[Editor’s note: The following observation by former Ottawan Eric Bushman was first published on the Dallas-area WBAP radio station website.]
I’ve found it amazing as I approach my 30th birthday how when you run into people from the past, it’s as if time machines are real. For me, the time machine was a combination of my car and northbound I-35 to a small community southwest of Kansas City. When people ask where I’m from, I usually say Kansas City. It’s easier. I never lived in Kansas City, even though I was born in a Kansas City hospital, but I lived five years in Olathe, well within the bustling metro. Before that, I spent the first chunk of my life in the small town of Ottawa: my hometown.
Some of the roads are still brick, there is only one high school, and I can still remember when just a few years ago many were unsure about allowing Walgreens to come in and wipe out a couple local pharmacies in the process. One of those pharmacies had the best hamburgers in town, by the way. I went, and was baptized, at the First United Methodist Church. I swam countless times at the large pool in one of the parks. And, my life as a radio reporter began while I was still in high school.
High school. What a drag? Maybe. Depends on how you look at it. I enjoyed band and some of the extra- curricular stuff. Then there are those classmates. Some I talked to on a daily basis. Some I never got to know. Others I marched with in band, performed with on stage, and occasionally skipped class just because we were so excited we finally had driver’s licenses and could legally operate a car.
It came time to see some of those people again. An organized reunion — my first. It took a while to talk myself into it, but at the end the decision was simple: “What the hell, sure.”
Outside of a few awkward “Hellos,” I found myself at ease shooting the breeze and talking about the past with people who I hadn’t been around in a decade. For a moment, it felt like we were all hanging out in the “Cyclone Room” again inside the one-story building along 11th and Ash streets, except this time the cheap beer was legal.
Highlights would include talking about all the musical endeavors alongside the man with whom I performed more than anyone else on stage. Including the one time we wrote what we imagined would be a James Brown-style version of the up-and-coming Christina Aguilera pop hit “Come On Over Baby.” He even cut his hair into a mullet and wore a bright orange leisure suit. I found out recently he attempted to stuff a pair of socks into his pants, but alas, it was discouraged by the supervising teacher back stage. We also wrote our own “Weird Al”-style polka and dressed up like Elton John and Neil Diamond. I recall wearing my father’s glasses from the 1980s but never rehearsed while wearing them. I nearly broke them as I took them off in the middle of a performance because I was getting dizzy while trying to play the piano.
Many of us look a bit different. Some of us the same. Of course, the stunning beauty of the class showed up, and remains to this day, the stunning beauty of the class.
I was surprised everyone, for the most part, got along. It’s as if we went four years trying to avoid each other to 10 years later wanting the evening to continue. I have a history of badmouthing my high school days. A small handful of teachers seemed to declare war on me toward the end of my senior year. One in particular who said I wouldn’t make it in life. Another who sought me out only to give me an office referral for using the word “Hell” in a sentence two days before my last day. By the way, the associate principal at the time didn’t make me serve it. Probably a good thing considering he went on to be the principal, and I went on to be the school board reporter for KOFO.
That aside, I’m honored to have the classmates I do. For the most part, I’m glad I had the teachers I had. Ten years later, as I proudly call Dallas home, I hold up my drink and say, “Here’s to Ottawa High School and the Class of 2003.”
Eric Bushman is a reporter at two news radio stations in the Dallas market, WBAP and KLIF. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org