September 12, 1997. My return to the baseball stadium. (#144)

I was never an athlete.  My brother Mark got all the athletic talent in our family.  I played tee ball when I was six years old; all I remember is that we did not keep score, which I thought was dumb, and the coach made me cry once.  My high school football career lasted one day, before I realized that I was in way over my head and badly out of shape.  Despite that, though, I still grew up around sports, watching games on television and working the scoreboard and snack bar for Mark’s baseball and basketball games.

I went to my first professional sporting event, a Bay City Titans baseball game, in 1982, the summer after I finished kindergarten.  A few years later, the four of us in our family started going to games more regularly, a few times every year, until the summer of 1994.  By that time, several months of negotiations had failed to produce a resolution between the players’ union and the team owners on money issues.  The players voted to strike, and the last month and a half of the season was canceled, as well as all postseason championship games.  The strike was not resolved until a few weeks into the 1995 season.

I moved to Jeromeville for school during that players’ strike, and with no baseball that fall and no cable TV with which to watch games once baseball resumed in the spring, I stopped following baseball closely.  Besides, I was still upset that the previous season had been canceled.  One of my favorite players, Matt Williams, had 43 home runs at the time the strike began, giving him a legitimate chance to break the record for home runs in one season, which was 61 at the time.  He never got that chance, and he never hit that many home runs in another season.  Baseball had broken my trust.

The strike did not affect the minor league teams playing in smaller cities, and some national television networks began showing high-level minor league games.  A new independent league, with players and teams not connected to the big leagues, formed in the western United States in 1995.  This league included a team in Santa Lucia County where I grew up, the Gabilan Peppers.  I went to a few games with my parents over the years when I was home during the summer, and they were always lots of fun.  Unfortunately, the Peppers only lasted a few seasons before folding.

I did not think about going to a baseball game again until just recently.  I had stayed in touch off and on over the years with Mrs. Allen, my English teacher from both seventh and eighth grade.  Seventh grade had been a very difficult year for me, I was going through things that I could not share with anyone around me, and I did not really have friends.  Mrs. Allen had been a positive influence for me that year, someone who believed in me and showed me that school could be a safe place.  Last week, shortly after I moved back to Jeromeville for the fall, I got an email from Mrs. Allen, asking how I was doing.  Among other things, she asked if I had been following the Titans, because they had a chance to win their division and make the playoffs.  She was a season ticket holder, and she invited me to come to a game with her before classes started again for me.  I told her that I had not been following closely since the strike, but it would be good to see her, and good to go to a game again after three years.

It was mid-afternoon on a Friday as I left Jeromeville for the Titans game, driving west on Highway 100 toward Bay City.  The first half hour of the drive, as far as Fairview, was very familiar to me, because that was also the first part of the drive to my parents’ house.  But after Highway 6 split off from Highway 100 to the south, the next thirty-two miles of busy freeway from there to the Bay City Bridge was a road I had only been on twice.  The first time was that weekend trip sophomore year when I rode in Eddie Baker’s car and kept hoping for a chance to talk to Haley Channing, and the other time was last year seeing the other major sports team in Bay City, the Captains football team.

In Oaksville, as I approached the bridge, traffic slowed to a halt.  This was normal for this area, especially on a Friday afternoon as people tried to get home from work and get either away from or into the city for the weekend.  I had left earlier than I needed to, expecting to hit traffic.  I inched forward at a crawl for about fifteen minutes leading to the toll booths.  I gave the toll taker one dollar, which was the toll on most of the area’s bridges at the time before it increased dramatically over the next couple decades.

Oaksville and Bay City were separated by about four miles of water.  Most of my trips to Bay City as a child were to watch Titans games, and the stadium is at the extreme south end of the city, so that I would not see much else of the city on those trips.  I had also been to a few other places that required driving across the city from south to north.  This spectacular view I had now of entering the city from east to west, with all of the tall buildings of the city’s downtown rising from the water below, was one I had only seen a couple times before.  I did not grow up around buildings this tall, and the concept of such a densely populated city fascinated me.  I could not fully admire the view, however, because I had to pay attention to where I was going.  The freeway was extremely crowded at this time of day, and I had to make sure that I was not in an exit-only lane, and that I would end up in the correct lane to continue onto Highway 11 southbound at the point where Highway 100 ended, two miles after the bridge.

