Mid-March 1995. I completely dropped the ball.

Every Jeromeville student knows that Dr. Andrew E. Bryant is the best professor to get for general chemistry.  His students love him. He has been named Instructor of the Year. He is personable and likeable, better at interacting with students than most people who teach in a 400-seat lecture hall.  Dr. Bryant is known for pulling pranks on his class; I heard about one time on the first day of the quarter when he got some other chemistry professor to pretend like he was going to be teaching the class instead.  This other professor went over a fake syllabus that included far more difficult assignments and strict grading than any reasonable professor would have. A student who was in on the prank kept complaining that this was supposed to be Dr. Bryant’s class, getting the other students worked up.  The whole time, Dr. Bryant was sitting in the class disguised, and he revealed himself to the class about five minutes in. I wish I had been there to see that. Dr. Bryant is everyone’s favorite chemistry professor…

… in 2019.  I didn’t get to take his class, because Dr. Bryant wasn’t at UJ yet in 1995.  He started there in the early 2000s. And he wasn’t even Dr. Bryant yet in 1995; he was still an undergrad, at University of the Bay if I remember right.  Instead of getting a good professor like Dr. Bryant, I got Dr. Albrecht, who was boring and hard to understand because German appeared to be his first language.  And I was nodding off in his class today, because I was up too late last night talking on IRC with this girl named Jenny. (There’s a reason I brought up Dr. Bryant in the first place, but that’s another story for another time.)

I attempted to follow along with Dr. Albrecht’s lecture in the large lecture hall in the chemistry building.  Until this year, this was the largest lecture hall on campus; that really weird-looking concrete building that just opened this year had a larger lecture hall.  I tried to stay awake enough to take notes, but they were considerably less than legible. I became aware in my half-conscious state at one point that Dr. Albrecht was coughing.  After a few more coughs, he said, “Excuse me. I need to get a drink of water.” The sudden change in routine caused me to wake up a little, and I sat up to see Dr. Albrecht step out of the door on the side at the front of the lecture hall.

A little while after this, I heard running water and swallowing sounds.  I looked around, and people began to chuckle when they realized what was going on.  Dr. Albrecht was wearing a cordless lapel microphone, and he had forgotten to turn it off when he went to get water.  When Dr. Albrecht reappeared in the front of the classroom, the class greeted him with wild applause. I don’t know if he ever figured out that he had left his microphone on.

That was certainly the highlight of my classes that day.  The rest of the afternoon, I just did homework and studied.  At dinner time, I sat with a bunch of people from my building.  They were already there when I arrived, so I sat down in the middle of their conversation.

“So we looked at Hampton Place today,” Liz said.

“Which one is that?” Sarah asked.

“It’s behind Albertsons on Andrews and Coventry.  I like that place. It seemed nice and quiet, and it’s just a short walk to Albertsons for groceries.”

“You’d be in a two-bedroom?”

“Yeah.  They said if we give them a deposit by Friday, they’ll save two apartments for us, one right on top of the other.  Caroline and I upstairs, and Ramon and Jason downstairs.”

“That’d be a good arrangement.  Taylor, weren’t you guys looking at apartments today too?”

“Yeah,” Taylor said.  “We signed a lease at The Acacia.  That’s on Acacia Drive, not too far from where Liz was just talking about.”

“That’s you and Charlie and Pete?”

“Yeah.”

I started to get a feeling of dread as I realized what they were talking about.  They were making plans for living arrangements for next year. And all of this planning had happened while I was completely oblivious to it.  I didn’t even think about this as being something I should do right now. The next school year was over six months away. I had time. I didn’t have a roommate, and the thought of living with a roommate was kind of scary, but I surely still had other friends who would need a roommate.

 

A few days later, I got back from classes in the afternoon, went back to Building C, and checked my email from my room.  I had two messages, both of them forwarded chain letters. The first one was from Brendan upstairs, who sent a lot of forwarded chain letters and jokes; this one contained jokes about stereotypes of different universities in this area.


How many Bay students does it take to change a light bulb?
One to change the bulb, fifty-three to protest the bulb’s right to change, and twenty-six to protest the protesters.

