Monday, December 29, 2008


Sometimes, for fun, I like to go on Craigslist and search for an apartment. Not necessarily in Jacksonville, or even in Florida. It's kind of fun to see what the going rate is for a 2 bedroom house in Idaho with a mountain view, or a cottage on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland. I have no intentions of moving to any of these places. It's just fun. Almost like browsing through a travel brochure from the (-insert touristy place here-) Conventions & Visitors Bureau.

I've lived in a few places. Two countries, four states, ten cities, and sixteen homes (to be exact). And I've loved and hated something about almost every single one of them.

For example, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, is portrayed in the media as a highly secure yet welcoming Presidential home base. Here is where I, a clueless and unappreciative teenager, met foreign dignitaries, Desert Storm heroes, General Shalishkashvili, and a Vice President named Quayle. For years I lived among jet pilots and doctors and security agents who probably spent a good number of days armed to the teeth. This is also where I was dumped into the most fucked up education system in the country and thrown to the wolves while our base commander refused to help us better our drug-/gang-/violence-ridden school for fear that the PG County Schoolboard would lose $2,000 for every military-dependent student who dropped out. $3,000 if that student was white! I graduated from Crossland High School having never been shot or stabbed but I am instead weighed down by a massive chip on my shoulder. It's still there. Can ya tell?

Another example would be Gainesville, Florida. Oh, this town is a great place to live! Seriously. There is hardly any major crime, just your usual run-of-the-mill drugs, drunk drivers, robberies...things like that. Gainesville has a top-notch education system and is probably the only city in North Florida that doesn't cut down monstrous numbers of oak trees for sport. It's a college town. This is the good and bad thing about Gainesville. It's a college town. A quiet place during the summer months where one can drive on Archer Road without fear of getting plowed into by some freakin' asshole (aka college freshman). Gator Football reigns supreme in these here parts and Coach Urban Meyer is referred to as God. In my six years of Gator Hell, I slowly and completely developed a hatred for all things Orange and Blue. Get a life, people.

So as I rummage through Craigslist for a place to live if I ever move to Stowe, Vermont, or the Black Hills of South Dakota, I'm reminded of my childhood up north. And when I say up north, I mean up-freakin'-north. Upper Michigan is pretty up there. And I enjoyed every minute of my life there.

My father was stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Upper Michigan during my tween years. We had just arrived after four years in a foreign country but to me the United States was the foreign country. Here is where I was introduced to Pizza Hut and Madonna, Woolworth's and Memorial Day celebrations, A&W Root Beer and cable! I can still remember watching HBO for the first time and seeing Tom Cruise totally kick ass in Top Gun! I started taking gymnastics lessons and spending alot of time at the skating rink. In 7th grade, I had my first kiss with my paperboy's brother and started "going out" with an 8th grade basketball player after I made the cheerleading squad. I picked blueberries in the woods and came home with bucketsfull. Winters were spent sledding down Dead Man's Hill with my best friends and summers were lazed away paddling out to the floating docks when the base lake finally opened for swimming after the Memorial Day thaw. Family vacations consisted not of trips to Disney World and drives to the Grand Canyon, but of camping at Sawyer Lake with the neighbors and eating s'mores made by a real campfire. If you wanted breakfast, you had to catch it, scale it, and fry it yourself.

Dammit. I had an awesome childhood.

Sadly, K.I. Sawyer was shut down in 1995 (due to a BRAC list - this only adds to my list of reasons I hate President Clinton). My house at 624 Hercules is still standing, as are all the other houses where I had slumber parties with my besties after a night of cheerleading practice at Gwinn Middle School or swigging peppermint schnappes from Heather's dad's closet before walking (like a complete moron) across a nearly frozen lake. I say nearly because, as should happen, if only to scare the shit out of little girls trying to be big girls, the ice started to crack while I was about 30 feet out. Obviously, I survived and, thankfully, I never fell in.

According to Craigslist, I can buy my old house, or one like it, for around $40K. This would include two units (!!!!) each housing four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, full kitchen, one-car garage, and a full basement (for tornado season!). Holy. Crap. That's cheap!

Here's the catch: K.I. Sawyer's closing caused the near-death of the small town of Gwinn, Michigan, as do many closings when the local economy is so dependent on the military base it serves. Sure, I can go back to K.I., but it won't be the same K.I. that I was fortunate enough to thrive in. No more rumbling engines from the B-52's. No more bike rides in the melting snow to go swimming at the base lake. No more block parties and cookouts with neighbors. No more 5pm calls as the base loudspeaker pumped out "The Star Spangled Banner" and demanded that every man, woman, and child stop what they were doing (vehicles included), place their hands over their hearts, and stand respectfully motionless until the music was finished.

We thanked our military daily and remembered the fallen every night before dinner. That's how we rolled in my 'hood. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist anymore.

K.I. Sawyer's Main Gate:

The biggest backyard a kid could ask for, with friendly neighbors and plenty of trees to climb (awesome climbing trees not pictured):

Ye Olde Ski Hill (where I once went snowtubing, hit a snowdrift, and flew directly into that very building):

Marquette Lighthouse (on Lake Superior):

Lake Superior at sunset:


Remo said...

Buy the sucker. You'll wish you had. You can always sell it to some retiree.

Sra said...

Stunning photos.

Remind me to enlist your apartment searching for "fun" habit when I end up having to move for law school. ;)

Conservative Cleveland Catholic Mom said...

I remember the F-106s (my then-husband worked on their radar). I went with my daughter to KI a few years ago, to see the place we lived when she was born- it was 405 Mustang. There was not much left of the base I knew. I worked at the Wonderhut for a short time in '78. Don't remember there being a lake there, then. But I do remember the bunny hill that convinced me I'll never get the hang of skiing :) We lived in Gwinn for a while, too, in the uptairs of a house by the lake.
Yeah, Clinton sucks.