I’m a firm believer that college is the perfect time to make all of life’s really bad decisions. I suggest that before graduation, everyone should drink too much, eat too much, party too much and do some really dangerous stuff, like playing tennis with a ball that’s been set on fire.
Well, maybe not the last one, but you get the point. Some of the most important learning we do in college is finding out what never to do again in the future.
Take for example my RA from freshman year who, after seeing Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, decided that he had to try a White Castle burger. Unfortunately for him, the closest restaurant was about two thousand miles away.
Undeterred, he and a friend drove through a blizzard and tried burgers at 10 different White Castle locations. Apparently, he learned that White Castle is really delicious. Or, maybe, that if you drive through a blizzard you better make the best of it.
While I’ve never done anything quite that impulsive, I’m no stranger to road trips. I make the drive from San Diego to Davis on a regular basis and have had my share of run-ins along the way.
Last year, when I drove back to Davis after Thanksgiving, I got stuck in the horrendous traffic jam that always happens near Los Angeles. Since I’m a college student fond of procrastinating, I didn’t have up to date registration stickers on my license plate.
Since I’m a genius, I pulled in front of a cop car in stop-and-go traffic with expired plates. I knew I was in trouble when he followed me as I changed lanes. Sure enough, he pulled me over and gave me my first ticket ever.
Needless to say, I was so scared I nearly peed myself. I learned from that day on how important it is to keep up with all your DMV records.
My run-in with the police pales in comparison to the time I was snowed in on the Grapevine, the mountain pass that separates the fields of central California from the insanity of L.A. I had already been driving for hours by the time I reached the great barrier, when I heard on the radio that they were going to close it. But I tried to get through it anyway.
I drove on, trying to ignore the blinding rain, which turned into snow halfway up the mountain. Traffic ground to a stop, but several large SUVs kept careening on the icy road and running into other cars.
It was freezing, I was low on gas and my car was starting to make ominous shuddering noises. At that point, I was pretty sure that I would become a human Popsicle. I was sure Caltrans would dig me out of the snow the next day like the frozen caveman that scientists found in the Alps.
After an hour, the police redirected traffic back down the mountain and the new challenge was finding a place to sleep for the night. I went to the closest hotel and found out the smart people who didn’t try to drive across a snowy mountain already occupied all the rooms.
I then went to every seedy roadside hotel I could find, but they were all full. At that point, I could understand the plight of Jesus’ mother, Mary, more than ever before. Except for the whole immaculate conception thing. That’s still a mystery to me.
With the help of my mom and a Best Western rewards card, I was finally able to get a hotel room. And after a hot shower, I felt pretty invincible. Thinking I was going to careen to my icy death made me realize how much I had to live for and how much I had to learn about cold weather driving.
A whole host of other mishaps, like the time my battery died at a deserted gas station or the time the car got stuck in reverse in a Wienerschnitzel parking lot, have shown me that when you take the bad with the good you can learn a lot. It’s the things that you hope never happen again that teach you the most about what you need to know for the future.
So, hop in your car, hit the road, and hope you’ll find yourself in a situation you never wanted to be in. Or not, you choose.
KATE ZARRELLA wants to hear about your worst life choices at firstname.lastname@example.org.