How many Jeromeville students does it take to change a light bulb?
None, because Jeromeville doesn’t have electricity.

How many Capital State students does it take to change a light bulb?
One, and he gets five credits for it.

How many Santa Teresa students does it take to change a light bulb?
Twenty-six: one to hold the bulb, and twenty-five to throw a party and get so drunk that everything spins.

How many Walton students does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one; he holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.

How many Valley students does it take to change a light bulb?
None, because Stockdale looks better in the dark.


 

I laughed out loud at that last one.  I had visited the University of the Valley in Stockdale with my family on the same day we first visited Jeromeville, and the surrounding neighborhoods looked really trashy and sketchy.  And… Jeromeville doesn’t have electricity? What’s with that? While that is of course far from the truth, that does seem consistent with the way that urban elites in Bay City and San Tomas see the rest of the state.

The other email was from a girl named Jenny, whom I had met on IRC recently.  It wasn’t a standard chain letter, though; it was one of those things where she wanted her friends to answer questions about themselves.  Jenny answered nine questions that her friend Matt had sent her, then she forwarded the email to nine of her friends with a new nine questions for us to answer.


What is your favorite thing about Fall?
What is your go-to drink?
What favorite treat really hits the sweet spot for you?
Tell me about a favorite date or share a great date night idea.
Do you have a favorite family tradition?
What book(s) are you reading right now?
What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Do you have a secret or hidden talent?
What is one way you served or blessed someone else recently?


 

I hit Reply and started typing.


What is your favorite thing about Fall?
A new school year with a chance to meet girls… um, I mean new friends.

What is your go-to drink?
Coca-Cola.

What favorite treat really hits the sweet spot for you?
M&Ms.  I love those things.  I probably shouldn’t eat as many as I do.

Tell me about a favorite date or share a great date night idea.
Good question… my best date night idea is a night where I actually go on a date.  Because that pretty much doesn’t happen.

Do you have a favorite family tradition?
I don’t remember how this tradition started, but every year at Christmas, we play Trivial Pursuit.  My mom and I are both trivia buffs, and Grandpa also knows a lot of stuff, but he has the advantage of having been alive for some of the history questions.

What book(s) are you reading right now?
I just finished Forrest Gump by Winston Groom.  A lot of the details are different from the movie, but I liked it.  I loved the movie too. I just started reading It by Stephen King. My mom read this book when I was a kid, back when it was new, and I’ve heard it’s really good.

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be so shy or afraid to try new things!  I made a lot of new friends senior year of high school, and if I had actually gotten out more and met them earlier, I would have had more time before we all went off to college and lost touch.

Do you have a secret or hidden talent?
I know pretty much every highway in the western United States.  My friend Sarah, when we met, she had me guess where she grew up by naming two of the highways in her city, and I did.

What is one way you served or blessed someone else recently?
Yesterday, I was walking around the Memorial Union, looking for a place to kill time between classes.  I saw my friend Tiffany from math class, and she was having a hard time understanding the homework, so I helped her.

And my nine questions for you:
Were you named after anyone or anything, or for any particular reason?
What did you eat for dinner last night?
What’s a movie, TV show, book, song, etc. that you really like that most people haven’t heard of?
If you could go visit anyone currently alive on Earth right now, for one day, and getting yourself there was no object, who would it be, and where is this person?
Where is someplace you enjoy visiting that is not a traditional tourist destination?
Which dead celebrity or historical figure do you most wish had not died?
Coke or Pepsi, or neither, and why?
What do you like on your pizza?
What would you most definitely not want to name your future child, and why?


 

I sent this message to nine friends, all people I knew from the Internet who regularly sent me this kind of stuff.  I didn’t send it to anyone from Building C, because of the time a couple months ago when Karen Francis got so mad at me for forwarding a chain email to the entire building.

I lost track of time while I was studying and doing homework, and I didn’t make it to dinner until after seven o’clock.  None of my usual friends to sit with were there. I sat by myself at a large table, but a few minutes after I sat down, I heard someone ask, “Hey Greg!  What’s up? You mind if we sit with you?” The words were spoken very quickly, so that they almost ran together.

