“Should I go? I do have a lot of work to do.” The question came from my daughter, a college senior, who was debating whether or not to take off with her roommates on a Friday — a day none of them had a class — to drive to the beach and enjoy some unseasonably warm March weather.
On the one hand, sand, sunshine, and perhaps some fried food beckoned as prizes after a hard-won year of pandemic life — on the other hand, well, her thesis conclusion wasn’t going to write itself, now was it? As a rather type-A student, she was unsure if she should go or not, and had asked my opinion.
Remembering my own college road trips
As I read her text, I felt over 30 years disappear as I melted back into memories of my own college road trips of the 80s. Of the time four of us theater students, anxious and disappointed over a cast list posting, had driven out to the countryside through apple orchards, stopping at the side of the road to climb over a stone wall to grab some apples from a tree, taking off laughing, and ending the excursion in what was most likely a Chinese restaurant of questionable quality, drinking tea and reading fortune cookie prophecies. One of those friends isn’t with us anymore and the memory of that day never fails to make me think of her brilliant smile.
I thought of how my best friends and I used to drive out to the grounds of a monastery not far from campus to ‘study,’ but how we always just ended up exploring and talking and then stopping for ice cream. I remember being at a picnic table outside of that ice cream stand bent over with the kind of laughter that you hope will never end.
I remembered a particularly freezing cold road trip to Newport when the catchphrase of the day became “well, we could eat some more” as we sought refuge in restaurants and pubs for shelter from the biting ocean wind.
Memories of those senior year trips stay with me
There were my own senior year trips to the beaches and towns of Cape Cod. And now, when we gather together, in our mid-fifties, it takes no time at all for one of us to bring up a memory of the opera cassette my friend insisted we listen to in exchange for her driving us all over the place.
Of how after a few glasses of wine, several of us, fresh off a 17th Century Romantic Poetry class, thought we were well equipped to write an “ode” to the friend’s house we were staying at. We reminisce about the tipsy nights and sun-drenched days, of bar food and hangovers and the kind of shenanigans you only get up to in college. I close my eyes and remember how it felt driving over the big bridge and leaving the world of our papers and classes behind secure in the company of the best people I know.
I told my daughter to take the trip
I texted my daughter back — “Take the day and go to the beach. The thesis can wait.”
I wanted to text her so much more. I wanted to tell her, that college is for so many things — academic and personal growth and challenges, all-night study sessions, paper deadlines, office hours, extreme caffeine consumption, and finding that perfect study space in the library stacks. But it is also for road trips with your roommates and a chance to shake off every bit of responsibility for a few hours.
College is for the car singalongs and the stupid jokes, and the memories that you don’t think are anything special right now. But someday, 30 years from now, one of you will say, “Hey remember that time on the Cape?” and that’s all it will take to be off and running with the kind of laughter that is worth more than any thesis conclusion ever could be.
Later that week I received another text. A photo of a smiling group of friends on a beach in the dazzling sunshine. As I watch my daughter hurtle down the home stretch to graduation after this long strange year, I hope she carries the feeling of that day at the beach with her forever. And I hope more than anything, that when faced with the chance to take off with her favorite people in a car with the windows down and the music on, she always, always says yes.