I grew up in a house located on the top of a hill, on a street named for my father. My father wasn’t some city bigshot; he just built the first residence on this new road, so the town council let him pick the street’s name.
At its northern-most point, in 1983, Skyline Drive overlooked a deep expanse of woods that would eventually be leveled to become the largest mall in Tennessee in the '90s. The home on the left at the dead end was owned by the man who, for more than two decades, served as principal of the local elementary school. He was a beloved and soft-spoken man. Rumor had it that behind closed doors his wrath was downright frightening.
Two houses and half a block down, on the other side of the street, a gray house sat half-hidden in trees, brush and overgrowth. The father worked off and on at part-time jobs. The children were a few years younger than me and most of the kids in the neighborhood, and they often wore tattered or ragged clothing. We, being almost-tweens and clueless, would regularly remark how weird the family was. “Wonder if they are allowed to bathe?” we’d joke. We weren’t cruel to them, but they were different, and we didn’t understand them, so we generally avoided them. And they, us.
Across that first block from this family, right across the perfect sledding road known as Jarnagin, was my first neighborhood friend, Dirk, and his family. I lusted after his older sister before I knew what lust was. We played his wicked cool Intellivision. His parents ran a store in North Georgia that sold satellite dishes and rented movies and games to early VHS owners. We played Ghost in the Graveyard in his huge backyard. Once we dropped his cat from his deck just to prove that cats land on their feet. It did.
Next door to them were two more teachers and their children, an older daughter who was mousy but patient with neighborhood spastics like myself, and a younger boy who tried to keep up with us until he realized we weren’t that interesting. Across from them was my second neighborhood friend, Lance, and his family. His father was a pharmaceutical rep with the coolest sports car in the world. Even if I don’t recall exactly what it was, I know it was canary yellow, could travel at light speed, and was the coolest solely because it was in my friend Lance’s garage. His parents held parties in their basement den, with its marble-topped bar and fuzzy carpet. We weren’t allowed to go down there then they were partying. We had to stay and play in Lance’s room. We didn’t have iPads. I don’t know what the hell we did to entertain ourselves, but I’m sure it involved Star Wars figures.
Next door to him was the meanest old man in the neighborhood. He hated kids and loved his lawn. He’d retired from government work years ago and spent his time manicuring his property and scowling at us.
One house down on the other side, at the end of the block was the kid who would become my best friend. Andy’s father was an anesthesiologist, his mother a general practitioner. They had a VHS player (two, actually), the first in our neighborhood, and we'd have parties in his basement just to watch movies. Andy had the first of several video game consoles, the first of several kinds of computers, and had enough allowance to buy doubles of every comic I loved plus more, and he never had to do chores to earn the money. They had a pool in their back yard, the awesomeness of which eventually eclipsed my love of Lance’s dad’s canary sportscar.
Eric was four years older than me and the neighborhood kid king. He lived half a block down from Andy on the right. His parents were divorced. Eric smoked a lot. He was cool. He wore a leather jacket with a chain on it and combat boots and cussed. I’m pretty sure Eric’s older brother smoked pot. They listened to a lot of heavy metal, which nowadays sounds depressingly similar to “adult alternative” and doesn’t really seem all that heavy. He loved KISS. He would have us all grab wooden tennis rackets to be the band, but he always had to be Gene Simmons.
Another half block down on the right was Brent, a year older than me but bigger and stronger. He loved dirt bike racing. His parents kept the thermostat in their house at 65 even in the dead heat of August. I didn’t know what his dad did, but they had lots of money.
Two more blocks down the road, at the lowest dip in Skyline Drive, lived a handful of friends who would eventually join me as students at one of the town’s three most prestigious (and expensive) private schools. Roughly half of my neighborhood friends would end up attending these schools, while the other half would end up at Tyner, the nearby public school.
Skyline Drive was a road where two-doctor households live a block away from unemployed parents whose underbathed kids wear ratty clothing, where a wealthy couple live across the street from a divorced mom barely getting by, where crotchety old bastards lived next to obnoxious overcrowded ranch home families, where the kids of modest means play kickball or ride dirt bikes alongside the kids of the top five percent of the city, where none of the kids really noticed or cared how much or how little everyone’s parents had or made. Cats and dogs, living together.
I'm pretty sure Skyline Drive died, and it's not coming back. Did a secret ingredient vital to American success die with it?