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Once (in 2001) we drove from Hollywood to Connecticut to visit friends and while going through Jacksonville on I-95 I suggested we take a short bypass out to Hilliard. It was the first time I’d been out there in at least 20 years. The motel in which I first lived is gone—torn down to accommodate a convenience store. I couldn’t even find the house I had lived in—it was either razed or I couldn’t remember how to get there. Hilliard isn’t that big, so it must have been torn down, but how often does that happen?
We had to drive by the center to get back to I-95, and as I went down the hill, around the curve, and back up the hill, old memories flooded back since I had made that drive hundreds of times from 1968 to 1973. I pulled off the road in front of the center, reflecting, and then suggested, “why don’t we go in and look?”
So, we got a tour. It was probably the perfect time, as the new DSR sectors had all been moved to the area that used to be the computer floor (east end of the control room) and the old sectors hadn’t been disassembled yet. I would guess that they would have been completely removed in another six months and I would have missed seeing some of my old haunts—Soupy Campbell bitching at Flight Data for not making a 3OL strip for his V22 (later V198) traffic, AGS Low where Bob Tabler once exhorted, “talk to me, boy!”, and DAB Low where I once watched Warriner Gilbert working a rush so smoothly and so confidently yet looking so young and I was shocked to later find he was a 12 year veteran. I thought he was training.
I looked around the entrance lobby and saw an In Memoriam plaque. There sure were a lot of names I remembered on it. Some of them were particularly sad to see. I asked our tour guide about a few names, but the lad hadn’t even been born when I started there, so was at an absolute loss with any of the names I mentioned, until…I said Len Williams (my sole surviving classmate from Flight Data School in 1968 and one time room mate, briefly). Not only was Len still there, he was on duty that day. The kid pointed me in the direction of his hiding spot.
I hadn’t seen Len in at least 25 years, but there was instant mutual recognition and years flew out of both of our mouths. He wound up putting in about 35 years, and with the eight he had in the military prior to ’68, is sitting pretty with his annuity today. I get an email from him occasionally. We drifted apart socially, politically, and otherwise, so I don’t foresee rekindling a relationship such as I have with Roddy, and to a lesser extent, John. Still, it was nice to see him.
Post Script: in the Fall of 2008 we emptied out the last storage unit in North Carolina. Tired of the I-10/I-75/I-575 route, we decided on US-23/US-441, which is a straight line. Of course, driving US-1 (23) out of Jacksonville brought back memories of five years of commuting on that route. As we drove through Hilliard for the first time since the above story, it all of a sudden struck me—I had first moved there forty years ago. Forty years! How am I old enough to have been doing adult things forty years ago?
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