I looked up to see Jack Chalmers, a tall guy with a year-round tan who wore shorts and sandals most of the time, including right now, even though it was only 58 degrees outside.  He was with two other guys I didn’t know. Jack grew up in a beach town that I had never heard of before this year, south of here between Santa Teresa and San Angelo, and he always talked fast.  Jack was in my math class fall quarter, and he lived in Building F.

“Sure,” I said.  “Go ahead.” Jack and his friends sat at my table.

“How’s 21C?” he asked.

“It’s going well.  I still have an A. My instructor is a grad student, and I think it’s her first time teaching.  I had to explain something to her the other day.”

“I like my class this quarter.  The professor’s hard to understand, but I can usually figure it out.  You taking 21D in the spring?”

“Yes.  It’s at 9AM somewhere in Wellington, but I don’t remember the instructor or room number.”

“I’m in that same class.  There’s only one class at 9AM.”

“That’s cool.”

“What are you doing over spring break?”

“Nothing special.  I’m going back home for the week.  One of my friends from high school wants to get together and catch up.”

“You’re from Santa Lucia, right?  Or somewhere near there?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.”

Gesturing toward one of the other guys at the table, Jack said, “Jeremy and his girlfriend and I and someone else we know are gonna take a road trip to Santa Lucia over break.  We were just talking about the best way to get there from here. What do you think?”

Back in 1995, cars weren’t equipped with GPS, and there was no Google Maps to ask for directions.  In order to figure out how to get somewhere, you had to read a map. A map was this big piece of paper that would fold out, with diagrams of all the roads in the area.  Some people didn’t even read maps well, so they had to get directions by asking someone who was familiar with the area, although in 1995 I had no concept of the fact that some people couldn’t read maps.  But more on that later. I always had this odd fascination with maps and highways, so Jack’s question was perfect for me.

“You know how to get to San Tomas?” I asked.  “100 west to 6 south?”

“Yeah.  Should we keep going to the coast from there?”

“No.  That road always has really bad traffic.  Take 11 south to Plumdale, where I’m from, and then take 127 west.  And if you know where to look from 127, off the right side of the road you can see my high school.  There’s a big mural on the back of the gym that says ‘Tiger Country.’”

“The 127, west,” Jack repeated.  I noticed that Jack said “the 127” instead of “127” or “Highway 127.”  My friend Melissa from high school said that too. She grew up south of me, as did Jack, and this was a peculiarity of the speech pattern of people from that part of the state.   I always thought it sounded funny. In fact, in 2011 I had a girlfriend who said highway numbers with “the” in front; I made fun of her for it once, and she just glared at me. That relationship didn’t work out, although I should clarify that the highway thing was not the primary reason we broke up.

“Yes.  Just follow the signs to Santa Lucia from there.”

“That seems pretty simple,” Jack said.  “So do you know yet where you’re gonna live next year?”

I felt anxious as my brain processed what Jack had asked.  It seemed like literally everyone was talking about this, and I didn’t even know where to start.  “No,” I said.

“Do you have roommates for next year?”

“No.”

“I’ve heard places fill up fast.  You might want to get on that.”

My anxiety spiked even more.  Not only was everyone talking about this; it also seemed to be a bigger deal than I thought, even though it was only March.  “Yeah,” I said. “First, I need to figure out who to live with.”

“What’s your roommate now doing?” Jack asked.  “Would you want to live with him again?”

“I’m in a single room.”

“Hmm.”

“And most of the people I really know well already seem to have plans.”

“You can always find someone looking for a roommate.”

“I guess.  I don’t know what it would be like living with strangers, though.”

“Yeah.  I know a guy who is a junior, and he lives with people he didn’t already know.  They’re all pretty chill, but you might get someone sketchy.”

“Right.”

“Good luck, man.  Want me to tell you if I hear of anyone looking for a roommate?”

“Sure.”

To be honest, I really didn’t want to live with some friend of Jack’s whom I didn’t know.  But at this point, I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to be stuck being homeless.  I felt discouraged, like I had completely dropped the ball on this one.

Back in Building C, Taylor and Pete were sitting in the study lounge.  “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked into the lobby. I walked toward them.

“What are you guys up to?”