After taking almost half an hour to drive the seven miles from the bridge to the stadium, I found a parking spot in the vast asphalt lot, among the sea of cars surrounding the stadium, and began walking toward the entrance.  The Titans’ stadium was built in the 1960s, during an era when the construction landscape in professional sports was dominated by huge concrete structures on the fringes of cities with little character on the outside.  Being in Bay City, there was at least the view of the bay, but even this was removed from the inside of the stadium in 1971 when the Captains began sharing the Titans’ stadium.  New seats were added to accommodate the larger crowds for football, surrounding the entire field 360 degrees in a misshapen ring, distorted to account for the different shapes of baseball and football fields.

Mrs. Allen had told me to meet her outside one specific entrance to the stadium, and as I approached, I was surprised that I found her relatively quickly, considering the size of the crowd.  She looked pretty much the same as she had when I was first in her class nine years earlier, a heavy-set woman in her late forties, with long hair typical of one her age who had been a hippie in her twenties.  She wore a Titans jersey and jeans.  I waved as I approached her.  “I hope you weren’t waiting long,” I said.  “I hit traffic.”

“Hi, Greg,” Mrs. Allen replied, giving me a side hug.  “I haven’t been here that long.  I figured traffic might be bad coming over the bridge.  How are you?”

“Pretty good.  Ready to go in?”

I followed Mrs. Allen to our seats, toward the back of the lower level.  The evening air was cool, because of the bay nearby, and would only get colder as the night went on.  Night games in Bay City had a reputation for being cold, and the stadium had been built in one of the coldest and windiest parts of the city, simply because it was one of the few places in the city with open land at the time.  I had been carrying a jacket, the same jacket I got for the trip to Urbana last winter, but I was not quite cold enough to put it on yet.  I was a little sweaty from walking from the car to the stadium.

“So how was your time in Oregon?” Mrs. Allen asked.  “What exactly were you researching?”

Quasi-Monte Carlo integration using low-discrepancy sequences,” I explained.  “I was looking at ways to efficiently approximate integrals that can’t be calculated exactly using conventional means.  ‘Monte Carlo integration’ uses random numbers to make this approximation; that’s why it’s called Monte Carlo, because of random numbers being associated with gambling.  We were looking at ways to choose numbers that give more efficient and accurate approximations than just purely random numbers.”

“That’s all a bit beyond me,” Mrs. Allen said.  “When would you use something like this?”

“Any time you need to calculate an integral that can’t be calculated using normal methods.  Integrals are used for finding area and volume of irregular shapes.  And for any problem where you have to multiply, but the things you multiply are changing.  Like, for example, you multiply speed times time to find distance.  But if the speed is always changing in some predictable way, you would use an integral to find the total distance.  And some integrals can’t be calculated using regular techniques like adding and multiplying, so we need efficient ways to approximate them, and we need to know how accurate those methods are.”

“I see.  So what did you learn from your research?”

“Honestly, I’ve been telling people that the most important thing I learned was that I don’t really like math research.  But I’m glad to have learned this now, before I go invest years of my life and thousands of dollars in a Ph.D. program.”

“That’s a good point.  Graduate school is a huge commitment.”

“I know.”

“So do you know what you’re doing instead after you graduate?”

“Even though I said a few years ago I never wanted to, I’m now looking at being a teacher,” I explained.  “One of my professors set me up helping out in a high school classroom last spring, and I really enjoyed it.  I know I need a few more classes I hadn’t planned for as prerequisites for the teacher certification program.  I’m taking one of them this next quarter, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get them all in during this year.  So I don’t know yet if I’m going to graduate in the spring.  I might have to wait to start student teaching until the fall of ’99.  I’m also going to look into options for other teaching programs besides Jeromeville, but one of the professors from the Jeromeville program I’ve met before, so if I stayed at Jeromeville, I’d have that familiarity.”

Mrs. Allen had a look of excitement on her face; I could see that she approved of this career choice.  “Good for you!” she exclaimed.  “I think you’ll make a great teacher.”

“Thank you.”  It was an honor to know that I had Mrs. Allen’s vote of confidence, since she had been such an influential teacher in my career as a student.

“I’ll have to tell Mr. Colby when I see him on Monday,” Mrs. Allen said.  “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear you’re looking into teaching.”

“Yes.  Tell him I said hi.”

