be the virginal breast of the city of Lincoln.
My childhood home remains basically unchanged. My old bedroom in the basement has now been taken over by my mother’s teddy bear collection, but the intellectual and spiritual center of my life — my basement office and its remnants of paper and old passions — is still relatively intact considering the wide ranging stretch of years I’ve been gone.
Stuffs of Me
There are still clippings stored that I cut out of the Lincoln Journal newspaper starting at age ten. I used news stories for dramatic inspiration. There are old love poems written in moments of puppy-love passion. There are still old two inch reel videotapes from my days as the teenage movie critic for KOLN/KGIN-TV as well as the raw 3/4 inch videotapes of the television series I wrote, produced and directed for CableVision at age 15 called The Westborough Crusaders.
This is episode four:
Here is episode eight in the delightful series:
I also have reams of term papers, research topics and stacks of plays still alive and kicking after all these years — forever reminding me of who I am and where I came from. I’m extremely lucky and fortunate to find these treasures still unburied.
I must thank my mother for not tossing out these jewels pressed from the coal of my soul during those first 23 years of my life living with her — for these are the memories of which I am made and it was refreshing and welcoming to reconfirm the touchstones of my naïve boyhood dreams.
The city of Lincoln overall, however, does not stand up so well after seven years of being away. Lincoln has grown by over 80,000 folks since I lived there and that kind of road-busting, apartment-wrecking habitation has severely damaged the hometown, small-delight feeling that used to be Lincoln, Nebraska. I hope that by following some of my revelations here, Lincolnites can somehow hearken back to the old Lincoln and plaster its values and aesthetics upon the new and unimproved Star City.
Here, in detail, are the harbingers of pasteurization that have homogenized Lincoln into an unknowable spot on a map for me instead of the dramatic center of my heart.
There were several gang shootings and property destruction while I was home last August. The public schools now have dress codes to fight gang affiliations in the classroom.
It is difficult for me to believe as a hometown hick that the “boys in my ‘hood” are now choosing colors, sharpening knives and firing up handguns to settle turf differences.
The University of Nebraska at Lincoln
The shining, intellectual, oasis of the great state of Nebraska still thrives in the center of downtown Lincoln. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln is even more spectacular than I remember.
I graduated from UNL in 1987 and the educational values instilled in me there have served me well ever since. There’s more campus artwork now — most notably Claes Oldenburg’s outstanding Torn Notebook sculpture embedded in the land next to the Temple Building. The Student Union is being enlarged and revamped and that’s great news.
I’m sorry to see the loss of Broyhill Fountain in the Student Union expansion, but perhaps it will live again in a different form.
Gateway Shopping Mall
This major shopping center has been wholly damaged by those who seek to improve it. Gone is open mall under the good glory of God’s great outdoors. In the place where the sky once stood? A giant industrial steel rafter roof. Ugly.
Gateway used to be a fun place to visit and shop because you felt like you were in three different malls at the same time, but now it has become a monolith of banality and it feels like a bad imitation of Omaha’s Westroads.
The patron saint of bad city planning has never had a better witness than the street construction in Lincoln. “You can’t get there from here” is the local catch phrase and it is all too horrifyingly true and unfunny.
27th street is simply a disaster — it’s over developed and choked with cars… it will never be wide enough to carry the load of all those new strip-mall-superstore shoppers.
56th street is too narrow to handle the present traffic load — even its center dividers are crumbling to dust.
New Apartment Complexes
Ugly new apartment complexes now dot what used to be pristine pastures of grass and plots of trees. If new apartments need to be built to meet demand, there should be an “Aesthetics Council” who must first approve all new builds and the overriding factor in their construction should be adding something more pleasing to the landscape than what was killed when construction began.
An example of beautiful use of existing architecture and resources to a positive end are the Water Park apartments across from the Children’s Zoo. Water Park sprang out of the old Lincoln Water Pump Station and it looks and feels like a throwback industrial building until you step inside and glory in the fabulous interior designs. I wish I lived there now!
In Lincoln, it’s still acceptable behaviour to call someone back on the next day if they didn’t return you phone call the day before. In New York City, one must wait — according to the unspoken laws of common courtesy — seven days before making a return follow up call. Does this mean New York is seven times faster than Lincoln? Or does it mean Lincoln is seven times better? I’ll let you decide.
