Quick backstory: I was born and raised in Florida. I spent the first seven or so years in or around Kenansville, the next maybe fifteen years in St. Cloud and the next thirteen years in Orlando. I started doing stand-up in Orlando in 2011.
Okay, that’s probably all you need to know for this to work.
From April 13th-24th, 2018, I was back in all of those towns.
I moved to Chicago in July 2016. Since then, I’ve been back to Florida twice prior to this most recent trip: once in August 2016 for a tour with the very funny Jt Habersaat and in April 2017 for a few shows and to see my folks.
This most recent visit, I intentionally booked fewer shows (three) to allow for more downtime to visit my parents, see some friends and really just have nothing to do. No work, no shows, nothing to look forward to. A sort of void to fall in.
Which brings me to the subject of “never going home again.”
That’s true in a lot of ways. Things change. People move. People get too busy to be around. People die. But, in many ways, many things stay exactly the same.
St. Cloud, for instance, has exploded in growth. Some parts of it are completely unrecognizable, even since last year but especially since I last called it home back in 2003. They’ve got a Chick-fil-A now.
But plenty of it is exactly as I left it, which is familiar, safe and comfortable, and eerie to drift through with older eyes. It’s like you’re expecting everything to be different but are pleasantly(?) surprised.
Kenansville has experienced considerably less growth. A small, rural town with one restaurant open sometimes. The one store/gas station in town has evolved to include a feed store and hardware store. The one bar in town changes hands and, this time, was completely closed.
I got to see a few of my oldest friends.
I got to ride around with one who lives in San Francisco now. The timing worked out where we had a day of Florida visit overlap.
We drove to his folks’ house and past some of the old houses of our friends from junior high. It was surreal, to say the least. It felt like we were rolling around in a car that could time travel, like entire parts of the city were museums or memorials to our personal pasts.
But I knew that was only surface. I knew that, inside those homes, new families (or, hell, maybe our friends’ families) were moving through life the same as we were. We just weren’t in this life anymore.
Another buddy came over and we sat on my mom’s back porch drinking beers and talking about as much as possible. It was basically a scene out of 2001 except we were a bit fatter and more sore now. Our memories not as great. Fewer things were new. We’d been around. It felt like we’d lived an entire lifetime’s worth of living in twenty years.
So, on one hand, no, you can’t “go home again.” It’s too different. And where it’s not, you are. I get it.
On the other hand, enough of “home” seems to stick around in the form of old friends and old haunts that you can fall back into it, especially after a few drinks, and it feels like you never left.
But it is strange. When the sun’s too out or you’re too sober or think too much, you can’t get past the passage of time, can’t scrub the smudges of nostalgia off your lenses. The experience feels like someone else is having it. Like you’re watching it on TV.
For a couple of reasons, mostly because I lived there more recently, Orlando’s changes weren’t drastic or overwhelming. Interstate 4 that plows through it was more of a construction clusterfuck than I remember it and Orange Ave through downtown looks more boring in places, with cookie-cutter smoothie shop type shit attempting to homogenizing the strip.
The comedy scene seems to still be plugging away, which is incredible, considering that, when I started, there were two regular comedy open mics in Orlando and other rooms/nights would come and go.
By the time I moved, you could go up every night of the week if you wanted, and that still seems to be the case, with people hosting showcases in bars and breweries.
There seems to be dozens and dozens of comics and the names I don’t recognize far outnumber those I do.
And all of this makes me very, very happy. To see something burst into existence, come into its own and, against the odds, stick around. To see comics I started with or who started before me move to New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc. To see them keep at it, put out albums, get on TV, sell out theaters.
To go back and see a new generation of people take the plunge, tank, figure it out, tank again, go from the drawing board to conference room for months and years until they feel like they hit a ceiling and move away.
Circle of life. We’re not special. We’re not new. We’re just one roll around the Ferris wheel.
Something that only occurred to me now is this most recent trip to FL allowed me to dive into three entirely different chapters of my life.
Kenansville: Where I lived in the woods, learned how to be a cowboy, felt protected yet isolated from “the real world.” Where I was shy and would hide from the closest people we had to “neighbors.” Where I believed everything I was told.
St. Cloud: Where I came of age, learned to drive. Where my taste in music expanded. Where I taught myself how to play drums. Where I started to question things.
Orlando: Where I got drunk, fell apart, put myself back together, fell apart again. Where I tried to figure it all out, realized that was impossible, let myself down, let a lot of people down. Where I tried and sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. Where I found a new outlet and community in comedy. A new thing to try and fail at until I would sometimes succeed. Tale as old as time.
I have no idea where I’m going with this except to say something I said several times during my visit: “Life is weird.” It certainly seems to be a series of random experiences and encounters, weeds tangle us together, storms tear us apart.
What’s fascinating to me is, as we age and disappear from each other, we’re always there, somewhere, doing something. Nothing ever stops.
Physically, we’re on different planes in different places, walking different avenues towards what we think we’re supposed to.
And though we vanish, we’re bound by memories, dreamlike filmstrips that melt and fade, but that prove we were there together at least once.