Monday, July 23, 2007

all the faces that we used to know, gone from the places that we used to go

last week i was in miami for the first time since i left more than two years ago. the trip was one day's worth of work (well, 3 hours) and a few days of play. luckily my friend karen still lives there in her beachfront apartment, so i had an awesome crashpad.

walking around the university where i used to work and the neighborhood where i used to live, i was overcome by these odd feelings that were somewhat nostalgic and something else that i can't put my finger on. something a bit more complicated. it took me the better part of monday to figure out what was going on.

i left miami in such a hurry that at the time my only thoughts and emotions were of relief -- getting a better paying job at a university where the leadership wasn't dysfunctional, and moving to a part of the country that i knew would be a better fit for me. it was a month from the date of the offer until i pulled my car out of the driveway of my building and headed north and then west. i had no time to really reflect and process the move, it was all a flurry of finishing work, packing and goodbye lunches and dinners.

being back there after two years brought on a rush of emotions and thoughts to which i hadn't given much attention. it was a mix, some of familiar annoyance, thanks to the experience at the rental car counter in miami beach...the car jockeys taking 20 minutes to get my car after i'd finished the paperwork -- a reminder that half the people working in the customer service industry view their customers as annoyances. a similar experience at the versailles airport coffee stand bookended the trip, as the lady who took my order pretty much sneered at my gringo face.

but at my old workplace i had feelings more complicated than nostalgia...there was plenty of "what-if" mixed up in my head. what if i'd made it work better, published as i should have, gotten my personal life settled...would i have been happy, made better progress to tenure? maybe, or maybe not as the experiences of other friends made clear. one guy who published like a fiend is leaving, landing at a tenured gig in southern california. two other friends, who became a couple, are going to leave as she inexplicably did not get tenure and he may but they're both so disenchanted now it's a certainty they're gone.

this isn't to say i was unhappy. i do have an affection for my time here. i had a great apartment five blocks from the ocean and near lots of restaurants, bars, shops. the job was fine enough and my life had no serious complications or problems. after four years it became home, complete with favorite hang-out spots. all in all, it wasn't that bad. not that i'd want to go back and live there -- for me it's the quintessential "great place to visit but wouldn't want to live there" kinda place. sometimes it just takes a detached eye to notice the good things you didn't see at the time.

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