It’s pretty fucking melodramatic, isn’t it? Most of the blogs out there have single-word names, or at most some pithy, punchy phrase, usually three words or less. Meanwhile, I’ve got a handle that looks like it belongs on an early Pink Floyd album. No, wait, not weird enough. More like what some pretentions teenager would put on their poetry notebook, the one that they’re convinced will be a best seller when they publish it.
…okay, yeah, fair enough, I’ll admit that last one hits a bit close to home. Still. The words weren’t chosen because they’re pretty. They were chosen because they mean something.
You see, I grew up in a literal one-stoplight town in Central New York. An old-school company town where the economy revolved around the Mill. It was a place with four bars and no movie theater, where the closest thing young people had to a hangout was…uh…
Young people didn’t have a hangout. No arcade, unless you counted the games in the entrance hall to the bowling alley on the edge of town. No sports or clubs or other activities that weren’t connected to the school once you got too old for Little League and Pop Warner football. And the activities that were connected to school were put at risk every couple years when the citizenry would vote against the school budget.
When you grow up in a place like that, you only have a few options. Some people stopped caring. Booze, drugs – whatever they could import from the nearest city – and carelessly protected sex. My graduating class of 150 had about a dozen mothers or mothers-to-be in it, with no way of telling how many fathers. Another generation of quiet desperation in the trailer parks.
Then, of course, there were the people who actually liked it there. In a way, I pity them the most. I’ve been back to visit my hometown, and it’s dying. There’s only one Mill left, where there were four when I was a child. Sooner or later, it will shut down and turn my hometown into a ghost town. It’s only a question of when.
I can’t even hate the place anymore. Now it just makes me sad.
And then there were the people like me. There were actually quite a few of us – the people who were determined to escape, to get away, to get Out. Some had actual workable plans to get Out, some didn’t. As for me, I knew how I was going to get out. Very straightforward, really. I was the salutatorian of my class and had decent extracurriculars, so I was going to go to college. Bada bing, bada boom, Out.
What I didn’t know was where I was going. I’d spent my teenage years dreaming of Out, wishing for Out, putting all of my hopes into Out, and I’d never considered where I wanted to go. It didn’t matter; I could make up my mind about that little detail later. For the time being, I was just in love with the road out of town. I imagined that road leading off into the distance, into the shining horizon, to a place where dreams come true. Maybe the place would have those magical towers of light and glass I saw on the TV and in movies, but it never really occurred to me that I would end up in a Big City somewhere. Besides, I was a country boy. I’d heard too many bad things about the Big Cities to really want to go there.
I’m 36 now, and I’ve made it all the way to New York City. You don’t get more Out and Away than that. And as much as I love this place, as much as I can’t imagine living anywhere else, it’s still…just a place. You get up in the morning, you go to work, you spend the day earning your daily bread, you try to fit your real living into the evenings and weekends before returning to the grind. What makes New York special is that you have so very many options when it comes to things to see, do, and eat during those evenings and weekends.
So I still love the shining horizon. I look out across the George Washington Bridge, a block away from my home, and know that any time I wanted I could walk out into America, and that thought fills me with wonder. I go to Coney Island and I look out into the Atlantic.
I even – maybe especially – love the shining horizon in art. Songs, posters, movies, photos, even comic strips – I’ll share some of them with you when I can. I love them for reminding me of that feeling, that hope, that belief that somewhere down that long road, just over the horizon, just off the map, is someplace where everything is as we dreamed it would be.
That hope, more than anything else, is what drives me on. That’s what I try to capture and create here.
How does that fit with all the horror stories? Well, fear is the other side of hope. Sometimes the horizon is shining because the sun is setting, and there are…things…that come out after it does.