Saying Goodbye to Ann Arbor

University of Michigan Graduate Library in Ann Arbor

After completing college in 1978, I decided to leave Ann Arbor for Los Angeles in a half-baked scheme to fling myself off the deep end and into adulthood in a big strange city, leaving behind my home town with its close and dear friends, plus ghosts and memories in every neighborhood, park, store and other venue from the 23 years of my young life there. Lacking a really well thought out plan, this one at least made me feel like I was moving forward with my life somehow.

I was readying myself to depart from my comfortable little university town, seemingly every inch of it so familiar to me with memories of one or another experience, good and bad, from my youth. All those tree-lined streets I had walked, barefoot and shirtless on warm summer nights, bundled in down jacket, wool beanie and scarf wrapped round my nose and mouth on pristinely frigid winter days, or in the spring rain, with or without an umbrella. All those parks I had frequented, for little league practice and games as a kid, later late night in their hidden tree groves to surreptitiously share a joint, bottle of wine, or a six-pack of beer with friends. The university buildings I had had classes in or the Graduate Library where I skulked the sub-basements looking for dusty tomes written by dead radicals. The many toy, hobby and other stores I had patronized to buy Avalon Hill board games, slot cars, plastic army men, Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel record albums. The movie theaters I had spent hundreds of hours in watching movies and those iconic blue-lit clocks up high to the side of the big screen assuring me that this particular movie adventure had a ways to go yet.

My brother Peter had left town two years earlier to go to college in Chicago. My mom had remarried my dad and gone south (literally and maybe figuratively as well) for Dayton Ohio a year after that. I still had my war game buddies, JLO youth theater friends, and my “Feminist Aunts” Mary Jane and Carol, and other old friends of my folks. Despite the absence of the rest of my “blowee” (tending to scatter in different directions) biological family, it was certainly enough of a network to build the foundations of an adult life, but not for me.

I had a half-cocked dream of being in the film and TV business, wearing some hat or the other behind the camera, rather than in front of it as an actor. I could have actually pursued that dream in Ann Arbor, having connected with a number of other budding film/TV students in my university courses. But I was drawn to Los Angeles, the biggest pond of the entertainment industry, where my former theater group mentor Michael had relocated and offered me a free room in his house. I had never been to LA, and had no idea how overwhelming it could be to be a very small fish in that very big metaphorical pond. But at some deep level I knew that, and knew that I had to have that experience to break through the thrall of my maybe idyllic, maybe sheltered youth.

I was planning to leave Ann Arbor travelling light, with just a suitcase full of clothes and a backpack with my radio/cassette recorder and my few other intimate possessions. I had no car or furniture. All the other stuff of real or sentimental value I had accumulated was safely ensconced in my parents’ new place in Dayton. I think I continue to this day to travel and otherwise to chart life’s journey with a minimal amount of corporeal baggage, and just a few close companions at any given time. Arriving at a new destination with just the barest of necessities increases the creative possibilities of redesigning your life, but at the cost of feeling that heightened sense of being surrounded by the strange and losing the continuity of familiar life-threads and themes.

I was leaving my Mecca, the place imbued with the values and mores I held dear and was taking with me, real or imagined, expecting to return regularly (and have) to make my Hajj to rekindle my spiritual underpinnings. Leaving the progressive (though still provincial) politics, the feminist mentors, and living off the easy ambiance and egoistic worldliness of a university town. Leaving the youth-friendly streets, parks and circles (theater and board-gaming) that were so critical in nurturing my budding agency and talents. And where Mother Nature was a constant and at times mischievous life-partner, presenting me with a wonderful array of hot humid summer nights, crisp fall breezes and quick-charging thunderstorms that counterpointed and punctuated the events and moods of my life.

I knew it was insular, and that I would not be a fully-realized human being until I had gone beyond its friendly context. Maybe I could come back here again some day to live, though they say you can never go home. Did I really have to surrender all that I was to be all that I could be? Was I jumping off a cliff that I could never re-ascend? Did I have any but the foggiest idea what the fuck I was doing? That all still remained to be seen.

I have continued throughout my life to periodically dislocate and relocate myself, metaphorically if not geographically, in the name of reinvention, growth and evolution. It continues to be jarring, exiting, painful and profound, and as I wrote in a poem once, to “not let hindsight catch up with me.” I have persevered on placing my bet on the future and its seemingly unlimited possibilities.

I had planned my trip to Los Angeles to be an adventure of course, on my favorite means the train. Amtrak from Ann Arbor to the railroad uber-hub in Chicago. Then the Amtrak “Super Chief” (or whatever it was called I don’t really remember) to Denver Colorado where I was planning to spend a few days with my friend Margie before boarding a plane for that last leg to Los Angeles. Turns out I got to the Windy City just as Amtrak unions went on strike and I ended up instead on a much less thrilling Greyhound bus crossing the cornfields of Iowa and Nebraska on my way to the Rockies. The lyrics from Paul Simon’s “Bookends” album came to mind. “Jackie, I said, as I boarded the Greyhound for Pittsburgh… Michigan seems like a dream to me now”.

Read what happened next in my piece, “Briefly Among the Angels”.

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