Sunday, August 18, 2013

20 Years

This totally snuck up on me, but somehow it has indeed been 20 years since I graduated high school. I know, right!? But here we are. And as folks are wont to do every few years, a reunion was held. If the picture above isn't enough of a giveaway, I went.

It actually wasn't an easy decision to make, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I don't really look back on high school all that fondly, for reasons both in and out of school. Many teenagers have it rough, and I'm not going to pretend that my issues were tremendously out of the ordinary, but I'm definitely not one of the people wishing I could relive my teen years. There were a number of classmates that didn't like me, and in most cases that was quite mutual. Every once in a while, a brief memory of something arguably embarrassing I did will pop in my head that just makes me cringe. The latter half of school centered around a long term relationship that would later end painfully in college and I don't really enjoy the reminders. While trips to Colorado used to be pretty easy to justify, that is no longer the case. And of course I can come up with lots of other ways to spend the money.

In the lead-up to the reunion, a Facebook group was formed, and fellow classmates were digging out photos from our childhoods. I've apparently blocked out even more of high school than I realized, as I would see myself in a number of pictures and truly not remember the situations. And from what I can tell, these were happy events that should have been memorable, but even those evaded recollection. I realize it has been 20 years, and memories fade, but it feels like so much more than mere age; I've blocked things out, and blocked them hard.

I periodically reviewed the list of folks indicating that they would attend, and kept a count of people I'd like to see vs would rather not see. Fortunately no one that I truly hate registered, and the list was a combination of people I would like to see, people I was indifferent to, and people I flat out did not remember and/or never really knew in the first place. Plus my wife owed me a reunion, since I went to her 10-year and knew absolutely no one. She has been able to meet many of my friends over the years, so even if she didn't always know much about them, at least she wouldn't have been surrounded completely by total strangers. So I decided that my interest in touching base with my friends trumped any other trepidations I might have, and made travel arrangements.

A little aside here about the security screening at Dulles. Passengers were randomly (so they say, I have my doubts) split into 2 different lines. The line that we were sorted into, seemingly with the vast majority of our fellow travelers, went to a special pre-screening area. We did not have to take our shoes off, did not have to open our bags, pretty much didn't have to empty pockets except for cell phones. There was no TSA fondling and no nudie scanner. We walked through a simple metal detector, collected our things, and were on our way. It might have been the easiest pass through security since before I started carrying laptop computers. So here's the question: If it can be this simple of a process, today, in our nation's capital, then why the heck did we need all of the security theater for the last several years? I'm torn between being relieved that it was a simple process, and being irritated that it was a simple process.

And a side note for United Airlines: I'm pretty sure that Dulles to Colorado Springs - roughly 2/3rds of the way across the country - is not the "region" that Canadair had in mind for such a small aircraft. Use a real plane.

We landed and after making our way to the hotel were greeted by the first of several rain storms we would receive during our short stay. I really, really miss Colorado storms. Solid rain, quality thunder and lightning. Oh yeah, and being a mile closer to the clouds.

The reunion committee planned out three events, the first of which was an evening gathering at a brewery.  Teri and I thus had the day to kill, so we went to my old stomping grounds, only to find it wasn't so familiar anymore. I've been back to the area several times since high school, and I'm aware of just how much growth and change there has been, but I still came away surprised.  Woodmen & Academy is an over/under pass now!  To say nothing of what Briargate has become.  We even toured the school:

The sculpture and mural were new to me. I think it's really nice. Otherwise, the areas we were able to tour didn't seem all that different to me. Minor details here and there. There are extra classroom trailers out front, but I've known about those for a while. The library was probably the most different. If I recall, there were only 2 or 3 computers <old man voice> back in my day... </old man voice>, but now there are a dozen or so. We couldn't get to the actual computer lab area - assuming that's what it still is - so I'm not sure how different that is. It would have been nice to see, as this was the birthplace of my CAD career. Good ol' Claris CAD. I remember taking a Pascal class too, so my eventual software development career can trace some roots here as well, though technically it wasn't my first exposure to programming.

In hindsight, I wish I'd had the forethought to suggest a group visit to the school. I know at least a small group of us visited for the 10-year reunion, because I have the pictures, but it never came up this time around.  I don't think I spoke to anybody else at the reunion who visited the school, which is a shame.

After a pleasant trip down memory lane, we grabbed some lunch. We happened to find a Sonic, which we really miss from Cincinnati. In actuality, we have them in the area, but the nearest one is over an hour away, and so far we haven't cared that much. But fly a couple thousand miles? Sure, Sonic me. Then we headed back to the hotel to wait for the evening activity.

