Sam is 52 years old. He works as a caretaker, lives in Moorpark and has two kids who have all flown the coop. He graduated from Royal High in 1974, actually making me one of his fellow alumni (Class of 1999).
We talked about how different it must have been back then. There was one drive-in theater in the city, a plexi-glass skating rink "over the hill" and Larwin Center (presently Mtn. Gate Plaza), was one of the most popular hang-outs.
Students smoked cigarettes on campus and nobody had ever heard of a seatbelt law. The latter gave them the freedom to pack all their friends into a 2-door Camaro every Friday night so they could have a tailgate party near Sir George's restaurant (which no longer exists).
"Back in the 70's, everybody knew everybody," he told me. "You ask anybody here what the Lemon Drive party was, and they'll all know what you're talking about."
Of course, I just assumed that there was a popular kid who lived on Lemon Drive who always threw the best parties. Apparently, I was wrong... and Sam found it a bit amusing to make me investigate further.
He pointed to the crowd of people behind him. They were in the restaurant patio, having dinner and sipping cocktails while they all laughed and reminisced about simpler times as high school students.
It was a reunion party and I was there on assignment. I interviewed a bunch of them, asking all the standard questions for a fun reunion story. What's it like to see old friends again? What do you do now for a living? About that guy who got voted "most likely to succeed"... how do you think he's doing now? Could you share a couple stories of your youth with me? What the heck is the Lemon Drive party?
People just seemed to giggle when I asked them the last question. Eventually, I figured I should just let it go and let them keep their secret. Whatever it was, it made them all smile, and perhaps it was better left that way... a constant that they shared with each other and didn't ever have to let go.
Still, of all the questions I asked them, there was only one where the answer surprised me. Why did you come to the reunion? You'd think this question would spawn some light-hearted, obvious answers, like "to see old friends," "to show off my job," "to find my h.s. sweetheart," and whatever else.
But the unanimous answer...was death.
Each person I interviewed said their main motivation for coming to the reunion was because they knew people from their class who had already died, and they didn't want to go a single day further without making new memories with their friends.
"Our parents taught us right from wrong, and hopefully some manners," Sam said. "But it was our friends who taught us everything else."
This really stuck with me. I didn't expect that answer, maybe because I'm just too young to really understand what it's like for them.
Sure, I've heard of a couple people in my class who have passed away in the last nine years, but it hasn't impacted my way of thinking about the past because those incidents were freak occurrences... accidents. They could've happened to anyone.
And as I thought about this further, I realized that the older I get, the more important nostalgia seems to become in my head. I tend to seek the feeling more... the kind you get when you look at old pictures or hear old songs. A lot of my friends who are the same age, are the same way. We find ourselves talking for hours about people and events that have already passed through our lives. And we get stuck in this... instead of going out and meeting new people and experiencing things we've never done before.
It makes me wonder if this is the natural progression of things. Everyone seems to have their own stories of childhood and adolescence. But when we get into our mid-20's and 30's, it becomes harder to remove ourselves from our routines and mix things up. By the time we're in our 50's, we may find ourselves desperately searching through 20 years worth of life for a snippet of worthwhile memories.
I'm only 26. These days... we don't really consider ourselves old until we're bed-ridden and being fed by our grown children. And that's great. But the problem come with the "only." It implies we have all the time in the world to experience new things.
But whether we're "only" 15, 26 or 52, time moves exponentially faster with age. People we love will inevitably die. And there will come a time when we're talking to someone a little wiser than us, who wishes they thought about this a little sooner.
So, here's my advice, to myself and to anybody else willing to take it: Treasure your memories, lock them in a box, then go make new ones.
It's okay to be nostalgic, but don't waste another minute trying to get back what's already passed. Instead, take what you've learned, good and bad, and use it to move forward. Love life... because you might not get another one.