Andrew Colabella Turns 30

Andrew Colabella is still the youngest RTM member in town.

But he’s no longer in his 20s.

The lifelong Westporter just celebrated his 30th birthday. As he reached that milestone, the 2007 Staples High School graduate reflected on 3 decades in his home town. He writes (and shares some favorite photos he’s taken):

For the last 15 years, I’ve spent my birthday on the bench of “Myrna Wexler” at Compo with my family. I reminisce about my years on earth, waiting for 9:35 a.m.

While I reflect on my personal experiences and stories, I can’t help but reflect on my memories with Westport too.

Growing up, this was not only my home but my play pen. From riding my bike and then my scooter to driving a car, I passed the same buildings, and drove on these roads a thousand times. It never got old for me.

Westport’s roads are very familiar. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

My first time meeting a police officer was when I was 3. I stubbed my toe outside of the Old Mill market. Dave Eason pulled over and gave me a Band-Aid.

I watched Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas, Dale Call, Ryan Paulsson, Eric Woods, Craig Bergamo, Kevin Smith, Howard Simpson and the great Bobby Myer climb through the ranks, as they watched me grow up.

I remember standing on the train platform. Everyone spoke to each other with their newspapers clenched between their arm and chest. Now, we’re buried in our phones.

Restaurants like Mario’s, DeRosa’s, Mansion Clam House, Doc’s Cafe, Oscar’s, Onion Alley, Bogey’s, National Hall, Swanky Frank’s, Tacos or What? and many more are now distant memories. My taste buds tingle, wishing for them all to come back.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Going to Longshore on Fridays when Rec-ing Crew was in session during the summer, riding a GoPed to expose myself to hypothermia from the pool on hot days to be with my friends and meet kids from the rival Coleytown Middle School.

Going to Joey’s to hang out with Billy Hess and eat Toasted Almonds out of the old food trailer, then go home and watch Top 10 music videos on VH1 and MTV.

The last few years I’ve been to the movies once or twice. When I was younger, I went to the theaters in Westport to see “Free Willy,” “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Lion King.” Now they’re Restoration Hardware, and the former Pier 1 Imports.

Going to Arnie’s, playing games with my mom and sister, meeting Arnie who had a pool in his living room with a parrot on his shoulder and big Great Dane dogs. Arnie’s turned into Hay Day, where we would run into Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Martha Stewart, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Robards and Christopher Walken.

After the first warm day of the year, my family was at the beach every day by the cannons. What was once my recreational heaven became summer jobs. I worked with Parks & Recreation in high school and throughout college until I graduated from UConn.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Who would’ve thought that when I turned 16, free to drive the roads of Westport I once biked up and down a thousand times, that I would get stuck next to a Volvo station wagon at a traffic light with Ferrari emblems. All 4 tires spun, as Paul Newman pulled out. (Never underestimate custom work and a Volvo station wagon).

Speaking of cars, who remembers the man at Compo Beach who drove a Chrysler LeBaron with leopard seats? He wore a boat captain’s hat, with a scarf around his neck. I never knew his name.

I also never knew the name of the woman who would come to Compo at night in her sweatshirt and sweatpants in the dead of summer, and jam out to her Walkman, dancing in the sand as people strolled by.

Compo sunsets never get old. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

These recurring events and people I took for granted. I thought they would never stop and no matter where I was, they would play out naturally.

Now I think about the last 3 years. They say your late 20s are your most difficult and loneliest ever. Mine were definitely difficult. I lost friends to car accidents, suicide, drug overdose. I’ve watched friends move away, get married, have kids and land the job opportunities of a lifetime. Buying homes, living in high rises or just traveling the world not knowing what to expect the minute they woke up.

As much as I would love to leave, explore with no home address and be on the move, I would feel empty.

The Italian Festival brings back memories. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Yet going to work every day from 7 to 3:30, I also felt empty. I had all this time I could fill. I wanted to do more.

It wasn’t until I read an article on LinkedIn that I relaxed about my age and success, and stopped comparing myself to others. It said:

  • At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
  • At 24, Stephen King worked as a janitor and lived in a trailer.
  • At 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
  • At 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
  • At 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.
  • At 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
  • At 30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.
  • At 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
  • Julia Child released her first cookbook at 39, and got her own cooking show at 51.
  • Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the editor-in-chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at 40.
  • Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
  • Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting at 42.
  • Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first movie role until he was 46.
  • Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at 52.
  • Kathryn Bigelow only reached international success when she made The Hurt Locker at 57.
  • Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until 76.
  • Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.

Now when I’m not working, I devote my time and energy to the RTM. I go to schools and educate students about town politics, single-use plastics and composting. I find myself most at ease in Board of Finance meetings listening to Gary Conrad and members talk about line items. I go to every meeting to keep myself up to speed, even committees I’m not on. It’s relaxing, and I want to learn everything about the town I grew up in.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

I’m sitting on this bench as I write down memories, and reminisce about how I got where I am today. I hope to do it next year. The year after. The decade after that. And continue it with my kids and grandkids.

