You Can't Can't Go Home Again; Thoughts from Stanford vs San Jose State

You can't go home again. There are a few ways to interpret the famous platitude inspired by the Thomas Wolfe novel of the same name. After recently moving back to Menlo Park, within inches of the Stanford campus I left ten years ago, I've found most of the meanings to be applicable to my situation. Somehow, Saturday's Stanford Football game against San Jose State brought many of those feelings to the surface.

You can't go home again -- because you'll find the place too provincial.

New York city can make anywhere look provincial. And hanging out at the farmer's market behind Santa Cruz avenue or chilling at Jeffrey's might give you the impression that the peninsula is a suburb like any other.

But on game day, we had to pick up some family members in Palo Alto. We encountered serious traffic... at one intersection. Major parts of downtown Palo Alto were conducting business as usual. This was not Ann Arbor when Michigan was playing, or Athens when UGA had a game. This was a cosmopolitan area, where a good portion of the population did not care about the game at all.

And that's a good thing, in a way. From the non-city places I've visited, there are very few with the vibrant cultural community of a Palo Alto. It's to the point where 'suburban' doesn't really seem to fit. Go to the football game, sure. Watch some European soccer with a pint at the Rose & Crown, yeah. Get a shawerma and enjoy the sun at Med Wraps, okay. Turkish? Greek? Sushi? Farmer's Market? Michelin star restaurants?

Yeah, this eight-year New York veteran can come home again. And be just fine with it.

You can't go home again -- because if you do, you'll be seen as a failure.

I'll have to admit this one has the potential to sting. After helping pilot Kumon Publishing to some early success while in New York, we made a family-based decision to return to California. I used the change as an opportunity to give content creation a shot.

Being an avid sports fan, I've been writing on the side for a while. But introducing myself as a professional blogger, around these parts... yeah. Doesn't quite hit home like many of the job titles around here. Neither does the take home pay. I would have preferred to return to the region more victorious for sure.

But the die is not yet cast. There is no tail between my legs.

And, sitting there in perfect weather, attending a blow-out game in beautiful stadium, there was a short moment of affirmation. Yes, writing about sports is worth the temporary pain. Being able to make a living putting words to athletic achievements is worth a lot of pain, actually. Disapproving or disappointed looks from new neighbors or old family members is included.

You can't go home again -- you've changed too much to be that person again.

My wife reminds me all the time of my age. I'm too old to be doing this or that. Sometimes I roll my eyes, but often I accept the sage advice. My back still hurts from the drunken attempts at handstands last night, and there are certain clothes that she is right to throw away.

Returning to the spot where I spent five glorious years getting two degrees puts a period on this sentence. Oh, boy, I remember when I staggered out of that spot... or the time I emptied my stomach there... or the kiss I snagged there. Better to keep driving and savor the memory then to try and relive any of those moments, most likely. We are ever evolving, ever moving forward, and now it's time for new experiences in the same places.

Back at the football game, it was strange to use a different gate. Where was I sitting? There were San Jose State fans in my section? We weren't going to spend most of the game on our feet singing and chanting? Ah, well, that wasn't so bad. Kind of relaxing actually. And no scrutiny while I sipped a little Stronachie from my flask. And of course the renovations to the stadium were well done.


But, surveying the Stanford sideline, it was clear things had changed. Cheerleaders? And the Dollies are okay with this? Two Trees at one game? And who was this guy in the tie and the big hair? How many Axe committee people are running around down there now? Was the sideline that crowded back in the day? Or is this part of some function related to how good the team has become?

It's clear that not only have I changed, but so has Stanford. That's okay, we are ever evolving, ever moving forward.

And there might be no more evidence of that than my half-full flask at the end of the game.

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