Like catnip for bloggers, Google’s new feature to search the Internet as it was in 2001 has entranced me. ESPN.com columnist Jonah Keri has mined the search engine for sports perspective, and Idolator took a musical approach (while inadvertently striking pangs of nostalgia in my heart for the Audiogalaxy Web site). In an interest to see how the Web viewed a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed “Hank Brockett” as a 20-year-old college student and reporter, I retro-Googled myself.
Amid the references to my days at the Northern Star and the odd Web site that picked up one of my stories (good old local Dogma protest), I happened upon a column I wrote in 2000 both for the Star and my hometown local newspaper, the Joliet Herald News. In 2001, I would go on to work as a stringer/intern at that newspaper, gaining the type of experience and trust that would normally work as a good “in” for a first job out of college (eh, not so much, evidently). But 2000 Hank didn’t know any of this.
The column was humorous/nostalgic coverage of the local community festival, and it’s filled with the type of overwritten, overreaching drek that makes 2008 Hank cringe. But it has its moments, and so I will share that column now (original file can be found here):
A few weekends ago, I was privileged enough to attend Elwood Community Day 2000, the 10th annual in my small village’s history.
My town, on the outskirts of Joliet, only contains a few hundred people (fewer than many college classes), a handful of stop signs and even fewer businesses. There wasn’t even a cash station installed until last year, and it looks more out of place than overalls on Donald Trump.
By some star’s granted wish, the ravages of sprawl have spared my fair town. To celebrate the victory, we hold a festival, if just to exercise the arm throwing candy in parades.
After attending and covering a few other town festivals, I realize, to the outside observer, Elwood Community Day doesn’t seem that unusual. A small parade, a basketball tournament, kiddie games, bingo at the church and a street dance at night all have been done before.
But my calender is marked months in advance for the festival.
Because these are my events, where I see little siblings of those I know licking ice cream cones like it’s the greatest thrill in the world. And as the kids grow older, ice cream can wait until after the all-important street dance.
A bit of background: While Elwood kids learn between corn stalks, we go to high school in the city, where apathy is definitely in. Though prom and homecoming still exist (barely), all other dance attempts meet the chopping block rather violently. Elwood Community Days somehow breaks this trend, in a good way. Kids and adults from miles around try to cleanse the apathy from their skins in the fresh air.
The main street (OK, one of the only streets) is blocked off, with a deejay at one end, two drinking establishments on the sides and parking at the other end. It’s not very picturesque, but many pictures aren’t. It is now when time slows and the corners blur …
One massive light shines 20 feet above, mingling with humid, late-summer air and the sounds of hundreds of conversations, some more important than others. In one corner, a girl just decided to dump her boyfriend. In another, beers have taken their toll on coherence.
Teens sip forbidden hops (choice hops, though) for the first time as their parents dance on picnic tables, victims of the same drug and loving every second of it. A boy, sitting on the sidewalk, smiles at the gyrating dancers, fearful that he would make them smile with his dancing.
Some years, the goals are different. Last year, it was to talk to Suzie She-So-Hot, or at least say hi. Another year, pine for a girl not there, and hope it doesn’t show in an abbreviated smile. But every year, friends from all around come back to talk amid the sounds of YMCA and country rock.
Every year — you can count on it — the night will bring non-newspaper news. They kissed? … That jerk! … Passed out? …
Walking through the air, done pontificating about the splendors of letter-writing compared to e-mail, I snap out of my romantic, Norman Rockwellian haze. Small toddlers wreak havoc in the park, broken bottles lie crushed under a 5-year-old’s feet, awful music plays over the speakers and the dancing parents are driving home intoxicated.
Not as many of my friends showed up this year; there were too many new faces. Suddenly, I feel old, a veteran. This is nothing compared to ’96, I think. I proceed to slap the recessive old-timer aftertaste from my mouth.
Folksiness is a weird thing. The reason people stay in Elwood all their lives is because of the simple, rural atmosphere: the porches, the lemonade, romping through the grass, a child’s excitement about a seasonal trip to McDonald’s.
But the feeling slowly seeps in that the perils of “citified” life are inherent at every intersection, whether paved or made of dirt.
For some reason, that realization took 20 years to set in. In small towns, it is all too easy to put on rose-colored glasses and revel in the glory that the problems of real life never enter village limits.
Wow, all that from one beautiful Saturday. I am beginning to think I might sit Elwood Community Days 2001 out.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be marked on my calender months in advance.