“He used to tell that story all the time about the time he had to step out of the room, and when he came back a few minutes later, you were teaching the class.”

“I remember that,” I said, laughing.  “Someone asked me if I knew how to do a homework problem, and I didn’t want to scribble all over her paper, so I went up to the board to do it.  And when I was done, I turned around and everyone was watching me, and they started asking me more questions.”

“That’s a great story.”

The baseball game had begun by then.  The opponent was the Dallas Armadillos, and because of the recent changes made to baseball scheduling, this was the first time the Armadillos and Titans had ever played each other.  Before this year, teams in the two baseball leagues did not play each other until the end of the season, when the two champions would face each other.  Dallas was in the other league, and they had never been in the championship, so they had never played Bay City until this year.

The Titans scored first with a home run in the second inning, but their lead did not hold.  Three Dallas players got hits in the fourth inning, and two of them scored.  The game was then boring for about an hour as the teams took turns not scoring for the next few innings.  Mrs. Allen and I used that time to catch up and make small talk.  I told her more about my new house and roommates, as well as volunteering with the church youth group and being in chorus last year.

“When do classes actually start for you?” Mrs. Allen asked.

“September 25.  But next week I’m going on two retreats.  Monday through Friday I’ll be in Pine Mountain with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  Then I’ll be leaving straight from there to a retreat with the youth group leaders from church, somewhere up near the Great Blue Lake.”

“That sounds like it’ll be fun!  A good way to spend the last week before school starts.  What classes are you taking?”

“Number theory, abstract algebra, writing in education, and chorus.”

“I’m glad you’re still doing chorus.  You were never doing anything with music back in middle school, were you?”

“No.  I was too self-conscious back then.”

“That’s too bad.  But I’m glad you found chorus eventually.”

“Thanks.”  

The crowd became more lively after the Armadillos’ pitcher threw two walks and gave up a hit, loading the bases for the Titans.  A new pitcher came in for the Armadillos, and the next Titans batter hit a ground ball and was thrown out for the second run of the inning.  The runner on third base was fast enough to score, giving the Titans a tenuous lead of three runs to two, and the crowd cheered loudly.

I stood and cheered, then sat back down a minute later. “It’s cold,” I said; more of my body’s surface area had been exposed to the cold night wind when I had stood, and I had no more layers of clothing to put on.

“It’ll be nice when the new stadium gets built,” Mrs. Allen said.  “The new location is supposed to be less windy.”

“So did they decide on a new location for sure?” I asked.  The team had been trying to get this old, windy stadium replaced for a long time.  Five years ago, the old owners tried to sell to a group that was going to move the team out of state, but the other teams in the league voted the sale down.  The owners then sold the team to a group committed to keeping them in Bay City with a plan to build a stadium close to downtown and the bridge.

“Yes.  It’s the same place they’ve been talking about for years, near the bridge,” Mrs. Allen explained.  “But they had to go through a long process to finally get everything approved.  Construction is supposed to start later this year, but it’ll be a couple more years until it’s done.”

“That’s exciting,” I said.

Both teams scored again shortly afterward, and by the end of the eighth inning, the score was tied at four each.  No one scored in the ninth inning, and the game went to extra innings.  I shivered in the cold wind as I watched the game and continued to make small talk with Mrs. Allen.  Neither one of us wanted to leave the game early, but I felt miserable sitting outside in the cold, even with a jacket.  The jacket did not stop the wind from blowing into my face, and I only wore one layer over most of my legs.

But my persistence paid off.  In the bottom of the twelfth inning, a new pitcher entered the game for Dallas, and he did not seem to have a good command of where his pitches were going.  He walked the first batter he faced, then two batters later, with one out, he gave up a double to the outfield.  With runners on second and third base, the next Titans batter got a hit, scoring the runner on third and giving the Titans a win, by a score of 5-4.  I jumped up and began screaming and clapping loudly.  I reached over and gave Mrs. Allen a high-five.  “Someone’s excited,” she said.

“That was awesome!”

I walked Mrs. Allen back to her car.  “Thank you so much for inviting me,” I said.

“Tjhank you for coming!  It was so good to see you.”

“Yes.  Say hi to all my other old teachers.”

“I will.  Drive safely!”

“You too!”

