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Last weekend I went to my high school class reunion, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy charter class of 1989.  I had a great time!  It was very odd to visit the school and walk through the building I spent so much time in and feel the contrast between the parts that haven't been changed and the parts that have been completely remodeled.  The strange feeling of remembering a specific window but not really recognizing anything around it.  This is a residential school, it was literally home for three years, so it was a very familiar place back in the day.

I had assumed that as I drove toward the school things would start to look at least a bit familiar as I neared it.  Nope.  Not at all.  Lots of things, of course, have changed in 25 years. Leaving in the afternoon, though, driving past everything one more time (and from the other direction),  I recognized a bunch of landmarks that hadn't changed too much to recognize.  The most surprising thing, really very surprising, was how very, very close to the school many of them were.  One or two kilometers.  From my adult perspective, it's hard to imagine how I didn't pass by some of that all the time, how it could have seemed like something in the far distance.  These days, I'd be running back and forth for exercise, or bicycling through on the way to, well, whatever is past there.  But we were kids then, and this is the outer edge of the outer asteroid belt of suburbia, not a very walkable, pedestrian-friendly, attraction-filled place.

They did let us out, and I did get out.  But we were kids, after all, and had to sign out, listing a destination and an expected time of return.  While in practice you might be able to get away with (I did this) saying something to the effect of generally to the west by bicycle, for about an hour, it nonetheless wasn't a setup encouraging aimless wandering just to see what's out there.  Indeed, I  clearly remember us all getting a good talking-to/yelling-at when a group went on a journey on foot that was judged have been unwise.  At least the way I remember it, the main issue was them walking at the edge of a giant road.  Remember, outer suburbia, you don't always get a sidewalk.  No Google Streetview in the eighties, how would you know you'd end up walking in a ditch except by showing up and finding out the hard way?

Thinking about this, I went to Google maps to have a look.  Looking with my adult eyes, the place is not nearly the isolated little-schoolhouse-on-the-prairie that it sort of felt like.  There are many things very near by.  Now, sure, some of that is new, but clearly some of that was always there.  The river was always there, those forest preserves are surely not new, and while businesses come and go, some of those places were always occupied by something.  Even dialing the radius of movement way down to something I would have been more comfortable with back at age 15 or 16, there is much more around there than I had realized.

Of course, I did what we do now, having Google highlight the bicycle-friendly routes in green, dragging the Streetview guy onto roads and intersections to see whether they look like a fun place for a kid on a bike or not so much.  We didn't have Google in the eighties.  I pulled out my DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer from 1991, which at the time seemed like a very detailed and exhaustively complete set of maps.  I spent lots of time when I was in college planning bike rides outside of Champaign, and later planing out rides and also automobile journeys in Wisconsin.  Having just been scrolling around Google Maps, it suddenly seemed like a vague and sketchy marginal source of information.

I wonder how much the students there now get out around the area.  Now they can easily make detailed Google-Earth-aided plans, and there are phones now.  Back in the day, as soon as we went out the door we vanished into the great big way out there, for better or for worse incommunicado.  On the other hand, our societal level of paranoia is ever rising.  Can high school students be allowed to walk around a suburb unsupervised these days?

Date: 2014-07-22 02:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Around here we have pre-teens wandering around on a regular basis, and sometimes a kid who can't be more than eight drives by on his tiny little two-cycle motorcycle. So it does still happen.

But, yeah, our brains filter well for how we want to remember things. My elementary school was in a suburb, despite me remembering it being in the middle of a desolate deserted wasteland of dead farms and prairie.


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