Monday, March 01, 2010

Twenty Years Hence

Click any photo for larger.

This post has been difficult to write. I have typed it, edited it, trashed it, and begun again. The version you are reading now was written while I was on a plane taking me from San Diego to Minneapolis. I am not sure why, but the words needed to express my thoughts on this subject have been pretty hard to come by. Then again, that is why I started this blog originally - to work on my writing. I have sort of treated this post like a manuscript because the subject matter is important to me and I wanted to do a good job. The reality is that this is not a manuscript, nor a magnum opus, nor a book. It is just a blog post. So here goes nothing.

20 years ago this May, I received my degree from the University of Illinois after 4 years of schooling. I stayed on campus for two of the three summers (the summers of '87, '88 and '89) and took a class or two and worked odd jobs in the summer months. One summer I was a janitor and that was a pretty good eye opener to the real world.

I am not really sure why, but my years in college made quite an impact on me. Perhaps it was because at U of I, I learned to socialize and for the first time I was really pushed mentally. I received pretty much straight A's in high school without much difficulty, but the A's were harder to come by in college. I still got a lot of A's in college, but not straight A's.

To this day I still have dreams about college, typically on the subject of not being prepared for a big exam. Go ahead and analyze that if you like as I have no idea what it means.

Along with the studying and learning how to work hard to get good grades, I also learned how to party. I wasn't really a drinker until I got to U of I. But once there, I honed my drinking "skills" to perfection with the assistance of:

  • a fake id
  • 21 year olds who didn't care and would buy booze for me
  • bars that would serve me even though I was under age (I may have this part wrong as there is a possibility that I could have been grandfathered before the drinking age was 21)

We really pushed the party limits at times and my tolerance for alcohol was incredibly high. To this day when I hear people say how hard they partied in college, I typically sit back and smile, not wanting to embarass them (or me) with some of my tales. I am not necessarily proud of this, but it is a fact.

Through all of the drinking and socializing I was able to keep the work separate from the fun. I tend to think that this was also part of my maturing process. When a mid-term or paper was due, there was no partying. The work had to get done. If I went out and tied one on the night before, I always made it to class the next day, no matter how damaged I was. But then again, we all did. When I say "we", I mean my roomates and classmates. We partied hard, but worked hard too.

To an extent, I think that this attitude of getting the work done no matter what is one of the qualities of us Midwesterners - and is one of the reasons I set up the category "Midwesternness" on the sidebar. The project that is LITGM isn't just about places and things. Places and things certainly do make up some of what we Midwesterners are. Stuff like snow, cows and county fairs make the Midwest unique in a physical sense. But to me, it is the attitude of the people that makes us, as a breed, different from folks from other areas of the USA. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly those who grew up in New York and California or wherever that share some of these attributes and there are certainly native Midwesterners that don't represent very well. But I notice four certain qualities in Midwesterners:

  • Work Hard
  • Play Hard
  • Be Nice
  • No Bullshit

To me, it doesn't seem to matter if you are from Chicago, French Lick, IN, Minneapolis or Rhinelander, WI. The work has to get done. Then we live hard, play hard, shower up and start again the next day.

I can typically tell who is from the Midwest and who is not within a few moments of talking with them. It is an odd talent I have and I like to guess where people are from because I can usually nail it within a state or two. I know the Midwest dialects, body language, dress, and attitudes. But I digress...as usual.

Recently I had an event that dusted off a LOT of cobwebs from the 'ol grey matter. I had dinner and drinks with one of my roommates from college. I had not seen Lee since the day we departed campus almost 20 years ago. Around a year ago we started corresponding via email and I found out she lives in San Diego. I had a business trip there and it was decided that we needed to meet face to face.

Joe, Lee and Dan, Fall, 1988
Lee and I never dated, but we always seemed to be around each other. She was the roommate of the girlfriend of one of my buddies on my original dorm floor and that is how we met (got that?). We hung out in bars and attended parties together. Oh yes, we also abused substances together on a fairly regular basis. The summer of '89 she subletted a room of a house that I lived in with several other guys. Our senior year, she lived with me and one other guy in an apartment on campus. It was very fun and some weekends were a complete blur with parties or whatever. For all of you Illini alumni, the apartment was right across the street from Gully's, next to Burger King. To this day I can sniff out a BK from several miles away.

