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PALO ALTO, CALIF. — By most metrics, I am a bad Palo Altan. In almost 20 years of living here, I’ve never fully engaged. Stanford’s campus remains a mystery to me, despite being just a 15-minute drive away; I’ve ventured there only a handful of times. I’m checked out of city politics. And while my friends could navigate the city with their eyes closed, I still use Google Maps to get anywhere outside of my limited comfort zone.
So it’s a little hard to explain my horror when, earlier this year, my parents told me they were moving away as soon as my sister graduated from high school. Leaving the only place you’ve ever lived is bound to be uncomfortable; change is at least a little terrifying, inherently. But Palo Alto, in my experience, has been a hard city to grow attached to. It’s no bustling metropolis; I can’t brag about my city like my New York friends do. It’s not a quaint small town with character, either. Maybe it’s just the glint of all those glass-walled high-tech offices, but the only place I’ve ever lived has always felt a little impersonal.
As a result, my summer began as a mad dash to compensate for all the years in which I failed to be curious about the city that surrounded me. I needed to do it all: hike the Dish, visit the touristy tech landmarks, go to concerts, and eat at restaurants I’d ignored. Thus far, I haven’t checked off all that many things from my original list, but my attempt to discover a newfound love for Palo Alto did something funny (and more than a little cliché): It showed me all the ways in which I’m already attached.
Little things bring back unexpectedly strong memories: Standing in line for overpriced boba takes me back to the tea stand my friends used to have every summer. I go back to my favorite bakery downtown and feel a twinge when I realize they no longer sell the cookies I loved as a toddler. Late-night convenience store runs remind me of the time when, as a little kid, I finally felt brave enough to walk the five-ish minutes to 7-Eleven alone, and promptly got lost on the way. Hikes through the nature preserves that frame the city slow down the world to a comfortable pace, just like they did when I came here in high school.
How do you say an adequate goodbye to the place that raised you for 20 years? I’ve never been very good at dealing with nostalgia. During the last week of freshman year, I made a laundry list of places I had to revisit and things I had to do in commemoration — eat one last solemn dinner in Annenberg, for example, or try studying in Widener for once. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of things ending, I didn’t come close to finishing my tasks.
There will be time to finish them in the coming years, though, and there will be time to revisit my old spots in Palo Alto, too, even if I never spend another summer here. Still, I hope I do it justice before I leave in August. At the risk of sounding even more unbearably cliché, I’ll loosely paraphrase “Lady Bird,” in which the titular character comes to realize her affection for boring Sacramento: We express our love for places in the attention we pay them.
In these last few months, I’m trying to pay attention.
Tamar Sarig ’22 is a Crimson News editor in Currier House.
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