I smash the Z button on the GameCube controller, rattling around the analog stick as I hold down the A button.
“Alvaro switch with me!” I say. “You drive.”
On the screen, Baby Mario and Koopa Troopa switch spots in the kart. The plumber is now behind the wheel, and the walking turtle sits on the back with a shell in his hand. Alvaro steers as I prepare to fire items at any CPU who dares to drive close to our kart. I nail other drivers with shells and drop bananas on sharp turns. Alvaro drifts between curves and takes first place.
We’re playing Mario Kart: Double Dash at his apartment in Chicago at the ages of 20 (Alvaro) and 23 (me), but for a second we’re taken back in time to Alvaro’s game room and we’re 7 and 10 again facing off against our brothers in a 2-on-2 match-up. Growing up, Alvaro and I were always on a team.
We sit back and wait for the next race to load. We’re over a thousand miles from the town we use to call home. We’re nearly ten years removed from the last time we played a round of Mario Kart. We’re both working real world jobs now and facing real world problems, but for that moment we’re entrenched in the days of yesteryear.
Words come out of me like I swallowed too much water.
“Dude. We had such a great childhood. They can never take that away from us.”
He nods his head before I even finish.
“You’re so right man,” he says. “Back in the K-O-2.”
The Crazy Kids of the KO2
In the Spring of 2nd grade, my parents moved our family out of an apartment to our first real house in a neighborhood called Kingsway Oaks II (or the KO2).
For a couple months, my brother and I dabbled inside, but on the night of a holiday (Fourth of July maybe?), all the neighbors came out of their house to spend time together and brought their kids along with them. In the midst of running around and seeing fireworks, my brother and I met another pair of brothers who lived next door named Sergio and Alvaro.
It was a quick and forgettable meeting (I think Sergio may have insulted me), but one that changed the course of the neighborhood for years.
Not long after, the weekends began with a ritual of watching Saturday morning cartoons and then rushing over to their house to ask their parents, “Can Sergio and Alvaro come out and play?”
Moments later their garage door would open and the world of the KO2 became our playground. A big retention pond was our Rocky Mountain. A pile of sand was Sandy Hill. We explored abandoned houses, tied boogie boards to our bikes and pulled each other on skateboards and rollerblades. Water balloon fights became a must in the summertime, and when the weather didn’t have our back, we fired up Smash Bros. in each other’s houses.
Neighbors from up and down the street joined us in our own costume-made version of tag and in our Beyblade and Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. We were athletes, nerds, and daredevils all rolled into one, but most importantly we were kids who only cared about making the most of our weekends.
The KO2 featured many legends, but running by my side through this fantastic childhood was Alvaro. He never fell victim to the distractions of the inside world. He was always open to a new adventure. We gave our summer camp counselors nightmares, doing flips into the pit no matter how many times they told us not to. It seemed like the fun would never end.
Our Friend Twitter
But we weren’t Peter Pan. As all kids do, we grew up. Playing outside was replaced by sleeping in. Sleepovers by parties. Alvaro, being three years younger than me, was dabbling in high school while I dabbled in college. Despite honest attempts to change things, our hanging out became reduce to quick “wassups” in driveways and conversations on social media.
But when you have a foundation like the one the KO2 gave us, sometimes social media convos are all you need.
It was through Twitter that I saw Alvaro mention living in Chicago. I reached out to him about going to Lollapalooza, and he responded in a heartbeat with an offer to stay at his place. The option to dodge paying hundreds of dollars a night for a hotel, in which was already going to be a 4-day music festival, seemed too good to pass up, but it had been years since the two of us had spent more than an hour together. Maybe over a decade since we just kicked it like we were kids.
The offer seemed like one that someone makes out of kindness, but never follows up on, but Alvaro was a man of his word. A couple months later, he was pulling up to the airport to pick Stephanie and I up to spend nearly a week at his place.
Chicago was amazing. Lollapalooza was amazing.
This video details that.
But what made the experience even more fantastic was Alvaro being our host. On days he didn’t go to the festival, he gave us a ride to and from the train station. He chauffeured us to McDonald’s some mornings for breakfast and Taco Bell late at night. He told us what part of Chicago to stay away from. He even cooked us pancakes one morning.
He only made it to one day of the festival, but it was easily my favorite day. We rapped every word with Future, lost it when he brought out Chance, and raged to Bro Safari and Major Lazer like we were the actual DJs. By the end of it, I couldn’t feel my body from the neck down, Alvaro had added 15 new friends to Snapchat, and our 10-ten year gap between our hangouts had disappeared. We were kids again at the YMCA doing flips into the pit, except the YMCA was now the city of Chicago. The gymnastic pit was Lollapalooza.
Future Gymnastic Pits
When I arrived in Chicago, I was expecting to stay with someone who “was my next door neighbor growing up.” I left having spent it with “one of my best of friends.”
I owe him one. I owe him two. But more than anything I owe our neighborhood and our childhood together for forming an unbreakable friendship.
Just this previous week, his parents moved out of the neighborhood. I don’t know how long my family will stay in the KO2. But like I told him in Chicago, the memories made and our childhood foundation can never be taken away. No matter where we are or how many years separate our hangouts, that will always stay with us. And if we ever forget, all it takes is a round of Double Dash to remind us.
Here’s to many more.