City Permanence

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Recently, I loaded up the busiest intersection near my old house on Google Maps and went into street-level view so I could have a first-person Google Street View of it. As much as I recognize how every corner of that intersection has changed over time — although the Internet has been failing me in my attempts to photographically prove that some Toledo staples of my time, like Centre supermarkets and Gastown gas stations, existed before they were driven out by bigger competitors — part of me still can’t help remembering my first memories of that intersection, possibly the one that my parents drove me through more than any other in my young life. It’s like I can’t look at that intersection without doing a mental overlay of what it used to look like in the early eighties.

What struck me the most about that street-level view I looked at was that it was taken last year, meaning that it’s the first real “look” I’ve gotten at my old neighbourhood since I left Toledo at the end of 2017. I know that Google has to update its visual database every year, at least for major streets — the residential street I live on hasn’t had a Google Street View car drive on it since 2011, and it’s a little disconcerting to be able to look through the front sliding glass doors of my old house and see Mom sitting on the couch — but thinking about how life in Toledo continues to go on isn’t very comfortable for me, even now that I’ve been gone from there for over a year now.

I’ve often said that I love being here in small-town Wisconsin about 99% of the time, but the other 1% can be a huge pain in the ass. About half of that one percent is the lack of so many conveniences you only get in big cities, like the ability to stop in a Little Caesars and get a hot pizza for five bucks after a long day of work when I’m so tired that I don’t want to cook. (There’s only one pizza place here, and their pizza gives my stomach all kinds of troubles. I won’t mention who they are, but let’s just say that I think their name rhymes with “butt” for a reason.) A lot of those problems can be mitigated through online shopping and careful planning, but there are still a lot of national stores and eateries that are over an hour’s drive away from where I am right now, and that’s on a good day. With all the snow and super-cold temperatures we’ve been having, there haven’t been any good driving days here for a while.

The other half of that one percent is me missing places that are specific to Toledo. Yes, the parks I used to visit and Toledo’s good pizzerias are a big part of that, but I still think about things like the Meijer big box store that my family used to shop at. Especially late at night, I can’t do a good job of imagining what things are like at my favourite parks; they all close at sundown, so I don’t know how much ambient lighting they get at their perimeters, or how freely the animals there roam after all the humans go away for the day. I can, however, remember what it’s like shopping at Meijer late at night, and even overnight (the store only closes for thirty-six hours in December), and I’m sure that more than a few people are at that Meijer as I type up these words late on a Sunday night, walking the same aisles that my family and I used to walk on a fairly regular basis.

It’s not like I expected Toledo would just wither up and die after I left, but at the same time, I’ve never had to deal with the concept of object permanence when it comes to my hometown. Not only was it just always there throughout my life, but for nearly all my life I was just always part of it. Even when I left Toledo, either to go teach somewhere else for a day or to take an extended trip somewhere, I always knew that I’d be back in Toledo relatively soon, where I could tell you exactly where the closest grade-A pizza was from nearly any location, and what days were best for getting good photos at the parks, and why the local newspaper was a never-ending sewage fire. (Okay, I don’t need to be in Toledo to tell you that hasn’t changed since I left there, but you get my point.)

I’d like to think that this isn’t some problematic manifestation to my ego, and there are some good reasons for me to think that’s true. I’ve puzzled it out, and of all the places I still have access to, that Meijer in Toledo is where I spent more time with Mom than any other, and as much as it’s a store like any other, there is a kind of special attachment there because of my family’s history of shopping there. At the same time, though, I remember how painful it was last year when Toys ‘R’ Us closed and I couldn’t make one last trip to the store that my parents used to take me to, and I can’t deny that as stupid as this sounds, my mind is still feeling a little blown by the fact that Toledo is going on without me.

When spring semester ends here in Wisconsin, it will be just about the right time for me to get a walk in at Wildwood Preserve Metropark, right when the early spring greens I love the most reach their peak. Getting back to Toledo won’t be easy — if nothing else, the one taste of morning traffic in Chicago I had last year is one more than any sane human being should ever have to put up with — but I have a feeling that come this May, I’m going to be doing everything in my power to take that walk, and to see with my own eyes — beyond the facsimile of a Google Street View panorama — that Toledo is getting on just fine without me.

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