I don’t know if I thought about it at the time, but one of the most noteworthy things I remember about road trips in my teens is listening to the radio. Seriously. Plumdale didn’t get any good radio stations. There were a few stations playing hip-hop, R&B, and gangsta rap. My brother Mark, who didn’t come on this trip, liked to listen to these, but I outgrew that about halfway through high school. There were also several stations in Spanish. There was a country station, but this was the era of Billy Ray Cyrus and Garth Brooks, and I hated country music back then. The best I had was a classic rock station from San Tomas that came in a little scratchy sometimes. I tell people that I started listening to classic rock when I was in high school, just because the only radio stations I got played rap, country, or Spanish music, and I was looking for something else to listen to. I knew a lot of the pop-rock and grunge bands that were so popular back then because MTV still played music videos for part of the day, but the only station back home that played that kind of music had shut down a year earlier and now played Spanish music.
About halfway through this particular road trip, after driving through San Tomas and its northern suburbs, we drove over a hill and headed farther inland. At this point, we could pick up radio stations from the inland part of the state, and I found a station based in Capital City playing good music.
“This is that band with the weird name, isn’t it,” Mom said.
“The Wet Toad Boys?” Dad asked. “Isn’t that it?”
“Toad The Wet Sprocket,” I corrected. “The first time I saw that name, I think it was reading Rolling Stone, I thought it was really weird, but then I saw the video for this song on MTV and thought they were pretty good.”
“They are,” Mom said. “I like this song.”
“I forgot the Grateful Dead tickets,” Dad said.
“What?” Mom asked.
“The tickets,” Dad said, gesturing to an envelope sitting in the center console of the car. “I was going to go to Jimmy’s yesterday and give him the tickets, since I can’t go.”
“And it’s too late?”
“Oh well,” Mom said after a pause.
I yawned; the clock said 7:19am, and we had been on the road for an hour already. We listened to the good music on this station for the rest of the trip, as we drove through the distant inland suburbs, Sullivan and Los Nogales and Pleasant Creek and Fairview and lots of other little and medium-sized towns. A little after 8:30, Dad took the exit for 117 North toward Jeromeville and Woodville and asked me what exit to take next.
“Fifth Street,” I said. “I don’t remember after that. Let me look it up.”
I pulled several papers out of the large envelope, the one that had come in the mail a few weeks ago, looking for the one that had the directions to the parking garage. I shuffled the papers around. I didn’t want the one telling me that I was being considered for a Regents’ Scholarship, which included a minimum of $1000 per year, adjusted based on my finances and those of my family, as well as certain other privileges like getting to register for classes a few days earlier than I would have normally… I didn’t want the one with information about the Interdisciplinary Honors Program… I didn’t want the schedule of events for High Achieving Scholars’ Day on Saturday, February 26… wait, yes I did, because on the back of the schedule of events was a map indicating which parking garage would be available for our use today. I directed Dad off the freeway onto West Fifth Street and eventually into the parking garage.
Mom and Dad and I walked toward the Memorial Union building. As soon as I entered the building, I saw a sign-in table. “Hi!” said an employee at the table with a name tag that said Kate. “Welcome to the University of Jeromeville! What’s your name?”
“Greg Dennison,” I said.
Kate looked through her paperwork. “Greg Dennison,” she said, crossing a name off a list and handing me a sticky name tag with my name and hometown on it. “From Plumdale High School. Where is Plumdale, exactly?”
“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
Kate paused for a second, probably trying to remember where those cities were. “Oh! You had a bit of a drive this morning, then.”
“Yeah. I got out of bed at 5:30.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy your visit to Jeromeville today. Have you been here before?”
“Once. Just drove around.”
“Here you go,” Kate said. She gave me a folder with several papers inside it. She found a campus map, circled the Memorial Union, and drew an arrow to the courtyard on the other side of the building facing the Quad. “The first thing you’ll be doing this morning is a tour of the campus. Meet here at 9:30, and you’ll split off with a student who will be leading the tour. The schedule for the rest of the day is in the folder. Until then, you can just stay here and mingle with the other students and staff.”
“Have a great day here at UJ!”
I looked around the room. A long hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out toward the parking garage opened up to the left of me. Straight ahead was another room that looked like a restaurant, or maybe more like a cafeteria. There were stairs leading up and a narrow hallway to the right, with a sign saying that restrooms were in that direction. I used the men’s room and came back out to the lobby where Kate and the registration tables were. I glanced through the folder that Kate had given me. Inside it was, among other things, a list of the names of all of the students who would be attending today’s program. I glanced through the list looking for any noteworthy names. I saw one: Teresa Morrison, a student from North Gabilan High School. A month or so earlier, I was named in an article in the local newspaper for being a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, along with six other local students. Teresa was one of them. I saved that article, and Mom bought three extra copies of that day’s newspaper to show to relatives.
