It was 30 years ago last month that my father died — not long in historical terms, yet he’d hardly recognize the Boise and the world of today.
Dad grew up poor in Cripple Creek, Colo., and left in his early teens to escape a life of drudgery working in the gold mines there. He never graduated from high school, but he was smart, hard-working and had a good head for business. He started a food brokerage company and sold groceries to, among others, Joe Albertson. He started another company that exists to this day. And he was a keen observer of the local scene and the larger world, which in some ways bear little resemblance to the ones he left.
How much has Boise changed in three decades? Obviously, it’s a lot bigger. The city-limits population has almost doubled, and growth outside the city has transformed the county. Most of what was farmland between Boise and neighboring cities 30 years ago is now subdivisions. Dad predicted that would happen, but never would he have believed that Nampa and once-sleepy Meridian would pass Idaho Falls and Pocatello as the state’s second- and third-largest cities. Or that Eagle, then an agrarian backwater, would now be an upscale community of 20,000.
He was a Boisean by choice, forsaking Colorado and later Washington state for the place he came to love above all others. He was a bit of a booster when it came to signs of Boise’s growth and progress, modest as they were in his time. If a big new building was going up, he’d be one of the old guys standing on the sidelines watching the workers. That’s something you don’t see much anymore, old guys gawking and commenting at construction sites.
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In that respect, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to die. Thirty years ago, most of Downtown was an urban renewal wrecking zone. Building after building was torn down with little but weedy parking lots and cavernous holes in the ground to show for it. Since then, most of the city center we know today has been built: the Grove; the Washington Mutual, Zions Bank, Wells Fargo and Banner Bank towers; BODO; the C.W. Moore Plaza building; the Aspens; JUMP; the new Simplot headquarters. … The old guys would have been gawking overtime.
The frequency and variety of entertainment options have skyrocketed. Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman or Mikhail Baryshnikov in Boise? No way.
Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones performing in the Treasure Valley? Forget it.
The Boise State Broncos playing on national television in a major bowl game? Dream on.
Boise Towne Square and the Connector didn’t exist 30 years ago. Boise State has gone from a fledgling university to Idaho’s largest. The number and diversity of students and degrees, the new buildings, the Stueckle Sky Center and other additions would have left Dad gaping.
As would quantum leaps in technology. If I’d told him that one day I’d have a phone that would fit in my pocket and allow me to see people while talking to them, shoot photos and movies, send messages to people anywhere in the world and hear back from them in seconds, make and send recordings, pay bills, check the weather, board a plane, record the number of steps I take each day, answer questions, give directions and a whole lot more, he’d have thought I’d slipped a cog.
And what would he have made of a device that allows you to pause, reverse or fast-forward television programs, record them to watch later and zap through commercials?
Or movies you can take with you and watch anywhere?
Or cars that are built largely by robots, get 50 mpg and stop themselves when collisions are imminent? Or, for that matter, cars that drive themselves?
My father was diabetic. He also suffered mightily from acid reflux disease, propping himself up in bed each night with multiple pillows and popping antacids like popcorn. Medical advances of the last three decades have made diabetes easier to live with and would have eliminated his nightly suffering.
If only other changes in Boise and the world were so positive. Dad lost his driver’s license late in life due to failing vision. He didn’t know the meaning of gridlock. Inversions were a new phenomenon that surely wouldn’t last. Red air alerts? What are those?
If you had told him about 9/11, he would have wept, just as we did. If he could have known a time was coming when mass shootings of innocent people — college students, movie audiences, even children — would regularly make news, words wouldn’t have been able to express the horror he would have felt. The horror we all feel far too often.
And if he could somehow have known that the same Internet we now use for so many beneficial purposes is also used to steal identities and life savings and convert people to ideologies that perpetrate acts of mass horror … again, there are no words.
For better and worse, the world never stops changing. My New Year’s wish for all of us is that we learn from the changes and that the decent, honorable people of the world find ways to make goodness and sanity prevail.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.