Two days before it was scheduled to be shut down, I took Henry to the St. Pete Pier so we could bid farewell to our favorite ailing tourist attraction.
Like most Bay area residents, I’ve known for years that this old landmark would soon be demolished. I also knew that once I had my son I would regret having not made memories with him on the old pier before a slick new pier one day opens in its place.
The fate of the Pier has become a hotly contested subject. I refuse to discuss the pros and cons of its replacement design, The Lens, out of sheer exhaustion. I’m tired of hearing about it. When it comes to CHANGE I’m as much a fan of progress as I am a curmudgeon, so I’ll refrain from offering what would likely be an uneducated opinion.
However, this fact remains true: the Pier’s infrastructure is falling apart, its concrete pilings, if left alone, would crumble into the bay. Studies revealed 10 years ago that the aging destination with its smattering of kitschy gift shops and empty restaurants wouldn’t survive another 20 years of saltwater erosion, never mind an impending economic blow.
When this news became public fodder in 2010, I added the Pier to my biking route. When Henry arrived in 2011, I added it to my running route. Knowing it would close before he’d be old enough to remember it, I decided to take him there often – always by foot or by bike.
Save for a handful of brooding old men drinking coffee and reading the paper, the food court inside the Pier’s dated building was usually vacant in the afternoon. Often it looked like Henry and I were the only people to order an ice cream cone for hours. In order to get the attention of the proprietor of the ice cream stand, I’d have to rap on the freezer doors and shout, “Yoo hoo! Anyone here?”
I once caught the guy asleep in a chair.
I wondered which was crumbling faster: the Pier’s infrastructure or its business.
As Henry and I sat in a faded red booth with a panoramic view of the bay with its white sailboats and fat pelicans, I felt instantly nostalgic for everything and everyone around me. It was as if the Pier had already been demolished, as if the ice cream I was eating was long digested, as if the tourists feeding pelicans on the boardwalk were ghosts from a previous generation, as if the visiting midwesterners on rented beach cruisers were back in Illinois looking at photographs of their vacation, as if my son were already grown and I an old woman longing for our past.
I saw the Pier through the eyes of my parents, who visited it on their honeymoon in 1979, six years after its current design – a strange inverted pyramid considered “futuristic” by 1973 standards – opened to much fanfare.
As soon as the City of St. Pete announced that it would demolish the Pier, my visits to it grew in frequency. I took visiting family members to the Pier. I ran half marathons over the Pier. I took maternity photos for a friend on the Pier. I regularly ate dinners on the Pier.
The night we held my grandfather’s memorial service on the Pier, my sister bought my son a fortune from a mechanical sorcerer. I saved it for his baby book even though the fortune made no sense and predicted nothing of note. Contrary to its intended purpose, this thumbed over piece of paper seemed to immediately fade into a memory.
I’m not sure if it’s age, motherhood or the death of my grandfather that’s reshaping my perspective. It’s probably all of the above. Lately I’m beginning to understand that life perpetually hangs in a delicate balance, always swaying between magnificent and painful, always opening to a sunrise. Always ending in a sunset.
Despite my efforts to keep the pendulum weighted in my favor, I wield only a small amount of power over its course.
I was raised without a religion or any kind of spiritual field guide, save for my parents’ unconditional love and hard-earned common sense, which is why you’ll never hear me utter the phrase god’s plan. It’s my plan, plus and minus good and bad decisions, some accidents and good old fashioned chance.
I am but a small cog in a grand wheel, which is a concept that used to depress me, deflate my dreams and the dreams of my parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents. Realizing this has made me feel less important and less anxious.
As a child I was told I could change the world not because I was an extraordinary creature, but because I was born into a generation of extraordinary creatures. From the day I entered kindergarten my future and the futures of my classmates – those of us slated to graduate high school in the magical, mystical year 2000 – were treated as if we would one day inherit the earth, the class of 2000, we inventors of robots, harbingers of world peace.
Really it was never ours to inherit. There are seven billion people on this planet. I have a hard enough time being responsible for one toddler.
I understand why adults tell children they’ll change the world. If kids were led to believe that we’re all just cogs, who would run our corporations? Rule our governments? Save our lives? Invent our Facebook? Write our books? Play our sports? The best leaders are the ones who realize we’re cogs, but rise to the occasion anyway. They see the world not just through their eyes, but through the eyes of all people, especially children.
Children are our greatest hope. We want them to see superhero movies because we need them to believe they can save the world. And maybe they can.
When you spend all your days with a child the world feels bigger and your place in it feels smaller.
I would be lying if I claimed that motherhood has made me selfless. It hasn’t. I’m not that pious. It has however, forced me look beyond myself, beyond the beauty and the sadness. It’s forced me to consider the passage of time, to see the earth at once through younger eyes and older eyes.
If one day my adult son is sitting in a chair at a therapist’s office I hope that in addition to all my mistakes, he mentions my successes. I hope he remembers that I told him he could change the world, even if I didn’t, because that’s what adults do. We put our faith in children. We let their imaginations soar and then we make a wish for their future, toss a pebble off a pier and watch it disappear into the blue.
PS. More pictures from our day at the Pier will run in the next post.