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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.