“Nothin’ much.  Just sitting.”

“I have no idea where I’m living next year.  I keep hearing everyone talking about it, and I didn’t even think about it until I overheard everyone.  Does anyone we know still need a roommate?”

“I don’t know,” Pete said.  “Most of the people I’ve talked to already have plans.  But keep asking. Plans might change.”

“And you can always find people looking for roommates,” Taylor added.  “Check the classifieds in the Daily Colt. Or just look around on bulletin boards.  I can let you know if any of our friends from church need a roommate, or anything like that.”

“Yeah.  I’m a little nervous living with strangers, though.”

“That makes sense.  But you never know. You might live with a stranger, and he’ll end up being your best friend.  None of us with roommates in Building C knew each other before this year.”

“That’s true.”

“You’ll figure something out,” Pete said.  “Start looking, but don’t stress about it.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said.

 

Associated Students publishes a guide to finding apartments in Jeromeville every year.  I was vaguely aware that there were stacks of these apartment guides in many of the large buildings around campus, next to the boxes that held the free copies of the Daily Colt.  I took a copy of the AS Apartment Guide the next day and started looking through it during a break between classes.

The city of Jeromeville is colloquially divided into six regions, although these six regions had no official legal status.  The oldest part of Jeromeville, between the campus and the railroad spur leading north to Woodville, is called Downtown Jeromeville.  The areas directly north of downtown and the UJ campus, but south of Coventry Boulevard, are called Central Jeromeville. West Jeromeville is west of Highway 117, North Jeromeville is north of Coventry, East Jeromeville is east of the railroad track and north of Highway 100, and South Jeromeville is south of 100, which means that it is actually southeast of downtown, but as the only part of Jeromeville south of 100, the “south” name stuck over the years.

Downtown Jeromeville was closest to campus, but it was by far the smallest of the six regions, and there were not many apartments downtown.  Central was also close to campus, and also lacking in apartments. Most of the rental properties in those areas were old houses or small apartment buildings that were rented privately by owners and not published in the AS Apartment Guide.  Larger and newer apartment complexes were scattered throughout the other four regions of Jeromeville. The Apartment Guide listed the number of apartments of each size at the complex (which did not necessarily mean that all would be available for the coming year), the monthly rent for each size of apartment, amenities offered by each apartment complex, and the nearest bus line.  The local bus system in Jeromeville is jointly operated by AS and the city, so most of the routes and schedules are very student-centered.

I noticed a large concentration of apartment complexes in a section of north Jeromeville along Alvarez Avenue and Maple Lane. One of the apartments in this area was called Las Casas Apartments; I remembered a few months ago when Mike Adams mentioned a friend who lived there, and I found the name funny because Las Casas literally means “the houses” in Spanish.  That might be a good area to look into; it wasn’t as old as the neighborhoods close to campus, and two grocery stores are nearby.

I also noticed that some apartment complexes in Jeromeville only had one- and two-bedroom apartments, and others, particularly the newer ones farther from campus, also offered three- and four-bedroom apartments.  Some also had studio apartments, which I thought meant that one room was intended to be both a living room and bedroom. One complex called Walnut Tree Apartments in west Jeromeville even had six-bedroom apartments.  As an adult, I now know that apartments this large are quite unusual in normal cities. Jeromeville has a market for large apartments, though, because most rental properties in Jeromeville are rented by groups of students living together.

I still did not know what my situation would be for roommates for next year, nor did I know how much Mom and Dad would be willing to spend on my rent, or if I would have to get a job.  And just about everyone I had asked in Building C already had roommates for next year, with many having already signed leases. The AS Apartment Guide didn’t help with that.

 

One day, during the following week, as everyone was preparing for winter quarter finals, I was doing math problems in the common room downstairs.  Jared, the weird guy from the third floor with the bushy blond hair, walked in, and I waved to him. “Hey, Greg,” Jared said, walking toward me and sitting in a chair next to me.  “Ready for finals?”

“I’m getting there.  What about you?”

“I have so much to do. I have a paper to write, and it’s due tomorrow.”

“I’m more worried about finding a place to live next year than I am about finals,” I said.  “Everyone seems to have plans already, and I had no idea any of this was going on.”