Our wait was increased by the major storm that hit just as we were about to head out.  Fierce wind, and plenty of that impressive thunder and lightning I mentioned before. And rain. Lots and lots of rain. As we waited out the rain, we watched the local news, and were made aware of the terrible tragedy that was happening literally just a couple miles up the road from where we were staying. We were aware of 1 death before we left for the weekend, and as I read now I see there has been at least 1 more. We watched numerous emergency vehicles run up the highway in front of our hotel, and by the time we headed out for the gathering, it had been closed at our intersection.

The evening gathering was mostly pleasant, though this being a social area in a brewery, there was of course loud music playing, and unfortunately it got louder and louder over the course of the evening which made conversations challenging. But a nice mix of familiar faces showed up, ranging from people I had seen at least a couple of times on subsequent visits, to people I hadn't seen since high school, to people I didn't remember at all. I think for the next reunion, I'm going to have a special shirt made up that just lists out the key points: Brian, she's Teri, northern Virginia, no kids, 1 cat, iPhone development, etc. As it was, it was mostly a game of trying to remember the names that went with the faces (that I usually did recognize), and in some cases trying to remember maiden names. Or trying to play the game of "Spouse, or Someone I Should Know?"

One aspect that was nice to witness is that everyone looked either exactly the same, better, or just simply different, but I'd say no one really looked worse. There was no "Oh goodness, the years have not been kind to ..." or "Wow, s/he really let him/herself go." My weight loss has been well documented here, and although it would have been nice for a new record to coincide with this trip, I don't feel embarrassed by how I look these days, and it's probably pretty close to what I was at the last reunion. Others had equal or even better tales of weight loss and looked great. I wouldn't be shocked at all if a few people were within a couple pounds of their graduation weight, and they were thin then! As a group, we're doing well.

The second event was a family-friendly meeting at a nearby park the next day. We only got to meet spouses the night before, but here we got to meet children too. And got to see a few more people who weren't able to attend the previous night because of their children. It was a beautiful day, not to mention a quieter venue, and we had a pretty good turnout:

(blue shirt, middle, back row)

Well, on second thought, I think I only count about 30 or so alums, out of 200-ish in the graduating class, so maybe it wasn't such a good turnout. But it was a good time. And there were enough people that I didn't get the chance to chat with everyone that I wanted to. But, that's what Facebook is for.

Yet another rain storm before our third and final event that evening. This was another brewery, though with a quieter meeting space. Finally got to see one of my good friends that I haven't seen since school, and found out how to contact another who has totally vanished since school.  Even got the chance to semi-recreate a picture from the 10-year reunion:

The first was taken at the school, which is why I'm irritated I didn't think to suggest trying to get another one at the school this time. (That painting has been covered up with a sign, by the way). Oh well.

The picture frames on the table are tributes to our active-duty military alums that were unable to attend, as well as those that have passed. Both were equally shocking to me. The deaths are of course tragic, and in some cases happened relatively soon after school.  And I found myself quite surprised at some of the people who did not simply serve minimum stints in the military, but have spent quality time there.  If you'd asked me to guess, either before the reunion or heck back in school, who would go to the military, I'm not sure I'd have guessed correctly for any of them. I suppose with the high percentage of Air Force brats, I probably should have seen it coming.

Several people were unable to attend due to pregnancy. On the other end of the spectrum, some of my classmates are grandparents now. Others have lost parents. Stark reminders that, oh yeah, I am getting to be that old. And I'm not even 40 yet! Sprinkle some gray hairs and wrinkles around, and yup, it really has been 20 years.

Upon returning home, I dug out my yearbooks to further the trip down memory lane. Saw lots and lots of people that I'm sad didn't attend. And as I read through the various signatures, I came up with a few tips for current students with their new yearbooks (do schools still do yearbooks?). Shortly after you pass your yearbook around, go back and make some notes. If the name is hard to read, print it nearby. If the last name isn't there, add it. There were some that I totally remembered the people, but didn't remember their last names, and that made them hard to relocate in the yearbook. Sometimes the signatures referenced the reason they were signing: "Hey, totally had a blast in math class…" If those kinds of comments aren't there, make a note of how/why you knew the person. I can remember looking at those signatures thinking "I will never forget these people". Well, I was wrong. Though I suppose the bit of sleuthing I had to do to reconnect names with faces was a fun exercise.

In hindsight, I wonder if I should have brought my yearbook along to the reunion. If nothing else, it might have been fun to walk up to random people and say "SEE???!  It says right here: 'Friends forever!' What the hell happened?" I'll have to keep that in my pocket for the next reunion.

All told, I'm glad that I went. It's been about 4 years since I've been to Colorado, and I definitely miss my mountains. It was a great time meeting up with some good friends, albeit a little sad that it takes a reunion for that to happen. It's funny that I can more easily contact more classmates today than I could at any point since high school, yet that communication rarely happens. I'd like to improve that.

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