Twenty years ago today was a normal day. Nothing much happened. I woke up and I drove myself to the gas station across from Daddy Maxwell’s, and I walked over to the new machine in the corner. It was a cappuccino machine, and it whirled and spit out a sugary, foamy drink that in no way resembles what I know a cappuccino to be today. It was the highlight of my morning, and I’d sip it a bit over the mile of bumpy roads that led to my high school. Harris Road was bumpy then, and it’s bumpy today. In twenty years, it’ll be bumpy.
My homeroom was in the kitchen of Calvary Church. My freshman class was made up of the same kids, but there were more of them then. After the freshman year, some of the kids left, through expulsion or systematic suspension, or because their parents got divorced or were thinking about getting divorced. The kids were there and then they weren’t, but the nucleus remained through the years. By the time we were relegated to the kitchen for our homeroom, there were just 12 of us left. I had my Saab 900 in gunmetal gray, my leather computer bag before people stashed tablets and laptops in them, and I had my cappuccino that wasn’t really a cappuccino at all.
Our lunchroom was our gym, and we’d eat quickly so we could work in games of 21 on the other end of the gym. Our classrooms were in the basement of that church, so on nice days we’d sneak outside to soak in the spring or fall sunshine. It was during one of these breakaways that I was yelled at by a school administrator that I know to this day. When I see him, I assume he remembers that day, and I secretly hate him for it. During a similar lunch break my friend and I pulled the fire alarm, because it was red and there and we were hopped up on faux cappuccinos and lunchtime basketball. We confessed only after being told the police department was on their way over to dust for prints. Our confession wasn’t entirely truthful, but they bought it and we weren’t particularly punished.
Most weeknights, I would take my leather computer bag and drive to Gateway Technical College to listen to some real estate person tell me what I needed to know about the business of real estate. That man told me what I should say and what I shouldn’t say, and while I sat in class with a throng of individuals who are nearly entirely no longer in the business, I took notes, diligently. When the class was over I’d stuff my notebook into my leather briefcase satchel and drive myself home. The next morning, I’d drive to the gas station, sip the sugary drink, then drive the bumpy road to school and park where the kids could get a good look at my Saab 900 that I bought for $3500 and pull up a stool to the kitchen island. This was my senior year.
These mornings, my wife makes me a cappuccino. It’s not really a cappuccino, it’s just a double shot of espresso and some steamed milk, which I suppose would make it a latte but the ratio of espresso to milk is 1:1 so it’s less like a late and more like an espresso with some milk in it. It’s tremendously good. I drink that drink and I wonder why it took me 20 years to buy a proper espresso machine, and then I wonder who the monsters are that still drink drip coffee when such fabulous espresso machines are available. Then I wonder about the people who put a puck of compressed coffee into a machine that whirls the expresso out and I think of that time I stopped at Williams Sonoma in Lake Forest and tasted one of these so called espressos. Then I finish the coffee and my kids load into the car and I drop them off at the newer location of the same school that I drove myself to 20 years ago.
Outside of this window, beyond this desk and beyond this large computer screen, I can see the office I started working at in August of 1996. I was barely out of high school, barely aware of anything at all, and I sat in that office wearing an ill-fitting shirt and a tie I borrowed from my dad’s closet and I’d hope the phone would ring. When it rang, I’d wish it hadn’t. I bought my first computer and I hooked it up to this new internet, and I’d email people and wait a few days for their response. I had a pager then, which I thought was a remarkable bit of mobile technology. All I had to do was wear it on my belt and it would vibrate when someone wanted something, though I couldn’t know what they wanted until I called them back. I wore it with pride in the way that a kid last summer might have worn his Apple Watch. But my pager was lame and I was lame for having it, but it was 1996 and things were strange and I still had that leather briefcase bag but no laptop to put in it.
Herb’s old gas station was still operating then, and his muffler shop next door hadn’t yet been torn down and replaced with an empty auto-repair shop. I’d stop in to see Herb for one reason or another, all of which related to mufflers, and it was during one of these visits when Herb told me that I wouldn’t be successful because I was too young. Who would work with me? I was too young, because this was before Josh Flagg squeaked and swaggered his way onto our televisions and back then, Realtors were white haired and they drove matching Cadillacs. It was around that time that the Keg Room burned down.
The Keg Room is still burned down. Herb doesn’t own the gas station anymore, but there’s still a gas station on the corner. Daddy Maxwell’s still serves a heck of a cajun chicken sandwich, and there’s still a gas station across the street. Southwick Creek, where I saw my first trout, is still flowing through culverts and still hosting a handful of trout that try so hard to stay alive. The beach is still where it was, and while there’s a new beach house I’ll bet that every once in a while a snapping turtle still follows Harris Creek into the lake and then the kids shriek and the beach mothers point and warn. Williams Bay today looks like it did twenty years ago, and that’s exactly what it’ll look like in twenty more.