Helen owes me a drink.
Helen is our GPS gizmo. She sits in the minivan most of the time, but we pull her out when we need to and let her direct us to wherever we wish to go when we don’t know where precisely that is. She’s named after Helen Keller, and there’s a reason for that.
It’s fall and Tabitha is a high school senior, and that means that it is officially College Visit Season. We’ve been plinking about with that for a while now – a couple this past summer, a few the summer before that – and now we’re coming down to crunch time. So she and I headed out Thursday evening for one last round: a three-campus, two-state, 51-hour tour that put about 750 miles on the van.
We had a grand time, the two of us. You don’t usually get that kind of close time with teenagers, who are often a blur across the landscape, so it was a treat for me that way. I have good kids.
We spent Thursday night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, enjoying the company and the dinner and generally being well cared for. And then Friday morning we headed up to the Small Liberal Arts College.
Tabitha really likes SLACs. They’re cozy and come with a ready-made community for you to fit into. They generally take good care of individual students, since there are few enough of them to do that. They can be limited by that small size, particularly for someone whose interests are both broad and changing, but everything is a trade.
It was fall break at the SLAC, so we almost literally had the place to ourselves. We found the Admissions Office, and since the normal student guides were out we ended up having an Admissions Officer give us the first part of the tour. They have a very nice campus, complete with the only on-campus cemetery I have ever seen. The Admissions Officer didn’t comment on it, so I guess after a while you stop noticing it. We had a short interview with a second Admissions Officer, and then she gave us the rest of the tour. That’s where we encountered the only student left on campus, though we never actually saw them. Someone was playing that organ in the music recital hall, though.
We said our goodbyes, hit the drive-through burger joint for lunch, and made the three-hour trip to the Mid-Sized Public University with four minutes to spare.
MSPU turned out to be much more impressive than we thought it would. They have all of the majors that Tabitha is currently considering (which SLAC didn’t), a gorgeous campus, and a nice town to put it all in. Our tour guide was a cheerful young woman who never once stopped to breathe yet somehow managed to keep a constant stream of information coming at us for over an hour, and you have to appreciate that kind of enthusiasm. The place is built onto the side of a mountain, but you can just think of it as a free workout session if you’d like. On the whole, MSPU ended up rather high on the prospective list after that visit, much more so than before we visited.
We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant in town before we left. We were pretty much the only customers there when we walked in, but by the time we left the place was packed with young adults in concert black – apparently an acapella concert had just ended and the choir felt for burritos. Can’t blame them, really. They were good burritos.
We then drove another hour and a half to the Big City In Another State, found our hotel (the single most hipsterish hotel I have ever been in), and crashed for the night.
The next morning our goal was to visit the Big University Campus in that city. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it, since when my alarm went off at 7am it was midnight dark, lashing rain, and flashing lightning. Fortunately the storm blew over quickly and by the time we had to go on our tour there was only a light, intermittent rain. BUC was a great place and we were both impressed by it, even on a grey, rainy October day. Our tour guide – another cheerful young woman, but with a sarcastic side that Tabitha and I appreciated greatly – gave us a nice look-round. They have a curling club. They have All The Majors (and then some) and a high standard of academic rigor, they have a pretty good affordability rating according to our college savings account balance, and they are out of state which means that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) can’t destroy them before she graduates. I wish I were kidding about that last one being a factor we take into account these days. I really do.
After it was over we strolled back toward the hotel, stopping off for a nice lunch along the way. If you're going to go to college in a city, you should make use of the city - it's a great resource. We then found our car and headed out of the city. This is easier said than done, for this particular city is designed specifically to thwart foreign invaders by being completely unnavigable by outsiders. The last time I tried to get out of that city – pre-Helen – it took me over an hour to find an entrance to a highway I could see from my hotel, and by the time I did I was in a completely different city altogether. Helen was my ticket out this time.
Also, it wasn’t enough just to get out of the city. We still had to get to a friend’s house up that way. We’d been there a couple of weeks ago and left a few things that we thought we could just pick up rather than have him find a post office (few and far between in that part of the world) to mail them back to us. He wasn’t actually home this time, but he told us to go on in and get our stuff. So we entered his coordinates into Helen and, trustingly, headed out.
And this is where the fun began.
She took us by a rather northerly route through a number of increasingly small towns and smaller roads, until we ended up in a Tourist Town on the river that we needed to cross. It’s a small town on a big river, and it was therefore with some dismay that we made the turn to get onto the bridge and saw the big chain link fence across the entry and the sign saying “Closed.”
Okay, now what?
Well, we could see another bridge to the south, so we headed that way until we found a way onto it. And having crossed the river (much to Helen’s dismay, as she kept shouting at us to turn back and use the [closed] bridge. Not gonna drown today, Helen! Not today!) we then re-entered our friend’s address, Helen having conveniently forgotten it in the confusion. Conveniently.
She then took us on a northwestern course on a small state highway that ended abruptly in an orange sign and a pile of dirt with no detour posted.
Half an hour later, after some more traditional map-reading, no small amount of expert-level profanity (isn’t it great when your kids get older and you don’t have to hide that stuff from them anymore?) and a fortuitously placed gas station so we didn’t get stranded in the wilderness to be picked clean by vultures and wolves, we found our way again.
We collected our stuff, and drove home. It was nice to be back. I am owed a drink, though.
Maybe two drinks.