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Paying a visit to the past

We might not love to admit it, but we all live in the past sometimes. It’s easier than surviving the present or sweating the future. We know how the past turned out and we can adjust our memories to delete the parts we want to forget.

God knows I do this. I once returned to a cherished vacation spot of my youth to say goodbye to what amounted to vacant land. I also once waxed nostalgic about how even the possible loss of a neighborhood Post Office building made me pine for my youth. If I’m being completely honest, I still sometimes go up to my old bedroom in my Mom’s house, just to sit there and remember.

But I’m obviously not alone. Social media has turned this into a cottage industry. Who among us hasn’t clicked on a Facebook link promising a visit to Crystal Beach Amusement Park? Who doesn’t drive by their old street and think about looking at the old house? Who can resist a feature on this very site called [BN] Chronicles by Steve Cichon about days gone by? (Judging by the page-views, the correct answer is “no one.”)

We want to connect with our past. That’s why I went back to Rochester.

The occasion was a visit to the offices of my former employer, the Democrat and Chronicle, which was in the process of moving to new digs a few blocks away. It’s a common tale in the newspaper business these days, where smaller is all the rage and hulking old buildings that once were home to ancient presses and endless personality are becoming unnecessary, if not obsolete.

Thanks a lot, Internet.

A reunion had been held a couple of days earlier, for alums of both the D&C and the dearly-departed evening paper, the Times-Union, to come in and say goodbye. Authors, talk-radio personalities, public relations professionals and the happily retired all came together to remember their previous lives, when they worked to put out a newspaper or two every day.

I missed that and the chance to reconnect with the men and women who were a part of my life for nine years. But I also just wanted to walk around the building one last time.

It looked the same from the outside, but the inside bore almost no resemblance to the one I left behind in 1998. The newsroom was in the same place and some of the same people were in roughly the same place in the newsroom. I got to hug a couple of them. Then my friend Jon and I wandered around, looking at empty spaces, and recalling what used to be there.

It should go without saying that it doesn’t do us much good to be all weepy about buildings. For their seeming permanence, they are as transitory as the people who come and go from our lives. Look around at the former schools, hospitals, sports venues and stores that are a part of our collective past. Miss them all you want, but understand that the ones that replaced them will one day become heaps of rubble themselves.

And yet we can’t help but get sentimental. Several of my former colleagues penned – Can you still pen something? – remembrances of their days at 55 Exchange Blvd. Each of them made me more wistful than the one before. But that has more to do with getting older and recalling a time that we desperately want to believe were good ol’ days.

In this case, there were many more good than bad. Jon and I spent most of our time together that day laughing at things we used to do, when he was young and I was youngish. I sighed a couple of times, but it was a lot less emotional than I expected. The business of being a newspaper was going to continue a few blocks away and the people who are there, the people I will always care about, were losing their building, not their jobs.

That’s what I told myself as I pulled away from that downtown street corner with my former life in the rear-view mirror.

I told myself one more thing: I’m glad I went. Nobody should live in the past. But every once in a while, it’s a nice place to visit.


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