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Off we went again, across the magnificent span of the Golden Gate Bridge, into the land of the Friday night lights. We have followed this routine for four of the last five weekends: finding a ballgame on a winding country road, soaking up the game and the scene that surrounds it, then heading back into the night for a late meal at Denny's, where we compare notes and thumb through the local paper.

With each trip, our feel for this slice of Americana grows just a little bit more. To wit: a high school football crowd is generally split into two groups with vastly different agendas. First there are the parents, bundled and serious, hot chocolate in hand, intently following a set of numerals as it darts around the field--or sometimes, sadly, stands motionless on the sideline. Second are the teens, the peers of the players themselves, whose interest lies not with their classmates in uniform but in mingling with their opposite numbers along the fenceline. For the kids, these games are fertile ground for courtship and stolen kisses--not for observing feats of athletic heroism.

It is a sweet and touching scene, yet oddly foreign to me. I was an awkward teen, painfully tall and skinny and socially inept, and I rarely ventured into the territory of the popular kids who had girlfriends, a throng of pals, and all-important "cred." I felt of a different species, and I resented their happy uncomplicated lives and their pretty girls and their buddies who had their backs and who'd probably anointed each other with seriously cool nicknames.

But that was then. Now I watch those very same kids, some 25 years later, and I don't see the social boundaries that isolated me back then. Perhaps it was all in my head. Perhaps I imposed my own house arrest and failed to give myself, or them, more credit. Perhaps I could've walked right up to that fence and talked to Anne or Stephanie or Martha or any of those cute girls that I admired from afar. Perhaps. Perhaps. Some things are unknowable and meant to remain so.

But now, many years later, it's all good. When the clock strikes 0:00, I pack up my gear and walk away with my own red-headed beauty, a former high school cheerleader who's seen my high school pics and claims she would've had it for me big-time if only geography and timing had allowed for it. And you know what? I'll take her at her word.

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Then, Now
November 2006