After a night at the old hometown bar with our childhood friends - all returned to the neighborhood for the holidays from the various places throughout Michigan that they now reside - my buddy Steve and I got up to our usual hijinks and started letting our inner child speak for our brain. Before long, we were on the open road in yet another misguided attempt to recapture the excitement of childhood. We were on our way to Chicago, the place I called home not so long ago.
Returning to Chicago was bittersweet. Going to the Hawks game brought back so many great memories of watching a lot of amazing sports events there and made me miss how great a sports city the Windy City truly is. Returning to my favorite bar just across the street from my old apartment complex brought back a lot of good memories of watching Wings games late into the night last spring. And seeing the bars on every corner of the maize of streets throughout the city brought back memories of nights of limitless opportunities. And, of course, a late-night drunken excursion to the favorite Chinese food place tasted so good.
But it brought back a lot of unpleasant memories, as well. Of lonely nights spent sipping beers by myself while listening to Red Wings broadcasts, feeling homesick for my hometown, homesick for nights with my friends watching Wings games at home, of sitting around my old living room with my dad while a fire crackled in the fireplace and we listened to Mickey Redmond exuberantly announce a goal for the good guys. I thought a lot about those nights in the days that followed that ill-minded yet fun road trip.
For me, listening to those Red Wings broadcasts through my laptop was one of my only connections to my home. Ken Kal, the Red Wings radio broadcaster, was a good friend to me during those Chicago nights. I've never met the man, but he f
elt like family. He brought me back to all those nights in Ann Arbor watching with my college buddies. Back to evenings with my childhood best friends, including Steve, cheering on our beloved Wings. Back to nights when I was young when I would sneak into my garage just to hang out with my dad while he listened on his old radio box to the Red Wings on winter evenings.
In that way, listening to Ken Kal narrate those Red Wings games to me on those lonesome Chicago nights was about far more than sports. It took me back home, albeit virtually, when I needed it most - even if it was only for a couple of hours.
Thanks for everything, Ken Kal
Looking back on my time in America's Second City, it is easy to label that year as a big mistake in my life. But it did maybe the most important thing in my life: it made me realize that I was simply meant to be in Michigan. I think about all of my college friends making lives for themselves in cities with grandiose opportunities throughout the country from Washington D.C. to Cleveland to Seattle, and I realize I'm content with where I am: home in Michigan. Those days in Chicago revealed to me that I am much more a country man than a city-dweller, far more a small-town boy at heart than a aspiring city yuppie.
The other day I was driving aimlessly down the winding, forested trails in Hines Park, and I heard the song "Where I Come From," by Montgomery Gentry:
"Don't you dare go runnin' down my little town where I grew up, And I won't cuss your city lights,
If you ain't ever took a ride through the heart of my town, anything you would say would be a lie".
It echoed much of the sentiment I've felt over the past two years. There's absolutely nothing spectacular about the place I grew up. It's small, a little past it's prime, and void of much in the way of lofty opportunities. But I love it that way. Over the past couple weeks, I've had the pleasure of hanging out at the hole-in-the-wall bars in my town, watching Red Wings games with the guys I grew up with.
As Steve and I drove home from that spur-of-the-moment roadtrip to Chicago, I felt some closure with Chicago. Driving eastward down I-94, the skyscrapers of Chicago growing smaller behind us with each passing mile-marker, I knew this time I wasn't going back. I don't need to listen through my laptop for Ken Cal to take me back home anymore; I'm living in those memories now.