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This must be the place: ‘Oh to live on Sugar Mountain, with the barkers and colored balloons’

The house on Evergreen Avenue in Hamden. Garret K. Woodward photo The house on Evergreen Avenue in Hamden. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from the Merritt Parkway in south-central Connecticut. It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and has been since we skirted New York City and headed east. Exit 60 is Hamden, Connecticut, a town that I called home during my years attending Quinnpiac University. 

Hop off the parkway and take a left onto Dixwell Avenue towards Hamden. While sitting at that intersection, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been here in about 11 years or so. Before that? A random stop in 2009, but more so 2007 when I graduated with my degrees in journalism and history and took off to the West to be a writer.

That intersection also sparked numerous memories, many of which of the small community school along this route heading south towards the city of New Haven. While a senior in college, I picked up a work-study gig as an after-school teacher for inner-city kids between third and sixth grade, most of whom would be in their late 20s by now. Tick-tock the clock continues to go, eh?

Turn onto Evergreen Avenue and stop in front of the old three-story home that myself and four college cronies inhabited our senior year (2007). The house was (and remains) nothing special, whether it be by curb appeal or physically wandering around inside the dwelling. It looked like someone was currently living at the address as seen by the vehicle parked in the driveway.

Dirty window shades pulled down in the fading sunshine. Just another extremely overpriced college house in a small New England town. Creaky floors and dusty windows. Temperamental air-conditioning. Old refrigerator only stocked with condiments and cheap beer. Ancient washer and dryer in the dank basement. Small rooms and big dreams of what may emerge following graduation.

I hadn’t seen the house pretty much since the last day I lived in it. I was the last person to leave out of the five of us roommates. After I packed up whatever was left in my attic room into the back of my (now long gone) 1998 Isuzu Hombre, rev up the engine and turn onto Interstate 91 North to I-90 West to I-87 North to Plattsburgh, New York, to my folks’ farmhouse some 4.5 hours away.

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My girlfriend, Sarah, was riding shotgun in my Toyota Tacoma. It is now June 2024. Almost exactly 17 years since this old house was in the rearview mirror, the Isuzu Hombre pulling out of the driveway on Evergreen Avenue for the last time, the nose of the vehicle aimed into the unknown cosmos of what lies beyond youthful transgressions, late-night study sessions and thoughts — perhaps hopes and fears — for what actual adulthood may reveal itself to be in due time. Hold steady and get ready for the ride to begin.

Gazing across the disheveled property, with a lawn in need of mowing and garbage bags in need of being picked up, a flood of memories appeared across my field-of-vision. Some seventeen years ago from this launching point. Feels like a million years ago. Feels like yesterday. And yet, it also feels like it never really happened. This foggy dream of a past I either don’t remember that well in hindsight or it’s too hard to focus in while standing so far away on the horizon of my current intent.

Late August 2006. That first day moving in. Excitement in high demand. We were finally off campus. Out of the dorms and into a real home. And one that wasn’t owned and operated by our parents. Toss a case of beer into the fridge and start cracking the cold suds. Fill our respective rooms with trinkets, band posters, black lights, incense and hand-me-down furniture.

Somewhat finished with unpacking, time to head to Side Street Bar & Grill on Dickerman Street. Jumbo hot wings and draft beer. Football on numerous TVs. Familiar collegiate faces also back in town for senior year. Each of us hailing from other small towns in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont and points elsewhere. Drinks hoisted high in unison. Drinks accidentally and joyously spilled in the heat of the moment and of reconnection. Everything seemed unknown and in our favor. Only time would tell how it all played out.

Visions of Friday night house parties and Saturday nights at the clubs in downtown New Haven. Enormous keg gatherings at our humble abode. One in particular held over a hundred or so college students if memory serves right. One of our roommates worked for the local liquor store, so we always got discounts on cheap kegs of Keystone Light, Busch Light and Bud Light. If it was cheap, we drank it.

After-parties in my attic room, seeing as it had a balcony and the best functioning A/C in the entire house. That, and I also had a record player that worked, the vinyl sounds of Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf and Crosby Stills Nash & Young echoing loudly out of the speakers. The room packed like a sardine can. Loud conversations. Myself explaining the history of the bands noted in this paragraph to someone asking me what this music was and what’s the story behind it? Foreshadowing to my life’s path, I suppose.

The old desk in that attic room where I’d type away wildly on whatever I was writing about. The old desk, which was more like a table platform for a bedroom with a chair I found on the side of the road, where I decided I wanted to make a go of it as a writer. My first published assignments from the college newspaper, the QU Chronicle, and from a magazine I’d worked for the summer prior back home in the North Country, State of Mind Music. Both publications are now gone and have been for years. But each set the tone and trajectory of where I stand today, happily.

Snap out of the trance of Memory Lane when Sarah asks if there’s a nice spot around here where we can get lunch and maybe a beverage. It’s been a long drive from Western North Carolina, an even longer drive ahead to the North Country, only to circle back in a week or so to our Waynesville apartment. Some of the nicer restaurants aren’t open yet. But, Side Street Bar & Grill is. Onward.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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