Finals are done. No more pencils, no more books, no more professors‘ blatant indifference. Just me, and a glorious summer yawning in my face.
It’s road trip time.
Though I love it to death, my car isn’t gonna cut it. The back windows don’t roll up. The air conditioning has two settings – one is merely hot, while the other approaches balmy but drops my MPG down to about six. She’s a beautiful ‘92 Mercury Sable Luxury Sedan, and she drips oil, coolant, power steering fluid and transmission juice like a red carpet rolling out in her wake. No one can start her but me. I have jumper cables in the back, and I am well versed in their use. I’ve named her Sarah, after an old girlfriend. I remember them both fondly, now.
Thus, I steal my parents‘ car, an unreasonably fast compact with nuclear-powered AC built with I-5 in mind. I also steal my two soon-to-be roommates, snatching them from their families with the faint promise that I’ll return them only slightly worse for wear. We’re going south.
We’re very nearly as well-prepared as the Donner Party, traveling fully equipped with no food, no beverages, no map and only the remnants of our monthly allowances to fill in the gaps. We gather directions on a tattered Starbucks napkin, the only available paper substitute in the car. The napkin will still hang proudly on my wall two years later, a reminder of our impromptu expedition.
We pause to refuel both the car and our stomachs once we hit Buttonwillow, and Ian purchases an unusually memorable bottle of orange juice. Imagine the toxic swill a roach is perfectly willing to drink. Now imagine that same roach turning up his antennae at this juice because he just watched his friends drink it and die horrible, violent, gasping deaths. That‘s how bad it was. Compassionate gentlemen that we are, we coax each of our buddies into delicious sips over the next couple days.
Our mission is to visit our recently-departed dorm friends, meet their families, see where they live. Our first stop is in the World’s Biggest Truck Stop, better known to its residents as Bakersfield. Bakersfield has fire ants, a fact I discovered through rigorous experimentation. It also has Breanna’s farm, a mystical land with animals of a scale only Lewis Carroll could appreciate. For reasons as-yet unexplained outside of a sizeable opium trip, Breanna’s family breeds dogs the size of bears, horses the size of dogs, and rabbits only slightly larger than the average dust mite. By all rights they should ride the dogs and walk the horses, but they do neither. They shoot the bunnies.
We leave Breanna and venture toward Ventura and our amiga Amanda, whose driveway is honest-to-Christ wider than the highway running through Bakersfield. She also has a pool in her backyard, complete with remote-controlled lighting and heat, an attached Jacuzzi and a waterslide rivaling a theme park’s. Mounted on her living room wall is a rod that looks suspiciously like an Olympic torch, largely because it is. To reiterate: my friend has the Olympic torch on her wall. Who are these people?
We head farther south now, to warm water and more friends. Amanda’s in tow so we stop off to visit her future roommates in San Diego. With only several hours‘ warning, they greet us heartily and serve a monstrous meal. My roomies and I top it off with a brief session of Super Smash Brothers with a local sibling. Someone points out the irony of driving 600 miles to play the same game we played in the dorms a mere two days ago, but we quickly silence them.
Sadly, time is short. Ian’s parents can’t remember what he looks like, and Washington has sent a plane down for Jesse. The interstate calls, and we answer. Goodbye, friends. See you next year.
CADE GRUNST reminds his freshman (now sophomore!) readers that you never really know your friends until you’ve seen where they live. You’ve got free time – go find ‘em! Tell him about the journey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck on finals, and thanks for the ride.