Even though it was still technically summer, I turned on the heater when I got back to my car.  I was cold.  This was my first time watching a big-league baseball game in over three years, and tonight was the perfect experience to reintroduce me to the sport.  The Titans had gotten a win in dramatic fashion, and they had a good chance to make the playoffs.  This was also the first time I had ever stayed to the end of a night game that went to extra innings, and sitting through the cold made it feel more like I earned the win.

It had been a long game, and it was well after eleven o’clock by the time I got back to the car.  The drive back to Jeromeville would have taken about an hour and a half in good traffic, but traffic after a major sporting event is rarely good, so I did not get home until one-fifteen in the morning.  Traffic was mostly stop-and-go for the first couple miles, and it slowed down in other spots elsewhere in the city.  By the time I finally got to the bridge, traffic was moving again, and the rest of the drive home was smooth and uneventful.

The Bay City Titans did in fact end up with the best win-loss record in their division, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs.  It would be over a decade before I would get to see them win a championship in my lifetime, but I would go to many more Titans games over the next few years.  I was at the final game played in this stadium, and while I was not able to go to the first game in the new stadium, I was at the fifth one, the first Saturday game in the new stadium.  

Mrs. Allen is the only teacher from my childhood whom I have stayed in touch with semi-consistently for my whole life, although Mr. Colby did find me on Facebook when I was in my late 30s.  I tend to see Mrs. Allen every few years, through a combination of planned events and chance encounters when I am back in Santa Lucia County.  We met for lunch the last time I visited back home, in June of 2022; she is now in her mid-seventies, with much shorter hair, and has been retired for some time.

I have also been on the other side of some of those teacher-student relationships, since I grew up to be a teacher myself.  Many students I have never seen again after they finished their time at my school, or after I left their school, whichever the case may be, but there have been a small handful who have stayed in touch to various degrees.  I have watched some of my former students grow up and become parents themselves, I have attended three weddings of former students, and I have experienced at least one hilarious awkward encounter with a former student who knew I looked familiar but could not place how she met me.  All of those are stories for another time, but those stories are part of what keeps me going in the demanding and exhausting field of education.


Readers: Do you follow baseball? Do you have any fun stories about memorable baseball games you’ve been to?

I know I’m a day late this week, and it’s for a reason kind of appropriate to this episode: I was in Bay City yesterday at a Titans game, with my parents and the Kanekos, at that new stadium that got built a few years after this episode.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


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December 18-26, 1996.  A time of firsts. (#112)

“What is that on the tree?” I asked, laughing, because I knew exactly what this new Christmas ornament was.

“Your brother made that,” Mom said, rolling her eyes.

Back in the 1990s, the tallest player in the National Basketball Association was seven-foot-seven-inch Gheorghe Muresan, of the team known then as the Washington Bullets.  My brother Mark loved basketball and played on the school team, and he thought Gheorghe Muresan was fascinatingly odd-looking.  Mark apparently cut a photo of Gheorghe Muresan out of a magazine, attached an ornament hook to it, and hung it on the Christmas tree.

“But why?” I asked.

“Why not?” Mark said, laughing.

“Good point.  Hey, is that a Nintendo 64?”

“Yes,” Mom answered.  “It was Mark’s early Christmas present.”

“Can I get a turn when you’re done?” I asked Mark.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Whatever.”

I took my bags to my bedroom.  I had finished final exams a few days earlier, and Christmas was about a week away.  I spent a lot of time that week playing the new Super Mario game on Mark’s Nintendo 64.  The previous Mario games had been two-dimensional platform games, in which Mario moved side to side and jumped on things.  This one was three-dimensional, with a thumbstick controlling Mario from the first person, and I had more difficulty with it.  It was still fun, though.

The week went by quickly.  I got my dad a Grateful Dead calendar for Christmas, as I always did, and I got Mom the new book in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, M is for Malice.  I got Mark a calendar of NBA players, which he put on his wall and then ignored.  The calendar still displayed January 1997 well into 1999, and when I asked him about it then, he complained that he never used calendars.  I never got Mark a calendar again.

We had fewer presents to open this year. Mark had already gotten his Nintendo 64, and a few days after I got home, Mom took me shopping for my early Christmas present. We bought a jacket, a beanie, and comfortable thick socks, since I was going to be spending the week after Christmas in a colder climate. On the ride home from the mall, Mom made small talk.

“How many people do you know who will be at Urbana?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  Quite a few.  But it’s such a huge convention, and I don’t know where everyone will be.  Eddie Baker told me we might not even see each other.”