“Yeah.  This guy I’ve had classes with lives in a house just off campus, and they have an opening for next year.  So that’s where I’m going to live.”

I realized about halfway through mentioning my concern about next year’s living arrangements that maybe I shouldn’t say anything in front of Jared, because Jared might want me to live with him.  I really didn’t think I wanted to live with Jared. He was a nice guy, but a little odd. So I was a little relieved that Jared had plans for next year. “Do you know if anyone in this building still needs a roommate?” I asked.

Jared looked like he was thinking about this.  “Phuong?” he said.

“Hmm.  I haven’t talked to Phuong.”  I hadn’t talked to Phuong because the thought of having a girl roommate seemed strange and inappropriate to me.  People would get the wrong idea. And I didn’t know if I felt comfortable living in such close quarters with a girl.

“I hope you figure something out,” Jared said.  “I need to get upstairs and work on my paper.”

“Good luck,” I said as Jared got up and climbed the stairs.  A few minutes later, I went upstairs and back to my room. Later that night, after it was cheaper to call long distance, I called my parents and explained my situation.

“Don’t worry about this,” Mom said.  “We’ll find something. And like you said, the worst case scenario is you have to live with strangers.  But at least you’ll have a place to live.”

“I guess.”

“I’m sure not every apartment in Jeromeville is booked for next year already.”

“That’s not what I’m hearing people say.  Apparently everything here fills up really fast.”

“People are always moving in and moving out.  Something will be open.”

“That’s not how Jeromeville works.  According to the AS Apartment Guide, most apartments in Jeromeville use something called the ‘Jeromeville Model Lease.’  Apparently someone designed this to be student friendly, but what it means is that every apartment operates on a 12-month lease from September to August every year.”

“They can’t all do that, can they?”

“It sounds like they do.  At least most of them. It’s stupid that the city and the university think they can control the economy like that.  That’s Communism. But people like Communism in this socialist People’s Republic of Jeromeville.” Technically, apartment complexes participate in the Jeromeville Model Lease voluntarily, so it is not Communism.  If anything, it is a result of the free market; apartments use this to more easily market themselves to students, who are the overwhelming majority of Jeromeville renters. But thinking through whether or not the Jeromeville Model Lease is actually Communism is not something I wanted to do right now, since I was upset.

“And there’s no way you can be in a dorm again?” Mom asked.

“The dorms are only for freshmen.  At least, you’re only guaranteed a spot for one year.  That’s what I’ve read.”

“If you apply to be in the dorm again, is there a chance you might get in?  Is it too late to apply?”

“I’ll look into that, but I don’t know what my chances are like.”

“Could you commute?  Find an apartment somewhere else, like Woodville?  Or even Capital City. Capital City is huge; I’m sure there are lots of apartments there.  Even if it’s just temporary.”

“Maybe.”

“Don’t worry about that right now.  Take care of finals first. And when you come home after finals, bring the Apartment Guide, and we’ll start to make plans.”

“I guess.  And if I have time, I’ll drive or bike past some of these places to get a better idea of what the neighborhood is like.”

“Sounds like a plan.  See, you’ll figure this out.”

“I guess.”

 

My last final was Thursday afternoon of finals week; I stuck around to unwind and talk to girls on IRC that night, and drove home Friday morning, March 24.   My finals went pretty well. I didn’t find any of them to be particularly difficult, but I still felt a little apprehensive, because I rarely thought I did well on finals.  I always feared the worst. And I also felt bad because I had completely failed at making plans for housing next year. Mom said not to worry, but I did worry, because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I like having a plan to follow, and this wasn’t one.

But as difficult as it was, I knew that I would be able to make something work.  Maybe I would find a place of my own that wasn’t too unaffordable. I had a feeling that Mom and Dad would be willing to spend money on me, although I hated that.  Mom and Dad had made a lot of bad decisions with their money in the past, and I hated for them to have to spend more because I didn’t do my job of finding roommates.  I know I wouldn’t want that if I were ever a parent someday. I could always try to get a job next year if I felt like I needed to be contributing more.

