I spent the weekend with my old roommate in Boone, where we went to college. You might say that it's our old stompin' grounds, which is a phrase my dad used to describe pretty much anywhere he had ever heard of before. He usually used the words to dismiss the concern of any passengers who had noticed that a shortcut he had taken had turned out to be more of a scenic route. Later, when we had finally got to wherever we were going, he would explain that they had changed it on him.
They did go and change Boone on me. They widened some roads, tore down some buildings, and built new ones. Businesses that we used to think of as established had disappeared and new storefronts had established themselves in their places. Appalachian State, my alma mater, seems to be doing quite well. I like to think that somewhere in the new library that I never got to use are bricks paid for with my tuition. Most everything in town seemed new and shiny, except for the alley down to our old apartment, which was somehow even worse than when we had lived there. Where before there had just been weeds and mud, now there was discarded furniture and mattresses.
But really, the thing that had changed was me. I was a tourist now, not a student, not a local. I was one more person driving slowly, not quite sure where I was going. I walked at a leisurely pace downtown, as if I was on vacation. It's not as if any of the natives gave me a mean look, but I could feel my otherness. I was just another tourist, here today to be in the way, replaced by someone else next weekend.
Saturday night, we went to one of those new (i.e., not there seven years ago) restaurants. It was not a place we could have afforded back when we lived in an alley apartment, but now that we were graduates of the Computer Science program, we even had drinks and appetizers, too. The waiter asked where we were from, and we hastened to tell him that we used to live here, really, just down the street. He smiled and pretended to care, then asked us if we wanted another round. We did. Later, when we asked for our checks, he acted sad that we were leaving. Maybe he was, because he just barely made rent and really needs to fix the transmission in his old car.
But we left anyway, to go further down the street to Murphy's, a dive bar where we used to eat french dip sandwiches on seats that leaked stuffing out of long gashes partially mended with duct tape. It's been refinished and is much nicer now, too, but it's still a dive. And we both felt more comfortable there, like we belonged. Because who else besides a local would go to Murphy's?