Lawrence residents have a habit of giving driving directions based on landmarks, a quirk I suspect we share with all small towns. However, the habit of basing these directions on landmarks that no longer exist can drive newcomers up a wall. I can't count the times someone has told me something like, "just turn left at where the Penneys used to be," or it's "behind the old Food-4-Less building."
While I remember a few landmarks from the late '60s, as a college student without a car or money, I didn't get off campus much. I knew where Weaver's was - my aunt worked there, and I knew how to get to the barbershop where my uncle cut hair and the Round Corner pharmacy when I needed something for a cough, but that was about it.
After moving back here last year, I tried to find the house south of 23rd Street where my brother used to live in the mid-'60s but the block was now all apartment buildings. So old memories didn't serve me well when it came to navigating the streets of Lawrence in the 21st century.
Sometimes in those first few weeks as a new resident last year, I was too proud to ask questions when directions didn't make sense. For weeks I looked for Castle Street. It figured in so many instructions, as in, "Oh, it's just a couple of blocks west of Castle," that I knew it had to be a major thoroughfare. I also surmised it was a north-south street because more than one person referred to the intersection of 15th and Castle or 23rd and Castle. I reasoned that it had to be east of Iowa, since 15th is Bob Billings and 23rd is Clinton Parkway in the west part of town.
So I pored over city maps, and when I drove around, my eyes were always peeled for Castle Street. At times I wondered if people were perhaps referring not to a street but to that tea castle building. Then one day I was driving down Kasold and it hit me. Boy, did I feel stupid. Word to all Lawrencians: when you mention that street to newcomers, tell them that it starts with a K and emphatically pronounce the D.
Lawrence residents, like all proud Kansans, tend to resist change, particularly the kind that come from rapid growth that occurs when people from elsewhere move in (having discovered what a great place Lawrence is to live).
At first, I didn't understand why instead of feeling pride many townsfolk reacted with trepidation when U.S. News & World Report listed Lawrence as one of the top-10 best places to retire. Long-time residents look back to the days when townspeople could actually attend a KU basketball game. Some who loyally coughed up several thousand to keep their season passes got them jerked out from under when they could not pay many thousands more in "suggested" donations. When large buildings began popping up on the top of Mount Oread, I'm told that you could kayak down Tennessee Street after a large rain, so great was the runoff. No wonder some Old West Lawrence residents look askance at another large building going up on Mount Oread.
When the fireworks were moved to Clinton Lake this year, many people wondered what was so wrong with the river site, and many more longed for the days when the KU football field afforded everyone a good unobstructed view they could walk to.
This is the way it is in towns that are thriving, as opposed to those that are shrinking. Half the town is excited about new things and "progress." The other half wants things to remain as they always have.
The way I see it, giving directions based on disappearing landmarks is one way of subconsciously yearning for the good old days when nobody had to ask for directions.