I grabbed a tape at random and played it when I got far enough south for the Capital City radio stations to become fuzzy.  The tape was R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People album.  I took a deep breath as I tried to let the sounds of alternative pop-rock music and Michael Stipe’s strange lyrics drown out worries of not having a place to live next year.  I was unsuccessful in that.

But maybe it wasn’t all worrisome.  Maybe there was another plan in store for me.  Maybe someone I knew would have a potential roommate back out at the last minute.  Maybe I would be commuting from Woodville, or from Capital City. Maybe I would find strangers to live with, answering a roommate wanted ad or living with friends of friends whom I didn’t know personally.  And wherever I ended up next year, maybe my living situation would lead to something good that would never have happened had I lived somewhere different. One can never tell.

In hindsight, knowing how this part of my story turned out, I can definitely say that that last part is true; my living situation for sophomore year did in fact directly lead me to do something one night, which in turn led to something which changed my life forever.

 


AUTHOR’S NOTE from 2019:  Jenny, who wrote the email with all the questions to answer, is not an actual IRC friend from 1995; she is a current reader of this blog, who nominated me for another Sunshine Blogger Award.  The rules are to thank the blogger who nominated you, answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you, nominate new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.  Thank you, Jenny!  I don’t normally nominate people for stuff like this, as I said, but if any of you reading this want to do it on your blog, go for it.  And post a link to your blog below so other people can go take a look at it.

Go check out Jenny at http://progressinbloom.com

In the story, I only answered nine questions, because two of Jenny’s questions for me refer to blogging, which didn’t exist in 1995.  So here are those answers:

How long have you been blogging for and why did you start?
I started this blog in December 2018, because I like telling stories about my past, and I’m old enough now that life is very different now than it was in 1995, which makes the stories inherently more interesting.

What makes a blog article worth sticking around for— one you truly enjoy reading?
Good question.  I would say being able to relate is a good characteristic (which also applies to books and movies and TV for me).  I’m not going to read a blog about, say, the best way to have a great one-night stand, because I won’t ever have a one-night stand.

And my 11 questions for anyone who chooses to participate:

  • Were you named after anyone or anything, or for any particular reason?
  • What did you eat for dinner last night?
  • What’s a movie, TV show, book, song, etc. that you really like that most people haven’t heard of?
  • If you could go visit anyone currently alive on Earth right now, for one day, and getting yourself there was no object, who would it be, and where is this person?
  • Where is someplace you enjoy visiting that is not a traditional tourist destination?
  • Which dead celebrity or historical figure do you most wish had not died?
  • Coke or Pepsi, or neither, and why?
  • What do you like on pizza?
  • What would you most definitely not want to name your future child, and why?
  • iPhone or Android or neither, and why?
  • What celebrity do you enjoy following on social media the most, and if you don’t follow celebrities on social media, why not?  (It’s up to you whether or not someone counts as a celebrity)

 

January 8, 1995. Let her be.

Today was one of those days where I had to turn the windshield wipers on and off multiple times.  I wish the weather would just make up its mind sometimes. It rained hard enough for a few minutes that I needed to have the wipers on all the way, then the rain tapered off into showers requiring only intermittent wipers.  Then it was dry for a few minutes, and when the wipers started making an irritating squeaky noise, I remembered to turn them off. Then, a few minutes later, it would start raining again, and I would start the whole cycle again.  Of course, the trip from Plumdale to Jeromeville involved driving over hills and across valleys, which also accounts for part of the reason the weather changed so much.

This was now my fifth time making this trip since beginning classes at UJ.  I was learning these roads enough to know where I was and what was coming next.  Highway 11 north from Plumdale north to San Tomas. That usually took about 45 minutes.  Then north on Highway 6, through East San Tomas and Irving, and over a big hill. The highway winds east through the hills, and then north through the outer suburbs of San Tomas and Bay City.  After a city called Marquez, Highway 6 passes through an industrial area on the shore of the Capital River. The river at this point is over a mile wide, and the bridge is very high, because of bluffs on either side of the river and ships passing underneath.  The bridge is narrow, just barely wide enough for three lanes in each direction, with no shoulder and a narrow concrete barrier in the middle. It was built in 1962 when traffic was much lighter.