Next, Mom started naming specific school friends whose names she remembered.  “What’s Brian doing for Christmas?” Mom asked.

“Going to his parents’ house in Valle Luna, then going to Urbana.  Since he’s a staff member, he has to work there, but I don’t know what he’s doing.”

“Okay.”

“He left the apartment on Sunday.  When he left, he said, ‘I’ll see you at Urbana!’”

“What’s Eddie doing for Christmas?  Seeing his family too?”

“Yeah.  In Sunnyglen.”

“Did he tell you, ‘I won’t see you at Urbana?’”

“No,” I laughed.




Usually, the evening of December 25 was a time to relax and unwind after a long day of being around relatives.  But this year was different; Mom and I spent the evening packing.  I would need a minimum of six changes of clothes besides the clothes I would put on in the morning, so I put seven changes of clothes in my suitcase just in case.  I also packed my new jacket, beanie, and socks.  In my backpack, I put a notebook, a few pens, and my Bible.  Mom suggested that I move one change of clothes to the backpack and use it as carry-on luggage, just in case I got stranded in an airport somewhere.  I was not familiar with this concept of carry-on luggage, but I figured out what she meant.

It was close to midnight by the time I finally got to bed and set my alarm for 4:30.  Tonight was not looking like a restful night.  I was too excited and overwhelmed to fall asleep quickly, and I got less than four hours of sleep that night.  Hopefully I would be able to sleep on the plane, but since I had no concept of what an airplane trip was like, how uncomfortable or noisy it would be, I was not sure.

We left the house a little after five o’clock, which got us to the Bay City airport around seven.  The flight left at 8:30, and although going through airport security did not take nearly as long in 1996 as it does now, I still wanted to be there in plenty of time.

I did not know how to plan an airplane trip.  Tabitha Sasaki had said a few months ago that she wanted to get a few people to go in together on a flight and hotel room, and she had done all the planning; I just gave her money.  The convention did not start until the morning of the 27th, so today, the 26th, would be a travel day, ending in a stay at a hotel.

The Urbana convention, hosted by Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, was named after its location in Urbana, Illinois.  Thousands of Christian young adults would descend on Urbana this week to learn about opportunities to serve Jesus around the world.  Shuttle buses for Urbana attendees would pick up students from the airports in Chicago and Indianapolis, each about a two-hour drive from Urbana.  We were scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis in the early evening, after changing planes in St. Louis.  I had never been that far east before.  I also had no memory of ever having been in an airport, so basic airport concepts like checking bags, going through security, waiting at the gate, and showing a boarding pass were completely foreign to me.  Mom says that I was on an airplane once as a baby, but I was too young to remember that.

“Which airline are you taking?” Mom asked as she turned off the freeway to the airport entrance.  Bay City International Airport was very large, with different airlines served by different terminals.

“TWA,” I replied.  Mom followed the signs to the terminal for TWA and found a place to park in a short-term parking garage.  Mom followed me inside the terminal, then asked, “Who are you supposed to be meeting here?”

“Tabitha said to meet near check-in.  Is that there?” I asked, pointing toward the long desk and longer line of travelers waiting to check bags and get boarding passes.  As we approached, I noticed a round-faced Asian girl with chin-length black hair standing not too far off and said, “There’s Tabitha right there.”

Tabitha saw me as I walked toward her.  “Hey, Greg,” she said.  “We’re still waiting for Leslie and Lillian.”

“Mom, this is Tabitha,” I said.  “Tabitha, this is my mom, Peggy.”

“Nice to meet you,” Tabitha said, shaking Mom’s hand.

“You too,” Mom replied.

“Do I have to get in that line?” I asked.  “I’ve never done this before.”

“You’ve never been on an airplane?” Tabitha replied.

“Once when I was a baby.  But I don’t remember it.”

“Oh, wow!  Yeah, we’ll have to check our bags there.  I figured the line doesn’t look too long, so we can wait until everyone gets here and all stay together.  There’s Leslie.”

“Hey, guys,” Leslie said, walking toward us.  “Is everyone here?”

“We’re still waiting for Lillian,” I said.

After I introduced Mom and Leslie, Mom said, “I still have to drive all the way back to Plumdale and work today.”

“I think you can go now,” I said.  “I’ll be okay.”

