Going Home Again

It's been several months since I left my old office for the last time. Since August, I've only driven past there once. I've settled in to a new job, a new reality, and a new life, but still have fond memories and ties to former coworkers. I still see my old friends on a somewhat regular basis, but I definitely attend as many happy hours as possible to keep in touch with everyone else.

Most of our gatherings have been in Manhattan, with one or two exceptions, but there was one at a bar up the road from the old office, back in my old stomping grounds, this Thursday. Thursday gatherings are tough as Friday morning comes early. I suppose it's a popular night for people wanting to avoid the Friday night crowds and youngsters, or simply those who can't make it another day without getting a drink or two with their friends. Television is still conspiring to put the majority of new episodes of my favorite shows all on one night, but I've missed so many things because of television that I really need to rethink my priorities. With another happy hour on my schedule for Friday night, I didn’t need two long nights in a row. Still, I had two VCRs primed and ready for prime time when I went to work Thursday morning. I'd make an appearance, and be prepared if I stayed out longer than expected.

And so, driving home from one office, I took a crucial turn that would allow me to continue on away from my literal home, and back to an old figurative one. I find that both gum and a bottle of water are good ways to alleviate the stress of driving and keep my mind sane and focused on reality. As I got closer to the bar, I began to feel the effects of all the water I'd been drinking. I knew I couldn't walk in, breeze past all my old coworkers and duck right into a restroom before I'd said hello or had a beer. Fortunately, seven years of lunch on that particular street taught me many options. I could duck in the back entrance of a Dunkin' Donuts, use their restroom, and continue out to the front entrance without ordering anything. I think we all know how well my plans usually work.

I walked down the hallway and grasped the handle to the restroom. Would it be locked? Would I need to ask a cashier for a key? Fortunately, it was unlocked. Unfortunately, it was occupied. I saw the old woman first, bending down with a piece of toilet paper in her hand, frozen and bewildered at the sudden intrusion. Next to her, a little girl stood with her diaper around her ankles, presumably waiting for her grandmother to clean her up. “Oh...sorry...” I muttered, backing out in to the hallway and closing the door. It was a unisex restroom, but for whatever reason the woman neglected to lock the door, or perhaps it didn't have a working lock.

I stood outside for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and averting my eyes whenever other customers walked past. At some point it occurred to me that I'd probably come across as a pervert, especially if the grandmother found me loitering. I decided to hold on a little longer, and proceeded outside and across the street to the bar.

I caught one old guy on his way out with his wife, a nice gentleman who'd been with the company forever before layoffs forced him in to retirement. After exchanging pleasantries, he told me there were a few people inside. “Few” literally meant four, reminding me how much things had changed. That number would eventually triple as other people arrived from their new jobs out of town. There are still plenty of people who gather, just not as many who are still with the same company.

I didn't stay too long, just had one drink and caught up with some people. After about an hour, I remembered my restroom delay and cautiously and slowly opened the door to the men's room. As I was leaving, one of my buddy's mentioned that he'd found some printed samples of my work and recovered them, if I wanted to stop back at the office. If driving past there was weird a few months ago, driving in to the parking lot was stranger, and surprisingly challenging. The last time I'd been there, a little flooding problem had struck one of our buildings due to a low spot that diverted all water in the parking lot to the lobby. I soon found that the entrances were still blocked by the same sandbags that were there last Summer. After some maneuvering and doubling back, I found my way in to the parking lot.

Heading home, to my real home, was perhaps the most surreal experience of all. I found myself retracing my old commute, at around the same time I used to drive home after working late and going to the gym. The car was different, one section of road was nearly converted to run under some train tracks, but otherwise it was a very familiar journey. I can't really go back, not to my old reality. I can visit the people and the place, but not all the people are there and the place lacks the same spirit. It was strange waiting in the parking lot for my friend, knowing that I couldn't go in the building unless I signed in to security as a visitor. It was my home for so long, but I've found a new one. Hopefully I'll stay awhile, but I know someday I'll be as much a visitor as I've become to the old place.


Blogger b13 said...

I didn't know you went to the Thursday HH. I couldn't make it :( I'm hoping to make tonights but my schedule has been wonky lately. I may have to wait till Sunday evening for TCON. Weekend will be nuts too.

Oh, and I heard early reviews of Indy are not to hot. I'm going to see about checking it out in Hollywood though... more on that later.

5/16/2008 1:09 PM  
Anonymous MCF said...

Yeah, Phil told me you had to see to Chili. You only missed a few people you haven't seen in a while; again not a big crowd. Hopefully tonight's will have more of a turnout. Heading out now; maybe I'll catch you there.

5/16/2008 5:17 PM  

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