“Hi,” a voice I didn’t know said. “Greg? I’m Linda Robertson, Director of High Achieving Scholar Outreach. I’m the one in charge of putting this day together.”
“Hi,” I said, a little nervously, shaking Linda’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Can I answer any questions you might have?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know.”
“Have you heard about the IHP? Interdisciplinary Honors Program?”
“Just what you sent me.”
“I think it’ll offer a lot of great opportunities. You’ll hear a presentation from Dr. McGillicuddy and some alumni of the program later this morning. Are these your parents?” she asked, gesturing toward Mom and Dad. I said yes. Linda went over to make small talk with Mom and Dad as I looked around at some of the other students around me. The name tags had the students’ hometowns on them. They were from all over the state, with the majority of them coming from nearby, in the greater Capital City area, and from the suburbs of San Tomas and Bay City. San Tomas and Bay City were known for having a lot of jobs in technology, so it makes sense that it would have many high achieving students. The students seemed to come from many different cultural backgrounds as well. By the time all the students had arrived, probably around 150 to 200 of them, there were probably more Asian students in that room than there were in all of Plumdale High School.
When the time came, we walked through the area that looked like a restaurant and to a courtyard on the opposite side of the Memorial Union building. A grassy quad lined with mature oak trees lay on the other side of the courtyard. The tour guide explained that the restaurant area was called the Coffee House, and in addition to coffee it served sandwiches, pizza, and other food, in addition to providing a large common area to study. We crossed the Quad and walked past the main library on the other side. This part of the campus was closed to motor vehicles, so I had not seen these buildings during our visit last summer. The tour guide took us past many classrooms and academic buildings, and pointed out the Arboretum and the creek, which I remembered seeing last year. Farther west, the tour guide pointed out the South Residential Area, the dormitories next to the dairy that I had seen the year before, but we did not look at them up close. She showed us the Recreation Pool and the grass berm that Dad had called Thong Bikini Hill. It was empty, because it was February and the pool was closed for the season. She pointed out the Recreation Pavilion, a large gym that also held a crowd of several thousand for basketball and other athletic events. Beyond Rec Pavilion was the North Residential Area, including the building where students in the IHP all lived together, which we would learn more about later. We headed east again and ended up back at the Quad. The tour guide directed us into a medium-sized lecture hall in a building next to the Quad, where the next part of our morning would happen.
“Hi,” I heard a voice say. Turning around, I saw an unfamiliar face introducing herself. She had a name tag identifying her as a current UJ student, as did several other students walking around the lecture hall mingling with those of us visiting the campus. She was Asian, thin and of average height, wearing glasses. “I’m Nicole. I was in IHP two years ago.”
“I’m Greg. Nice to meet you.”
“Plumdale? Where’s that?” Nicole asked, seeing my hometown on my name tag.
“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
“I love Santa Lucia! It’s so pretty there! It’s my favorite beach town!”
“Yeah it is.”
“If you could please take a seat, we’re going to get started now,” a voice from the front of the room announced through a microphone.
“It was nice meeting you!” Nicole said. “Come find me if you have any questions!”
I walked to an open seat, trying not to make eye contact with Mom and Dad, because I knew they would make a big deal about a girl coming up and talking to me. They always do. We sat down and listened to the speaker talk about the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. The speaker introduced herself as Dr. Nancy McGillicuddy, the director of the program. She explained briefly the way that the program worked, how we would all live in the same dorm, and that we would be required to take one class each quarter that was only open to students in IHP. We would learn more about the specific classes for the following year in another meeting later that afternoon.
“But now, I want to give a few alumni of the IHP program a chance to speak, to share their own experiences,” Dr. McGillicuddy said. Nicole, who I had spoken to a few minutes earlier, took the microphone first. She introduced herself as a junior, a major in women’s studies. She said that the classes she took the previous year, while satisfying general education requirements, also prepared her for her women’s studies courses and opened her eyes to the oppression that women face everywhere. I looked at Mom and Dad. Mom made eye contact with me, and I rolled my eyes. Mom nodded.