The Lincoln Public Schools
Overcrowding is at an all time high in the Lincoln Public Schools, but the biggest moral horror is the fact that many elementary schools are still not air conditioned in the classrooms. My mother taught in the LPS for over thirty years.
I was a product of Brownell elementary school and I can tell you right now that sweating in an unconditioned brick building in the dog days of August for six hours with only fans to try to cool the 120 degree heat is cruel and punishing.
It is especially mean spirited — and this negative spirit continues even to this day — when the Principal’s office and the Brownell administrative offices are cooled by window air conditioners while the rest of the teaching staff and students swelter in the classroom hotboxes!
CableVision and Local Television
Fantastic! I’ve never seen a better value for the dollar than what CableVision of Lincoln offers its subscribers. The remote control is large and easy to use and read. The time and station that flash on the screen when you change channels is welcome in a 70 channel world.
Having three HBO channels, two Showtime channels and two Cinemax channels is manna on earth. Count yourself lucky, Lincoln that you have such a wide ranging choice of stations that include the new Fox offerings!
I miss Mel Mains from the channel 10/11 news, but all must good things must come to an end, I suppose. KUON-TV and EduCable are strong and delightful and lovely and as impressive as ever!
Aliant should’ve stayed “The Lincoln Telephone Company” because the change in name has made no difference in the quality or care of the service they provide. I tried Roaming in Lincoln with my New York Bell Atlantic cellular number and Aliant couldn’t handle keeping track of my phone while Roaming! The solution, however expensive and distasteful as it happened to be at the time — was to purchase a local Aliant cellular number.
My new local Aliant cellular number didn’t get lost by the Aliant system. I asked Motorola why Aliant kept losing track of my cellular phone. I was told it is quite common in “smaller cellular markets” because their software isn’t sophisticated enough to handle intensive cell by cell tracking of a Roaming phone.
The same sort of thing happened to Hulk Hogan when he was Roaming in Denver recently. His solution was the same as mine: He bought a local cellular number and put it on his phone.
Professional Film friends of mine who live in Lincoln and work with West Coast movie production firms confirm that Los Angeles cellular Roamers often get lost by Aliant as well.
If Aliant wants to be a player in the communications industry they need to fix their Roaming software and build alliances with large cellular companies like Bell Atlantic (they have over 11 million customers) so Roaming is cheaper as easier to use.
I was surprised at how far my local favorites had fallen. The three Hy-Vee stores I visited smelled horrible and were poorly stocked. Russ’ B&R IGA was filthy and ragged by long lines of people waiting for cashiers.
The Big Winner?
Albertsons! Albertsons did not exist in Lincoln when I lived there and golly, they’re good. Actually, they’re the best. Albertsons have a wide variety of every sort of grocery, medicine, hair tonic and body lotion on the market. Their store is brightly lighted, super-clean, wide-aisled and the folks who work there are friendly and they live to be helpful. I kid you not.
Give Albertson’s your hard earned dollars and I promise you won’t regret the product and service you get in return.
When I think of having fun in Lincoln, I many times think of good places to eat. Here’s a quick review of some of the mainstream restaurants I visited and how they stacked up to the memory of how I remember them:
Valentino’s: A poor imitation of what used to be the greatest pizza in the free world.
Taco Inn: Still incredible. The meat enchilada and meat nachos are to die for and I died several times during my visit.
da Vinci’s: The hoagies are good, but very expensive compared to a comparable New York hoagie. The pizza is not as good as it used to be.
Misty’s in Havelock: An unchanged, classic, delight. The Mega-Monster (whatever) Prime Rib cut is delicious. I’m drooling for the Prime Rib sandwich as I write this…
The Garden Café: Great food. Great coffee. Great prices.
Crane River: A new one to me. The blackened chicken sandwich is a winner!
Tastee Inn: Oh, my! The original loose meat sandwich never tasted better or greasier! Home Run! Please join me in a small prayer for the Tastee Inn: “Oh, Lord, may the pick-up window never be on the right side of the car and may the building never get a new coat of paint.”
Lee’s Chicken: The best chicken. The best location. The best décor in all the world! I hope Lee’s stays the same always, for our shared history as to what Lincoln used to be at its best is embedded in the ambience.
Well, that’s the quick history of my visit to Lincoln after being away for seven years. So many things have changed. I should visit home more often. I barely recognize Lincoln as the place of my birth. But the early, tender, memories are still alive and well and thriving in my mother’s basement in a makeshift, musty, room I still, to this day, call my office.