Athens: Then and Now

It would be easy to make a sweeping statement like, Athens, Ohio has changed since I lived here. Of course, it has been 17 years since I last lived here, so we should hope it has changed. But for a place that has one foot stuck deeply in its tradition (or “ways,” might be a better way to put it), Athens has, in fact, changed a lot.

Ohio University's campus green

Ohio University's campus green

The most obvious changes are on OU’s campus. The student union – Baker Center – has moved from one side of the campus green to the opposite. It has also gone from a three-story building to a sprawling, majestic but modern palace of a place. Grover Center used to be a place with dumpy basketball courts. Today it’s a classroom building. Want hoops courts? Walk a couple blocks behind Grover to the Ping Recreation Center. Wow. It’s a mammoth construction with courts, fitness equipment, a track and all kinds of other stuff. The university golf course actually jumps the Hocking River and is quite nice. The rickety old ice arena now looks state of the art. There is a new dorm.

While the unviersity has forged ahead, the city hasn’t. Once upon a time, some businessmen opened the University Mall – about as far from the university as they could get and still be in the city limits. That mall is mostly empty now. But, other business people came in and built a few more strip-mall type places. Wal-Mart, Staples and places like that settled in. But they also built stand-alone restaurants in the parking lots of these monstrosities and most of them stand empty with “For Lease” signs in their windows.

That brings me to “Uptown.” Uptown – or Court Street, to be more precise — consists of a few mom-n-pop type businesses (like Stephen’s restaurant, a handful of college book stores , a nail salon, tanning place, etc.), a few chain restaurants like Jimmy John’s, Chipotle and Wendy’s geared at satiating students and about 20 bars, which is a rather amazing feat when you think Court Street basically runs four blocks. (This last point goes a long way in explaining who I am if you really think about it. J) But even on Court Street and Uptown there are countless empty storefronts — surely a sign of the economy, but partially a sign of poorly run businesses and ill-advised ideas. The truth is, none of the empty stores and disposed-of businesses is anything I’d particularly miss. There are a lot of new stop signs, one-way streets and other transportation developments that mess me up a bit.

But then, Athens will always be Athens, too.

There are a lot of anti-Obama bumperstickers, but very few with religious overtones. There is a lot of highway work going on, but hardly any signs telling you which exits are closed, and no signs telling you to watch for men working. There are a lot of teal-colored cars. More people seem to care about Ohio State athletics than the local university’s teams – something that really puzzles me given the nice athletic facilities here. Many people still use horrible grammar through thick Appalachian accents. What does an Appalachian accent sound like, you wonder? At first listen, it sounds like a southern accent, but not as severe. After listening for awhile, you realize it’s a southern accent that never fully developed, a southern accent that got lazy. Beer and liquor is still staggeringly inexpensive and you can run into someone you know — or once knew — at Kroger or Bob Evans. (For my Seattle friends, that would be the grocery store and a Denny’s kind of place.)

The last  couple days have been mostly uneventful, but I got an email from a young woman that wants to take my class despite not have taken a prerequisite. This is hilarious – she actually began the email with, “Dear Professor Yanity,” … I laughed out loud! Professor! Ha! In emailing her back (yes, I let her in the class since it’s not even close to full), I didn’t lead on that not only was I not a professor but that I’d never taught a day in my life!

Blair Katherine Haines (Mary's 8 month-old daughter) is my first niece. She's about the happiest little girl in the world, too.

Blair Katherine Haines (Mary's 8 month-old daughter) is my first niece. She's about the happiest little girl in the world, too.

Played golf with my mom yesterday morning. Blair sent me into hysterics last night – when she gets tired and wants to go to bed, she goes on a little kissing spree. Of course, her kisses are nothing more than her opening her mouth and closing it over your puckered lips. She went crazy doing it last night, kissing Mary and myself over and over.

I have two Athens indulgences – Stephen’s restaurant and a good ol’ shitfaced night on Court St. Things that haven’t changed in Athens – for me, anyway! However, I have accomplished neither thus far. Stephen Messina used to run a little italian restaurant called Sylvia’s, where I used to work when I was in high school. It really was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had – and the MOST fun outside of sports writing. His place still has terrific food, I love to see him and I can’t wait to go.

The latter, well, maybe it’s because I hardly know anyone left here. And, those I do know, have kids and lives – that and that I haven’t talked to them in years. Ah well.

I was thinking about those things this afternoon when my dad, his mother (“Gram”) and I sat on the porch. It was think of other things or sit and listen to them talk about who had cancer now, or who was still alive, or which ailments so-and-so had. Ugh.

If this whole thing sounds boring right now, it’s because I’m sometimes painfully bored. I left Seattle a few weeks earlier than I needed to hang out with Blair, to go on a trip to my grandparents’ in Michigan with my mom and Mary and to get all my ducks in a row. Hanging out with Blair has been a smashing success. The trip got canceled and I am getting things done – getting a car, getting my textbooks ordered, figuring out some class stuff, etc. But I kind of wish I had waited a couple more weeks. Granted, had I stayed, I’d be writing that I was ready to move on to what was next, etc. At least I’m not spending too much money and driving Stacy crazy!

All for now. I might go out tonight. Ahhhh, that’d be nice.

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3 responses to “Athens: Then and Now

  1. Hey Molly-
    Thanks this was great..I have not been back to A-town in A VERY LONG time but this made me want to head back at least for a good ol’ shitfaced night on Court Street. I will let you know Professor Yanity when I head down that way!
    -Krista K.

  2. Jen Koons lives there, I’m sure she’d love to hang out. Other than that I can’t help. I haven’t been to athens since melinda binegar’s wedding, and I was really disappointed to hear they have a wal-mart.

  3. Molly,
    Of course if you go to Tony’s or Casa it is very possible you will run into someone but I agree..when my husband and I visit it’s hard to find anyone. I still love our hometown and often entertain coming home like it would be some kind of miraculous stress relief and I would settle into a simple life and grow my own veggies and never shave again..but what is more likely is that I would end up a sad ol’ townie warming the barstool at Tony’s and telling tales about the good ol’ days of Athens…well, maybe not but I do envy you some because I always do breathe a little easier when I am home.

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