I met Lee at my hotel last Wednesday and when I saw her, many memories had the cobwebs lifted and I could see myself in my younger days much clearer than before. It was a sensation that I have never experienced before and probably won't ever again. This is a person who I hung out with for four years, lived with for one, didn't see for twenty and there she was standing right in front of me. It was sort of like being in a time machine. We gave each other a hug. She looks almost exactly how she did in college - tall and beautiful. I have dropped 60 pounds since then and have no hair. The aging process works in mysterious ways.

Lee and I spent the next 8 hours together asking each other questions about where we had been for the last two decades. Lee told me how she ended up being a successful business woman in a field that I never would have pegged her for. People really do change in some unexpected ways. I always knew she would be OK though; I always saw the way she worked hard and knew that she was an honest person.

We also spent a lot of time telling college stories to each other. I remembered things that I thought were long forgotten and she did the same. When she laughed, it brought me back as well - I will never forget her laugh.

A boatload of memories were rebooted from the hard drive that I had thought crashed many moons ago. It was pretty amazing how that familiar face from the distant past brought everything back. My mouth was sore the next day from laughing so much.

Lee told me a great story about when she moved in San Diego. Apparently she got her first job because the hiring agent saw that she was from the Midwest, and knew from that little bit of information that Lee would show up and work hard. I am trying to get Lee to write about this to post here.

After 8 hours of drinking and laughing it was time for it to end. We gave each other a big hug and it was all over. It won't be another two decades before we meet again.

So, what is this post about? Honestly, I am not sure. Is it about old friends, midwesternness, or is it just plain 'ol bullshit? That is for you to decide.

I know what the post does for me and that is good enough. It certainly may be one of those "if you weren't there, you don't understand" deals. You probably have a hard time with some of the context if you weren't there, that is for sure. So it goes.

At times I regret many of the actions of my youth. I was an out of shape slob who abused alcohol. But I did get good grades. What I did back then can't be undone, but I can always improve moving forward. And improve I have.

Lee and I will always share a strange bond. As I mentioned, we never dated, but always knew "the deal". I think if we would have dated, we would have had a great time, but the bond we have today would be much weaker after the inevitable breakup and the pain that always causes.

Lee and I both have careers, spouses, families, responsiblities. Both of us have changed, yet in so many ways we remain the same. Work hard, play hard, be nice, no bullshit.

Dan and Lee, Feb. 2010

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan, I know exactly what you mean on this blog - I attended my 35th High School Reunion last fall! Many classmates I hadn't seen in 35 years showed up! Fortunately, we had the whole weekend to catch up - and it wasn't long enough!!
It sounds like you had a wonderful visit -

Gerry from Valpo said...

Dan had hair?

mark said...

Chicks dig Shedd Aquarium.

Dan from Madison said...

Gerry - amazing, I know.
Mark - I was always very up on fashion, and am even to this day.

knirirr said...

That's a nice post.

To this day I still have dreams about college, typically on the subject of not being prepared for a big exam.

I used to get dreams about school. Now I get dreams about being an undergraduate and being late for lectures because I can't arrange any accommodation. I expect that sooner or later I'll get dreams about being late for my viva, or something like that.

mark said...

Re fashion: I had a very nice mullet in '88, followed by a bowl cut, so I should probably keep my mouth shut.

I can still remember having very vivid dreams the summer before freshman year of college. That was a huge anxiety provoking life change. Once I got there and figured it out (how to be a good test-taker) the anxiety disappeared - no more weird dreams.

Carl from Chicago said...

Don't be so hard on yourself on college. Everyone partied a lot. Better to get it out of your system there than interfere with real life with jobs and deadlines.

Probably a lot of the reason you keep dreaming about those college exams is because there you don't have much control of day to day items. Today in your job and career you are the one (mostly) in control of your own destiny. Uncertainty may be keeping you back in time. But what the heck do I know I'm not an expert :)

The midwestern thing is no joke. We are famous for hard work and no BS.

Dan from Madison said...

I am hard on myself in college because I have discovered so many wonderful things through fitness.

If you have examples of hard work and no BS stuff relating to the Midwest you should post some here like I am trying to get Lee to do.

Annie said...

Good post, Dan.

Dan from Madison said...

Thanks, Annie.

Phil Dayton said...

cuz she's still a babe...that's the reason.