Across the bridge is an industrial area on the outskirts of the town of North Marquez.  The highway continues north for another ten miles, with hills on the left and a marshy grassland on the right, before merging with eastbound Highway 100.  Somewhere around there, I heard a song on the radio that I had never heard before. At first I thought it sounded like Pearl Jam, but I quickly realized that the singer, although having some similar vocal mannerisms to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, clearly was not him.  This guy had more of a soulful bluesy sound, and the melody wasn’t dark and angsty like a Pearl Jam song. It was more like folksy pop-rock, but with still a little bit of an Eddie Vedder sound to the vocals. Kind of like a Pearl Jam of the South, if such a thing could exist.  “And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be,” the singer who was not Eddie Vedder sang. That line stuck out in my mind all day. I would have to find out what this Pearl Jam of the South was called.

I drove northeast through Fairview and Nueces, but took a little side trip instead of continuing straight to Jeromeville.  A sign on the east side of Nueces says “TRAFFIC ALERT AM 1610,” with flashing yellow lights on top, and for the first time I saw the flashing lights on.  I tried turning my radio to AM 1610 to hear the TRAFFIC ALERT, but there were power lines nearby, and the radio was mostly picking up static. I panicked, wanting to avoid this TRAFFIC ALERT at all costs, so I could hurry up and get back to Building C and, more importantly, pee.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t hold it much longer, and I didn’t want to stay stuck in traffic.

Because I liked to read maps, I was pretty sure I could get back to UJ on back roads from here.  So I turned onto Pittman Road and then east on Grant Road, through nut tree orchards and cow pastures and tomato fields.  Grant Road eventually became West Fifth Street on the outskirts of Jeromeville, and I headed back to Building C the usual way from there.

What I did not realize at the time is that those TRAFFIC ALERT signs are not alerting me to any traffic in or near Jeromeville.  About 40 miles east of Jeromeville, Highway 100 begins climbing into some very high mountains, and this time of year, snow often affects driving conditions.  Each of these TRAFFIC ALERT signs is attached to a low-power radio station, the one I tried to turn on but couldn’t get clearly, and the radio stations play a recorded message about winter driving conditions in the mountains.  Carry chains in case of changing weather conditions. Chains required from such-and-such point to such-and-such point. Highway closed. Stuff like that. In the 21st century, there are electronic message boards that serve this purpose, but this technology had not yet implemented by the state Department of Transportation in 1995.  It doesn’t snow anywhere near Plumdale, and I didn’t grow up taking trips to the snow, so I had no concept that the TRAFFIC ALERT was about this and not a giant traffic jam approaching Jeromeville. I figured I would rather take about 10 minutes longer to get home than risk getting stuck in traffic.

I called Mom as soon as I got home.  “Hi, it’s me,” I said. “I’m home. It took a little longer because I took a side trip to avoid traffic–”

“You’re home?” Mom said, interrupting me.

“Yes–”

“And you’re safe?”  Mom sounded like she had been crying.

“Yes… what’s going on?”

“You weren’t in an accident on the bridge?”

“What?  Bridge? What are you talking about?”

“I was listening to the traffic report on the Bay City news station, to see if you were going to hit any traffic on your trip home, and I heard there was a really bad accident on the Marquez Bridge–”

“Really, Mom?  You hear there’s an accident, and you just assume it’s me?”

“I just knew it was you,” Mom replied, clearly in tears.  “I’ve been terrified this whole time. They said a car almost went over the bridge.  It ran into a truck. And there was a big pile-up behind it. You didn’t see or hear about any of this?”

“It must have been right behind me.  I didn’t have any traffic at all crossing the bridge.”

“I’m so glad you’re safe.  I need to call Grandma and tell her you’re ok.”

“Seriously, though.  Thousands of people cross that bridge every day.  You hear about one accident, and you just know it was me?  You don’t have a lot of faith in my driving skills.”

“I worry about you.  You know that.”

“I do.  But I also wish you would treat me as an adult.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom said.  “It’s just what I do.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your first class?  You start tomorrow, right?”

“Math, at 8 in the morning.  Again.”

“Do you know anyone who is in your class?”

“I haven’t asked.”

