Many of the women from college with whom I'm still friends are people I met in 1992, in the first few days of school, when you are trying on personas and crowds and things are sort of free-flowing. You'd go to dinner in a pack, or you'd show up alone and just ask to sit down at a table where someone who maybe looked familiar was already sitting, and then go through the litany of get-to-know-you questions: where are you from, what dorm are you in, what classes are you taking. This one girl in the dining hall looked recognizable enough to me that I quizzed her until I determined we'd gone to the same Girl Scout camp in 1984 or 1985. Back then, she'd worn a hot pink t-shirt that said, I think, "Victoria" in a bunch of different colors, and had loftily informed the rest of us that "Victoria is like Esprit in the Virgin Islands." When I told her this in 1992, she was mighty embarrassed. We did not become BFF.
On my very first day of college, I walked into my dorm and spotted a woman who bore a passing resemblance to one of my best friends from home--olive skin, long curly hair, birkenstocks--and I wouldn't say that I knew we'd be friends, but I did think "that's someone I should meet." You're looking for kindred spirits, obviously, so if you're sort of a hippie and you see someone with superficial sort-of-hippie signifiers, you perk up. Shannon, she of the birkenstocks, was literally about the first person I saw that day. She was decorating the wall of her dorm room with some harem-looking rug. Her assigned roommate never showed up, and she ended up being the only first-year student I knew who had her own room, a total fluke very much discouraged by the policies of residence life. It became the room where we'd all sit and drink wine coolers and watch 90210. We've been friends ever since, though I have largely stayed put at this latitude and she has, meanwhile, lived in Holland, Africa, the Virgin Islands (and damn, I failed to assign her the task of investigating that other girl's Esprit claim), and cities in the U.S., and traveled a bunch of other interesting places besides, in addition to being involved in all kinds of business ventures I don't understand. I don't know anyone else who flipped properties in Amsterdam in her twenties.
Over the weekend, I went to her wedding celebration and petted her hair and cooed at her new baby boy (I mean her actual baby boy, not her husband; I'm pretty sure I never cooed at him). I left on Saturday morning at about 8:20, only 20 minutes past my projected departure time which is miraculous in my history of road trips, got to my hotel at 1:30, and was having tea in the greenhouse of the American Club by 2:15, wearing a fuchsia and orange pantsuit from the 70s. "I'm so glad you're still wearing pantsuits," Shannon told me. I hadn't even thought about that--we used to go to the thrift store together in college and I was buying 70s pantsuits even then. I wore a voluminous white one to our graduation.
By 3:30, I was talking to another of my first friends from college, the Brazilian, whose wedding was a few years ago in Rio. I'd had to miss it for various reasons, not the least of which was that it would have cost me a frillion dollars to go. The Brazilian came home with me for Thanksgiving our first year in college, when she was, as she puts it, "fresh off the boat." I reminded her that we'd taken her bowling, and she'd congratulated my entire family on having nice big butts, not like other buttless American families. She's the reason I know how to say "ass" in Portuguese. She has a baby now too, a 6 month old with big chubby cheeks. He was dressed like a little man, with a long necktie that he cheerfully stuffed into his mouth. He's going to be one of those bilingual kids everyone envies, since the Brazilian speaks perfect English and her husband is American.
At dinner a few hours later, I petted the Brazilian's hair, too, and talked about career stuff and family stuff and baby stuff. Shannon's baby was asleep in a carrier under the table, where he remained until the first dance was danced, the cake scarfed, and the party dissipated. The Brazilian's baby managed to block out a lot of conversational noise in order to snooze in his stroller. Both babies were ditched with relatives after dinner and we went to the hotel bar, where Shannon's new Louisiana sisters-in-law bought what was essentially a pitcher of Sex on the Beach, as though I weren't already plunged into college reminiscence. If you want to remember the taste of being a freshman in college, order something that has peach schnapps in it and then listen to grown folks peer-pressuring each other into doing shots. Shannon ordered lots of extra maraschino cherries and I went back to my hotel at 1:30 with a red tongue and a great feeling of happiness.
Sheboygan is right on Lake Michigan, though my hotel was nowhere near the lake. I wasn't able to get a room at the compound in Kohler--at least, not in the more reasonably priced "select service hotel," which was all booked up; a room at the American Club would have cost me $400, which, no thank you. Actually when the guy on the phone quoted me the room price in a kind and soothing voice, I said "I would love that if someone else were paying." Instead, I stayed at the AmericInn on the highway, where I got the last available room in Sheboygan for $185. What gives, Sheboygs? Why so busy? There was apparently an art fair, but I saw no evidence of it while I was there; still, the AmericInn parking lot was packed by the time I got back to the hotel in a different ludicrous 70s outfit. Are you, like me, still imagining that roadside homotels cost what they did in the late 90s, when you used to get them on Priceline? Sigh. At least the hotel was more or less Goodwill-adjacent, which is obviously right up my alley.
The next morning, I ate lobby waffles with my fingers and watched Brokeback Mountain until 10. Then I packed up all of my clothes--I'd been indecisive about what I might wear to the two different events--and drove to Goodwill. I ended up at the great lake and had some coffee and a strawberry-rhubarb scone and walked out to the end of the pier, which was lined with people fishing. The lake side was vibrant blue-green, the harbor side churned muddy brown, and all of it was veiled in mist, even though the sky was clear and the sun beat down. I wandered around on the beach and wished I could just stay all day and read a book with my feet in the water. We haven't been able to get up to Lake Superior yet this year and I need to sit on the edge of the water and enjoy some peace and oblivion. Instead, I drove home meanderingly, on two-lane highways, hitting a second Goodwill, passing through the birthplace of the Republican party, listening to This American Life and Russell Brand podcasts and laughing out loud. And snacking endlessly, like I was bent on it. I walked around the Pick and Save for ages, trying to decide what to eat. It's disorienting, doing that much driving in one 36 hour stretch.
I'm always grateful for the friends I don't need to see very often, you know what I mean? For people I can miss for years before we reconnect, and once we make contact it's like it was never broken in the first place; we can talk on the phone for hours, or hang out for days, and no one is pissy about the long stretches when we were out of touch. It's well worth the drive.