I remember Eastern Mountain Sports, EMS, back when it was at Martketplace Mall. My dad and sister went to gear up for their upcoming Adirondacks trip and I, the youngster, stomped up and down the small incline used to test out shoes.
My first backpack was from there. I purchased it in fourth grade, a pale green pack that felt fancy because it had a lined sunglasses pouch and a removable side bag. It went from a school pack to a hiking pack, which lasted me until I was 23 and the fabric began to flake off in my hands.
EMS’s doors closed for good last week, and I was part of the crew that worked in its final waning hours. We threw the remaining clothing and shoes into huge laundry bins, used a lift to stack them onto one another, and then wheeled them up a small incline to the loading dock and onto the truck. It’s amazing how quickly you can destroy something. How in a couple hours everything will be gone and in place will be a vast emptiness where there used to be objects and meaning.
I only worked at EMS for a cumulative total of maybe six months—a winter season and a half. It’d be dishonest of me to turn this into a bloated metaphor, something poetic about endings and closure (haven’t I written enough of those?). But the store that was a beacon of otherworldliness to me as a child was a place I ended up working, and I got to see it in its twilight hours. And that means something.
What I’m trying to say is that sometimes you’ll become the person you always wanted to be. Sometimes you’ll pause and take a breath, look at your surroundings, and whisper to yourself, I’m here; I made it. And that place will be different for everybody. And sometimes it takes us longer to get there. But it’s out there for everyone, I know it is.
Working at EMS was a positive feedback loop for me, a balm for my insecurities. It was hard walking away from a job, ignoring my academic background, forgoing a teaching gig abroad and plunging head first into wilderness. But at EMS, all the things I did post-college, post-work, those were what counted. My evenings spent curled in the back of my car. The solo hikes. The time spent trouble-shooting malfunctioning camp stoves as kids looked on anxiously. My choices made sense to my coworkers. We were all cut from the same sap-stained bark. Whereas friends and family often questioned what I was doing, why I was leaving certain things behind, no one at EMS cared. I was the girl who worked seasonally at the gear store, spending the rest of the year teaching kids about trees. That was it. That was all.
It’s a gift, I suppose, to be viewed in a specific, slanted light. For your history to not matter. For your tangled past and jagged edges to be deemed inconsequential.
I wish I had a great final moment to leave you with, a moment of satisfaction as the doors were locked for the last time and we all cried tearfully, hugging and remembering the beloved customers we’d sold Microspikes to. But that didn’t happen.
If I had to choose one final moment to encapsulate my time at EMS it would be this:
It was the last night the store was open and we had just locked the doors. The two managers were in the back counting out all the money, leaving my coworker and I alone at the front. After we’d exhausted ourselves trying to squeeze her into a duffel bag and making a bracket of all our fellow coworkers we thought we could take in a fight, we gave up on distractions and turned to our phones. It was quiet. The store had closed forty minutes ago.
I noticed it first. My head snapped up and we locked eyes.
Do you hear that?
Oh my god.
Outside in the plaza played the worst Christmas song of all time. A song I’ve only ever heard at EMS and pray to god I never hear again. We’d been making fun of it all day, waiting for it to come on. And it had. In the final moments of Rochester’s Eastern Mountains Sports chapter, perhaps the last song to ever blast through its speakers, the worst song in the world came on.
And, I don’t know, it was kind of perfect.
(If you want to read some other stuff about my time at EMS, here ya go.)
(And, if you’re a total sadist, here’ s a link to that miserable song. The music video is equally horrifying. DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.)