Back when I started college, Ashland was a different place than it is today. It had not yet seen the growth that you would see now. In the fall of 2002, if you got off US 250, you would not have seen a Goasis loaded with FlexFuel gas pumps, a Starbucks, a Popeyes, and a Pizza Hut. You would have seen an old Travel America, set back a little from the road, potholes through the parking lot, sketchy looking hillbillies rambling in and out, and usually three to five semis parked in the back.
Open all night, the TA was a good place for a trucker to get a good meal, talk with his boss on a phone at the table, take a shower, pick up a carton of smokes for the road, and maybe even get some stuff for the cab. My favorite staple of the truck stop is the mirrored glass case showcasing the standard glass art fair: roses, dragons, fairies, cats, swords, etc. Despite the blessing of its existence for the road-weary traveler, this TA was a total hole, but maybe that’s what made it perfect for The Boy’s and my early courtship.
He and I were talking tonight, and during lulls in the conversation, I use the idle filler, “Tell me a story” in the hopes that somehow, we’ll get the conversation going again.
He’s always been good at telling me stories, I think that’s part of the reason why he and I fell in love – I’m a sucker for a story. I may have mentioned this before, but The Boy went to the brother high school of mine, but he was a senior the year I was a freshman, and I was a transfer-in student when I was a sophomore. So, by the time I even got to Beaumont, The Boy had already gotten to Ashland, and any chance of him and I running into each other in high school had been quashed. At any rate, The Boy (and the Twins) have a lot of stories to share about the time they spent at Benedictine.
In December of 2002, the anti-smoking law in Ohio hadn’t passed yet, and I was a kid fresh from the watchful eye of parents, so finding a place to sit and smoke was the most appealing option. This TA was apparently an old hangout of some of the band and KKY kids, and The Boy followed suit. The waitress was usually kind, and kept the ashtray empty and the coffee cup full.
He and I would roll into TA at about 10 at night, order food, coffee and Diet Coke and sit for hours telling each other stories. He told me all of the hijinks he’d gotten into with JohnBoy during high school, and eventually the stories about him in college. I heard a those stories for the first time on those nights; and they are stories I love to hear over and over again, because every time I hear them, I remember those cold nights when we first started dating and I wanted to imbibe everything he had to offer. He was the first guy I’d met who had interests other than of himself, much less interests at all. He was charming, sweet, attentive, smart, and chivalrous enough to buy my food and Diet Coke on his meager $44/pay period income from lifeguarding at the university’s gym.
I do appreciate the economic growth and change of Ashland. There’s a part of me that finds it heartening that there is a Super Wal-Mart and a Starbucks on the main highway into Ashland. But at the same time, I get sad when I look at the Goasis, and in my mind, I can faintly see a shadow of the TA that was – I see the place where The Boy and I first began to fall in love. That’s what makes me the most sad about the advent of change – the seemingly sterile erasure of an entire history. The only upside that I have to show for that entire part of my history is I still have the person I shared it with.