“Well, I’m glad you got home safely.  Enjoy your first day of classes tomorrow.  Just think; you’ve been through one quarter of college classes already, so you know what to expect.”

“True.”

“I’ll talk to you later.  Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and went to get lunch… or, more accurately, Sunday brunch.  On Saturdays and Sundays, the dining commons was not open for breakfast, and during lunch time, they served “brunch” instead.  Students often stayed up late on Friday and Saturday nights and did not eat breakfast the following mornings; at least that was my guess as to why the schedule was different on weekends.  I didn’t see many familiar faces at brunch. For that matter, I didn’t see many faces at all. The dining commons was mostly empty. Most students were probably waiting until the last minute to return to the dorms.

I spent my afternoon being lazy.  I wrote some emails to a few girls I had been talking to online.  I read some Usenet newsgroups and got on an IRC chat for a while. I took a nap.  I played Tetris and Sim City, during which I heard footsteps and voices outside. More people were returning from the holidays.

The dining commons was open normally for dinner on Sundays, and it was much more full than it had been at brunch earlier in the day.  I chose a chicken patty sandwich and got French fries to go with it. I looked around and saw Taylor, Pete, Sarah, and Liz at a table with a few empty seats, so I sat with them.

“Hey, Greg,” Sarah said.

“How was your break?” Taylor asked.  “Did you do anything special?”

“The usual, pretty much,” I replied.  “I was with my family for Christmas. My aunt and her family were visiting.  I spent New Year’s with some friends from high school. It was good to see them.”

“I bet it was,” Liz said.

“What did you guys do?” I asked.

“I went to see my grandparents in Washington,” Pete said.  “That was a lot of time in the car, but it was fun.”

“I was back home in Ralstonville,” Sarah said.  “And my boyfriend and I broke up.”

“Aww.”  Liz looked at Sarah, her face conveying serious concern.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  It was hard, but it needed to happen.  It’s the best for both of us. He was definitely getting in the way of my relationship with God.”

I had never heard anyone give that reason for breaking up.  What exactly did that mean? Maybe it has something to do with that Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that everyone else at this table was part of.  If Sarah said that her boyfriend was getting in the way of her relationship with God, that sounded to me like she was saying he was a bad influence on her in some way.  If that was the case, then this breakup was probably a good thing in the long run, even if it was difficult now. I did not say any of these thoughts out loud, though, because relationships and breakups weren’t anything I had ever experienced personally, so I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“So apparently there was an accident on the Marquez Bridge this morning,” I said.

“I heard about that!” Liz said.  “It was on the news. A car hit a truck and almost fell off the bridge!  Did you see it happen?”

“No.  It happened right after I drove across, apparently.  I didn’t see anything unusual on the bridge But when I got back to the dorm, I called my mom, and apparently she had heard about the accident and just assumed it was me.  It’s like she has no faith in my driving abilities; she hears of an accident in the vague area where I am, and she just knows I was in it.”

“That’s kind of sweet of her to care like that, though,” Sarah reminded me.

“But she doesn’t respect me as an adult.  She worries about me too much.”

“Yeah.  But that’s what moms do.  You shouldn’t get mad at her.  Just let her be.”

“I guess.”

Just let her be, I thought.  Like it says in that song by Pearl Jam of the South.  Yes, it was true that Mom could be a little annoying in the way that she worries about me and doesn’t let me be independent.  That was the reason I never considered applying to Mom’s alma mater, San Tomas State. I was worried that, with Mom less than an hour away, she wouldn’t give me a chance to grow up on my own.  But, as Sarah said, this was all perfectly normal behavior for a mother. Mothers, at least the good ones, worry about their children because they love their children and want them to be safe. And I knew that I should be thankful to have parents who cared enough about me to send me to the University of Jeromeville, and to help pay for what my academic scholarship didn’t cover.  Not everyone gets opportunities like that.

After a few more hours of playing around on the computer, I went to sleep, thinking about how fortunate I was to be in this position, and hoping to find a balance between getting to be independent but still having a healthy relationship with my parents.  And that song by Pearl Jam of the South was stuck in my head, with that one line repeating over and over again since I didn’t know the rest of the song very well. And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be.