“Are you sure?” Mom asked.

“Yes.”  I knew that Mom was going to worry the whole time I was traveling, but she also seemed to be subtly complaining about having gotten up early.  I had found my traveling companions, though; I was ready to continue on my own.

“Okay,” Mom said.  “Call me from the hotel room when you get there.”

“I will.”  I gave Mom a hug and watched as she walked away.


Lillian arrived a few minutes after Mom left, and we boarded the flight to St. Louis without incident.  We rode a very large aircraft, with ten seats in each row broken into three sections by aisles.  The four of us were all near each other, although not immediately adjacent.  We had one window seat among the four of us, on the left, and being a map and geography geek, I was quite interested in seeing the United States from thousands of feet in the air.  I reminded everyone that I had not been on an airplane in almost twenty years, and that I was too young to remember my other airplane trip, so they were willing to let me have the window seat.  I decided that I would be nice and not push for the window seat on the return trip.

We took off over the Bay, and I could see Oaksville and other sprawling suburbs spread out on the other side of the Bay against the hills.  It took only a few minutes for the airplane to fly over the hills, and by the time we reached the Valley on the other side, I could spot Jeromeville in the distance, although it was too far away to identify any landmarks.

Beyond the Valley, the land below the airplane became mountainous.  Vast stretches of this terrain was high enough in altitude to be covered with snow.  It was beautiful; I had only seen snow up close twice in my life at this point.  After we had been in the air for about forty-five minutes, a layer of clouds appeared between the airplane and the ground.  I had never seen this perspective, with clouds stretched out below like a puffy carpet, but I soon got bored at staring at the clouds, since there were no features to identify.  I began dozing; I was still tired from having awakened so early this morning.

When the clouds cleared, I could see a highway interchange on the brown land below me, but I had lost all my bearings by this point and had no idea where I was.  The land was mostly featureless, and the trip was not close to being over yet.  I still looked out the window for a long time, seeing an occasional road or building below, before nodding off again.

Our plane touched down in St. Louis in mid-afternoon, although it felt like lunch time since we lost two hours because of time zones.  “Which way are we going now?” I asked Tabitha as we emerged into the airport gate.

“Follow me,” she replied, looking at her boarding pass.  We walked down a row of gates and found the one for the next leg of our flight.  It was not far from where we were, and our next flight did not leave for an hour and a half, so we went to find overpriced fast food for lunch.

“Did you say someone else we know is going to be at our hotel?” Lillian asked.

“Yes!” Tabitha replied.  “So many people from Jeromeville will be at our hotel.  We’ll probably hang out with them later tonight.”

“That’ll be fun,” I said.  With so much around me at the moment that was unfamiliar, in light of Eddie’s comment about how we might not see anyone we know at Urbana, I definitely felt relieved that others I knew would be at the hotel.

Boarding the flight to Indianapolis was much like the experience of boarding the other flight from Bay City to St. Louis, but the inside of the airplane was much different.  This plane was smaller, with only six seats across and one aisle down the middle.  The flight itself was also much shorter, so I did not have time for a nap.  I sat in a middle seat, so my view out the window was not as clear as on the first leg of the flight, but as the plane headed east, I noticed more and more snow appearing on the ground.  By the time we landed in Indianapolis, the entire ground was covered in a few inches of snow for as far as I could see in any direction.  I wondered if the ground in Indiana and Illinois was continuously covered in snow all winter.  I mentioned to the others while we were waiting to get our luggage that I had never seen so much snow in my life.

“Really?” Leslie asked.

“We’re definitely not home anymore,” Tabitha said.

We caught a shuttle bus to the hotel.  The driver seemed completely unfazed by the snow.  I would have been panicking, driving in the snow like that, wondering if I needed to put chains on the tires, but people who lived in this climate apparently knew how to drive in snow.  There did not seem to be snow accumulating on the roads, probably because the snow was not currently falling and cars had been driving on the road all day.

I was the only guy in our travel group, so Tabitha had booked me in a separate room.  After we checked in, I went to my room and lay on the bed.  I spent the next hour or so attempting to nap again.  Although the clock said it was dinner time, I was not hungry, since I had just eaten a fairly large lunch, and my body was still on West Coast time and felt like it was earlier.

At around quarter to eight, Tabitha knocked on my door; Leslie was with her.  “We saw Scott and Amelia in the lobby earlier.  We’re all going to meet now to watch Friends.  You wanna come?”

