Friday, November 18, 2011

A Thanksgiving Tale

Years ago, as I prepared to graduate from Cook College of Rutgers University with a degree in Landscape Architecture, I was trying to figure out where I was going and what I would be doing. I had several job offers that were being considered, but none of them were leaping out as the obvious and exciting path that I absolutely had to explore. The exciting opportunity came when the head of our department asked me, along with Ed (another graduating senior), to meet in his office.
The Chair of the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Illinois had called, asking if there might possibly be two students who would consider entering their graduate program. The list of incoming graduate students did not have the right candidates to fill 2 teaching assistant positions, and they did have a special fondness for Rutgers graduates. Our Chair said, "I think I have 2 perfect seniors for you." And that's how both Ed and I ended up at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I was the Teaching Assistant for the Site Technology classes and Ed was assigned to one of the Introductory Design classes. Full tuition and a salary made this decision easy to make.

During our undergraduate years, Ed and I were always friendly but were not really friends. Ed was way more cool than me- not a hard thing to accomplish since I would not even register on the 'Scale of Coolness'. He had his circle of friends and I had mine and we comfortably coexisted in the same program. When we both moved out to Urbana-Champaign, our amiable friendliness continued as we again found friends in different circles. We would often be at the same event or party, but we did not have the kind of friendship that included calling each other to chat or to make social plans.
That is one of the reasons I was surprised when my phone rang early on Thanksgiving morning of our first year in graduate school, and it was Ed. Being a desperately poor graduate student, I was in town since I couldn't afford to go back to New Jersey for the holiday weekend. I don't recall if I had any plans for the day, but I do know that I would not have planned on calling Ed to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving, nor was I expecting that he would call me. But there I was, wakened on Thanksgiving morning by a phone call from Ed thinking, "This is weird."
Ed needed a favor. He was going back to New Jersey for the holiday and needed help getting to the airport. Ed owned a car and I didn' exactly could I be of help? He explained that he couldn't afford to leave his car parked at the airport and wanted to know if I could drive him to the airport and then drive his car back to the campus area. The Willard Airport that serves the University of Illinois is just south of campus; why not take the shuttle bus? Ed was not flying out of Willard, right down the road. Oh no....he was scheduled to fly out of Indianapolis International Airport, as in Indiana, where he had found a ticket price that he could afford.
Ed had had a brilliant plan. He woke up early and carried his travel bag along with his "INDIANAPOLIS AIRPORT" handmade sign to interstate 74. He figured he would have no trouble hitchhiking to the airport and be there in time for his flight. He clearly figured wrong. He stood along the highway long enough to realize that if he didn't enact Plan B, he would probably miss his flight. 
I was Plan B. 
I told Ed there were some problems with this plan including the fact that I didn't know I was Plan B and that if I dropped him off at the airport, that meant I was in Indiana. He said there was a bonus for me....the use of his car while he was away. Not quite a bonus. Ed had an old Ford Capri, and...sorry Ed, but those of us who knew the car referred to it as The Crappy. In addition, although I was in grad school, I had hardly ever driven. At that point in my life, I had never owned a car. My mode of transportation was either foot or bike. I wasn't too excited about the idea of driving The Crappy anywhere. But I was even less excited about saying no to Ed who desperately wanted to make it to his parent's house in time for the evening meal.
I was more than a bit irritated when I told Ed to come pick me up, and we began our journey to the Indianapolis International Airport. After almost 2 1/2 hours of driving, we pulled up at the terminal in time for Ed's flight and I turned around to make my 2 1/2 hour trip back to my Urbana apartment. Driving The Crappy seemed fitting for the Thanksgiving that I was having.

There are a couple of lessons from my Thanksgiving tale. Make sure that you are always on good terms with a few completely uncool people. When problems arise, they may be the only ones available to help you out since they will have no other plans. Also, when turning your car over to someone who has hardly ever driven, make sure to let them know that you have engaged the parking brake so that they don't drive 2 1/2 hours wondering what that funny smell is.

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