A few minutes later, Nicole ended her presentation, and the next student walked up. He had a face covered with stubble, and he wore a tie-dye T-shirt, jeans with holes in them, and Birkenstocks. “Hi,” he said. “My name is Crunchy, and I’m a fourth-year rock music major. One thing you can do here at UJ is make an individual major, where you choose certain combinations of classes from different departments and make a plan with an adviser to make them into your own major. So I made an individual major in rock music.”
That sounded cool. I was also very curious as to how he acquired the nickname Crunchy. I never did find out.
“The thing I appreciated the most about being in IHP,” Crunchy continued, “is the friendships I formed with the other students. I still hang out with those guys all the time. I’ve had study buddies that I met in IHP. And two people I was in IHP with are planning their wedding right now. I’m going to be a groomsman, and I’m playing guitar in the wedding ceremony. I’ve actually heard a statistic that, over the years, about 10 percent of IHP students have ended up married to each other.” The crowd chuckled.
After Crunchy finished talking about his lifelong friendships, two other students spoke about their experiences in IHP. We were dismissed for lunch shortly afterward.
“Maybe you’ll make some lifelong friendships in IHP,” Mom said.
I rolled my eyes. “Not if they’re a bunch of liberals who major in Women’s Studies.”
“Shh!” Mom said. “Besides, not everyone is like that. Nicole was nice, even if she is liberal. And Crunchy seemed like a good guy.”
“Maybe,” I said. We followed everyone else and took our place in the lunch line. Lunch was being served in the room that the tour guide had called the Coffee House.
“He doesn’t look like a wacko liberal,” Mom said, pointing to a well-dressed boy across the room. “And neither does she,” Mom whispered, gesturing toward the girl standing in front of us with her parents. She was short, with brown hair, wearing a skirt. As she turned, I glanced at her name tag.
“It’s Teresa Morrison from North Gabilan,” I whispered to Mom, hoping that Teresa wouldn’t hear. She didn’t. But a minute later, Teresa turned around and saw my name tag. “Hi,” I said nervously. “I recognize your name. I saw your name in the Santa Lucia County Star in the article about Merit Scholars. I’m one too, and I saved that newspaper because it was the first time I had ever had my name in the paper.”
“I remember that article,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Teresa seemed shy. I didn’t say anything more.
The rest of the day was informative. After lunch, some of this year’s IHP students showed us around the dorm where they all lived. The thought of having a roommate was a little scary to me. What if my roommate snored? What if we didn’t get along? But it was just one of those things I was going to have to get used to. And I liked the idea of everyone in the IHP program living together. Even if there would probably be a lot of liberals in the dorm, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to find anyone at all to be friends with.
The final presentation of the day was with Dr. McGillicuddy and a few of the professors who taught IHP classes. Each of them shared about the courses we would have to choose from. Some of the topics definitely seemed more interesting to me than others. I felt a little overwhelmed at everything by this point, so I found myself kind of starting to tune out.
We got out of the last presentation around 3:30 and walked back toward the car. “So what did you think?” Mom asked.
“Interesting,” I said. “I kind of like the idea of having classes that are just for the IHP program. It’s like I don’t have to do everything on my own all at once. I can get used to being in college while I still have this small group within the big university to be part of.”
“I liked that too,” Mom said. “And I think you are going to make lifelong friendships here.”
“I don’t even know if I’ve been accepted yet.”
If they’re inviting you to this program and saying that you have a Regents’ Scholarship for your grades, I’m pretty sure that means you’ll be accepted.”
“I don’t know,” I said pessimistically. “Things don’t always make sense.”
We got into the car. Dad saw the Grateful Dead tickets still sitting on the center console. “We never saw Crunchy again,” he said.
“Crunchy. The rock music major guy. I was going to see if he wanted the Grateful Dead tickets.”
“That was a good idea,” I said. “But I didn’t see him either.”
“So they aren’t going to get used?” Mom asked.
“I guess not.”
“Sorry,” I said. I hoped Dad wasn’t too upset about the tickets not getting used.
I turned on the radio after we got back on the freeway, watching Jeromeville pass behind me from the car. It was too early to decide where I was going to end up next year. I still wanted to see Central Tech up close; Mom had talked about going down there during spring break. But I definitely liked what I saw at Jeromeville. I liked the idea of having a smaller group to belong to, and people to be closer with. Maybe I just would end up making lifelong friends in IHP… even if some of them were liberal extremists. After all, it’s a university, and university students everywhere have a reputation of being pretty far to the left.
And, no matter what happened, I would have better radio stations to listen to than I did back in Plumdale.