Empty Space Coast
Rand and I headed to Florida last month, since he had some work to do there. Heading back there is always a strange experience: I lived in Florida from the middle of second grade to halfway through my freshman year of high-school. Formative years, to be sure, sandwiched between my life in Washington. The result is a strange one: I’m a Pacific Northwesterner, and I’m one of the few people in the city of Seattle who was actually born here (of our friends, I can think of three). But I missed some pretty quintessential Seattle experiences – including Kurt Cobain’s death, the closing of Pizza and Pipes, and the rise of Microsoft.
Still, I’m a Seattle girl at heart. I am able scoff at the current prices for Bumbershoot, remembering when it was $17 for a two-day ticket (and wondering, on my 16-year-old’s budget, how I would pay for it). I recognize Pat Cashman’s voice on the Taco Time commercials (and when I interned at King-5, I’d freak out if I ever saw him in the halls). And Joel McHale, now on NBC’s Community, will always be Joel from Mercer Island. He will forever be the co-host of Jus’ Pimpin, wearing overalls and a backwards baseball cap, representing the hardcore streets of Bellevue.
And yet, and yet, and yet. Every time I go to Florida, I get nostalgic. I think of my time there. I sing the Indialantic Elementary school song, which I still remember by heart (it’s to the tune of “Love Me Tender“):
‘Neath the palm trees, by the sea,
In the classrooms filled with friends,
learning is the rule.
Voices raised, in your praise,
hear them proudly say:
We will always think of you
when you have gone away.
For reasons I can’t explain, I find those lyrics profoundly depressing. I always have. I’m not sure why. Growing up there wasn’t all that bad. Still, I’ve complaints. My third-grade teacher was evil. In some Oliver-Twist-like-bullshit, she sent me to the principal for “expecting too much” … OUT OF MY EDUCATION. My fifth-grade teacher taught us to pronounced “facade” so it rhymed with “arcade”. My seventh grade history teacher laughed when I suggested that the pope forced Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel (which he so did). It was around that time that I realized I was smarter than most of the faculty. And there was very little to be done about it.
But my friends were awesome and brilliant and I still keep in touch with them. And we were right next to the beach and the sea. Birthday parties would be spent in swimming pools or on boats (banging on the bottom of the deck to attract dolphins, which would swim alongside us and jump in front of the boat). We went to sea camp. We petted manatees on their noses and fed them lettuce. We learned how to run away from alligators (big zig-zags. Gators are fast, but they don’t turn well).
And, of course, there were the space launches.
It’s funny, but I never really considered it anything special, until I mentioned it to my husband. His reaction made me realize it wasn’t a common part of everyone’s childhood. Upon hearing that the last night launch was about to occur, he mentioned that he would have loved to have seen it.
Me: Oh, they’re not that interesting. You see one shuttle launch, you’ve seen them all.
Rand: What are you talking about? Just exactly how many have you seen?
Me: I don’t know, a few dozen, I guess.
Rand: You’re kidding, right? You’ve seen a few dozen space launches?
Me: Probably. They dragged us out of class all the time to see them.
Rand: They took you on field trips to see shuttle launches?!
Me: Huh? No, no – we just walked out onto the soccer field.
Rand: (incredulous) You … you could see space shuttles launch from your soccer field?
Me: Yeah … I guess not everyone has that growing up, huh?
Rand: No, sweetie. They definitely don’t.
At the time, of course, it was just something else to complain about. Being dragged from our comfy, air-conditioned classrooms into the searing heat, standing on a shadeless field, waiting to see the orange flame tear up through the sky like we had so many times before. A few seconds after it started to climb towards space, the sound would hit us. A deep, rumbling noise that shook the earth. You felt it in your heart. And still, it was boring. It was a nuisance.
But now? Now it seems magical. So when I read that we’re down to the last two space launches, it made me a little sad. It makes me think of all those kids for whom shuttle launches on the soccer field will be a thing of the past. Because while I love Seattle, with its mountains and liberals and people who throw on shorts whenever the weather hits 60 degrees, some part of me will always be Floridian. I will always be that disgruntled, bored kid who couldn’t believe how stupid her teachers were. Who got sent to principal for “expecting a little more.” And for those who know me well, that’s probably no surprise.
I probably won’t be able to get around to see either one of the last two launches – there’s one scheduled for September, and one for November. I wish I could go – and I see the irony in that wish. Just once more, I’d like to head out to that soccer field, and watch the shuttle go up. And afterwards, I’d turn to my third-grade teacher, who, for the purposes of this fantasy, would be there, just as I remembered her.
And I’d totally punch her in the vagina.
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