I was not expecting to have a major quandary on this trip.  In an effort to keep from alienating myself from all of the people I had met at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and Jeromeville Covenant Church, I had hidden from them the fact that I did not watch Friends.  Since I was on a school holiday, it had not even crossed my mind that today was Thursday, and that Friends would be on tonight.  I had never actually seen the show, so I could not really say that I hated it, but the show was extremely popular, and I got the impression from commercials and hearing people talk about the show that it was not my thing.  However, could I really have a well-formed opinion of the show without having watched it?  I also did not want to pass up an opportunity to see my actual friends here in this unfamiliar, snow-covered landscape, so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure.”

I followed Tabitha and Leslie upstairs to a hallway that looked identical to the one on my floor.  They knocked on a door, and Amelia answered.  “Hey,” she said.  Then, noticing me, seeing me for the first time in two weeks, she said, “Hi, Greg!  How are you?  How was your Christmas?”

“Good,” I replied.  “Just the usual stuff with my family.  My brother got a Nintendo 64, so that was fun.  How was yours?”

“Nice.  But I spent most of yesterday packing, so I wasn’t around my family as much.”

I walked into the room, where about a dozen people had packed in on the beds and floor, including Amelia’s boyfriend Scott, Lillian from our flight, Melinda Schmidt, Joe Fox, Alyssa Kramer, Autumn Davies, Leah Eckert, and others.  I made small talk with some of the people in the room for a few minutes until the show started.

As I watched the six New Yorkers on the screen talk about their lives, careers, and sexual partners, I realized exactly why I disliked the show.  I found all of them completely unrelatable.  The show had some moments that made me chuckle, but so much of the plot revolved around relationships and sex, for which I had no frame of reference.  They reminded me of the stereotypical cool kids who excluded me and got what they wanted through morally questionable means.  I wondered why so many of my Christian friends were so attached to a show with characters behaving in a way that contradicted the Bible’s teachings about sexuality.  I hoped that the others in the room did not live like Rachel and Ross and Joey and all the annoying people on the screen.  But I kept quiet and watched the show; now was not the time to start an argument.  And now that I had watched the show, I knew for sure that I did not like it.


I looked out the hotel window before I went to bed that night and watched snow fall lightly on the parking lot for a few minutes.  When I woke up in the morning, the snow was clearly deeper than it had been yesterday.  I bundled up, wearing my new jacket and beanie, and met Tabitha and the others in the lobby at the time we had discussed, to wait for the shuttle bus.  After we boarded the bus, it took a little over two hours to travel west through the snow-covered rolling hills to the campus.

I was excited for what was coming.  This winter break had been a time of firsts.  Back home with my brother was my first time playing Nintendo 64.  Now, this trip was my first time being on an airplane, at least in my memory; my first time in a different time zone; and my first time in Missouri and Indiana.  This morning, as I saw a sign out the bus window that said “ILLINOIS STATE LINE,” I added a third new state to this trip.  It had also been my first time watching Friends, an experience I had no particular desire to replicate.  Once I arrived on the campus and stood in line for registration, receiving a bracelet as a convention attendee, I knew that this would be a unique experience opening my eyes to new firsts that God would show me in the upcoming years.

(To be continued…)

The actual wristband from 1996. Photo recreated using my 2021 wrist.

Author’s note:

Hi, friends! I’m back… my break from writing was a little longer than I thought it would be, mostly just because life got in the way. During the break, I started another blog (click here) to write about other things, or to write about writing, or to share other creative works besides my continuing story. I’m not planning to post there on any schedule, but you can subscribe if you want updates from me. Also, I wrote a couple of guest posts for other blogs; I will share the links here when they get published.

This Urbana trip was the farthest I had been from my home in the western US at the time, but as of 2021, the farthest I have been from home is Kittery, Maine, on the US East Coast about an hour drive north of Boston. The story of that trip will be told in Just Take The Leap, a sequel to Don’t Let The Days Go By that I plan on writing someday, years from now.

What is the farthest you have been from home?

Disclaimer: Urbana is a real event (urbana.org), but it has since moved, and is not actually held in Urbana anymore. Intervarsity was not involved in the composition of this story, and this is not a sponsored post.


Mom found the Christmas ornament and put it up this year.