I'm sitting in a combined coffee shop/wine bar near my hometown (my actual city would never allow such an establishment to operate, so this exists in the slightly more eclectic neighboring city) while the room fills with Young the Giant's greatest hits playing on repeat.
Everyone seems to know the words. They are, after all, our town's claim to fame alongside Most Number of Beige Houses Per Capita, and the running title of "Safest City in America" 5+ years and counting. I sound facetious writing this, so you should know upfront that I 1) really love Young the Giant and 2) have absolutely no reason to complain about the wonderful place I grew up.
The cafe's open mic night starts and all I can think is: Where was this place when I was in high school? Where was this during those moody, aimless drives down that backroad on the very edge of town? You know, the ones spent desperately searching for something more interesting to do than drinking mocktails at California Pizza Kitchen or impulse shopping at Target. The search that first took me out of Orange County to Los Angeles, and now—NYC.
But ten years and two major moves later, here I sit. Home again for the holidays, loitering in a coffee shop to fill those aimless days between Christmas and New Years where too much free time can throw you into an existential crisis. And while I'm not the same girl I was at 16, I'm somehow uneasily feeling more like that girl than I'd like to admit.
On vacations, you aim to vacate your life. But, the holidays, ohhh the holidays are a different beast. While cleverly masked as "vacation" they feel more like an evacuation of the present, a temporary relocation of the person you are—back to the person you were. But these two people, in a clever dance of time and space, always seem at odds. And with this juxtaposition brings an unsettling nostalgia. It's one that—the older I get and the farther I move away from home—hangs heavy over me this time of year.
The open mic has taken a turn for the worse. The aspiring musicians have left the building, making way for a series of amateur comics. After an especially cringe-worthy set, it feels like the right time to leave my new favorite (at least...for the next 2 weeks) local haunt.
Driving home, I take a detour, deciding to visit my favorite backroad for old times sake. But what I've found in its place is a new crop of Beige Homes, a shiny housing development filling the open space that once served as the setting for those late night rides, spent deep in thought or conversation.
Young the Giant's latest hit comes up on my favorite playlist, and for a moment, I feel at ease. I navigate the (now well-lit) roads—no longer the edge of my universe.