Note: I didn’t want to be a downer so soon after New Year, but this was something I was just thinking about recently.
I grew up in the Seattle area in the 80’s and 90’s. Specifically I lived in a city called Bellevue in the Newport Hills area, which was a nice suburban, middle-class neighborhood. You can find my old neighborhood on Google Maps.
It was a good time and place to grow up as a kid. Seattle was a popular place to live, Microsoft was growing, and Seattle was famous for Starbucks coffee and for its “grunge” music. We had a local comedy show on TV called Almost Live which was very popular here with its jokes about local neighborhoods, the weather, or how Seattle was changing, etc. Growing up there, you felt kind of special like you were part of a hip social club.
I spent my youth in Newport Hills playing a lot of Nintendo games. My sisters and I would go to the local drug store with our friends to buy $0.45 candy bars and the owner knew us all and would sometimes let us have extra treats. We also hung out at the local Dairy Queen or played video games at the nearby pizza parlor. It was a good neighborhood to grow up together.
But of course, all good things must come to an end.
Almost Live was briefly on national TV, but it didn’t succeed, and the show slowly declined. Like all comedy shows, it ran out of ideas, people grew up and moved on. All the grunge bands I loved either broke up, had people who died of drug overdose, or just weren’t very good anymore. Microsoft is less famous now, and eclipsed by other companies like Amazon. The local basketball team, Seattle Supersonics, moved to another state. Of course, Seattle changed too. The charming neighborhood of Ballard looks pretty different now: not much Scandinavian culture anymore, but a lot more homeless people. The Lake City Way area I live at now used to be pretty shady, but now is a developing area. Friends I grew up with in Seattle moved away, and live different lives now.
This summer, I wanted to see what my old neighborhood looked like, so I drove there one morning. It’s not that far from Seattle (30 minutes by car), but I’ve been so busy since college that I haven’t seen it in 20 years. Like me, my family had all moved away from there a long time ago so there was no reason to go back and visit.
Here’s the old grocery store my family and I used to shop at:
I often walked to this store to buy groceries and carry them home for my mom, and I can still vaguely remember the layout. I was kind of surprised to see it was gone. The old drug store we used to go to for candy was converted into a vegetable shop, and the old Dairy Queen we used to hang out at has changed into a different restaurant:
Even my old elementary school was gone now and replaced with a YMCA (the school moved down the hill).
It was kind of shocking how much the neighborhood had changed in 20 years. It was vibrant in my youth, but now seemed kind of tired and worn down now.
Still, not all of it was bad. I found the old park we used to play at, and the park was nice and new. I sat there for a bit, watching kids play just as I used to play. It was reassuring that life goes on.
Even I changed of course. I was a depressed, nerdy, lonely teenager growing up who had no luck with girls. But now I work a nice job (not Microsoft, but the other big IT company in the area), married to a nice Japanese woman and have 2 lovely kids. I listen to very different music now1 and am not depressed the way I was 20 years ago. Also, I’ve lived in Ireland, visited London and Paris, studied abroad in Vietnam and visited Japan almost yearly. Coming back to Seattle, I realize that it’s a nice city, but honestly it’s not that great. The people and the memories made it special, but without those it’s just another American city on the West Coast.
But after I got over the shock about how much Newport Hills had changed, I realized it was inevitable. When my wife and I go back to Japan, she sometimes talks about how much her neighborhood in Kawasaki changed. Old family stores are gone, new apartments, etc. Like me, she grew up in an idyllic neighborhood in Japan but it’s changed in 20 years.
Similarly, my daughter lives in a nice neighborhood now with parks and stores that she likes. She has friends she grows up with, and has memories that she will cherish.
But someday she will have the same feelings of nostalgia and loss, and she will have to confront the same truth we all have to confront: nothing lasts forever. Everything must change.
Like the famous Japanese poem, the Iroha, says:
Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.
Something we can all appreciate, no matter where we grew up.
1 I still enjoy some grunge music though. For example, I like the new Alice In Chains group, and still listen to classic Stone Temple Pilots sometimes. But I just got tired of listening to dark music all the time. It was great when I was a depressed teenager, but frankly I am much happier now. I prefer listening to upbeat, fun music now.