Here’s to 30. Here’s to Westport. The town where everyone holds history and legendary stories that make this town our home. To the RTM (my family away from home), and my family: Frank, Jann, Sara and Roxie.

Andrew Colabella, in his traditional fireworks attire.

23 responses to “Andrew Colabella Turns 30

  1. Lisa Newman

    Andrew, this is awesome. YOU are awesome. Happy birthday, friend. Westport is so lucky to have you representing this town.

  2. Alexis Donnerstag

    What a great read! I often hear about these times from my husband and in-laws. I wish I could have experienced them. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Heartfelt, eloquent and genuine. Appreciating the essence of what makes this town so special. That’s what you have given us with this read. In the midst of change, we need to remember that Westport’s identity is still intact. Thank you for shining a light on that. Terrific piece of writing. And the Happiest of Birthdays to you! 30 is a wonderful year!

  4. Beautifully written. I’ve been here most of the last 21 years (with a misguided three year hiatus in Massachusetts) and remember some, but definitely not all, of the places Andrew mentions. What an amazing life you’ve had, Andrew, filled with experiences few people could replicate. Your photos show the best of Westport and your eye is a talent and gift. Your words are as special and evoke the same visuals as your photos. I wish you a very happy birthday and know that your next 30 years will surely be as special as the first 30. Thank you for sharing your gifts and thoughts with our community.

  5. Jack Whittle

    Lovely piece, written by a devoted fan of his hometown who gives back. Andrew’s heartfelt reminisces of the Westport of his youth will resonate with every Town resident, and he perfectly proves the point that the oft-heard lament that “Westport is nothing like it was in the good old days when I grew up here” is a matter of perspective – Andrew’s reference point is the Westport of the 1990s and 2000s, and he lists long gone restaurants and now retired policemen of that era just as another would list the long gone restaurants and policemen of the 60s and 70s (or the 40s and 50s, etc,).

    Here’s what I say to all those who claim “Westport has changed so much, it’s not like it was in [my] good old days” – Westport is still the same great Town, we aren’t defined by certain restaurants or particular policemen, coaches or teachers – but rather the people who live here – THEY define this community. People like Andrew Colabella

    • Fred Cantor

      Jack, well said. And I would add—and I know you agree with this—that the essence of Westport that remains the same is what’s captured in Andrew’s fall foliage and Compo nature photos above.

  6. Antonia Zegras

    What a wonderful review of Westport history – I remember it well! I also know where the Mario’s sign hangs today!

  7. Carol Lupo-Simek

    Awesome piece, Andrew. I’ve lived here for 33 years and your story was a wonderfully wistful walk down memory lane. Keep up the great work. Your love of Westport keeps its history and present day alive and thriving!

  8. Happy birthday Andrew! And may you find, as I did, that one’s thirties are even better than one’s twenties! ~ Kristan Hamlin

  9. John Dodig

    For 36 years I avoided living in the community in which I worked until I became the Principal of Staples. You are correct. This is a special place to live. Three years into my Staples job we moved to Westport. Ever time we bring a snack to Compo to watch the sunset, spend an hour at the pool, see a Players production, or find the perfect gift from a downtown store we a grateful to live here. Thank you Andrew for being so wise at such a young age. Thank you for helping to maintain the viability and character of Westport.

  10. Sue Austin

    Happy Birthday Andy! I love that you have a sense of place. Everyone is always thinking about the next steps in life and not stopping to smell the roses in their present phase of life. I found your article very refreshing. It is very nice to see someone your age hold their hometown in their heart and soul.

  11. Great article .. and so true! I love and hold many of the same memories.

  12. Marcy Sansolo

    andrew is all heart. i anticipate greatness from him. long may he run.

  13. Ann Chernow

    This article should to the NYTimes either on the op ed or Style sections.
    Or every where, It’s wonnderful

  14. Ann Urciuoli Allard

    Happy birthday. The best is yet to come!!

  15. Dave Eason

    Nice job Andy and thanks…It’s still a great town. Mario’s hmmmm I think I may have been there once or twice..Happy Birthday!!

  16. Wendy Batteau

    Such a good heart, such a good mind, such a good person devoted to helping anyone and anything in need. So glad you are here!

  17. Wendy Batteau

    Such a good heart, such a good mind, such a good person devoted to helping anyone and anything in need. Sure are glad you are here!

  18. Outstanding young man.

  19. Harry Smiley

    Well said. Happy Birthday

  20. Michael Rea

    Happy Birthday, Andrew! Westport is lucky to have such a dedicated public servant!