The Molar Vortex
Being an adult has always seemed kind of lame. I mean yeah, financial autonomy, living with not your parents, making your own schedule, I get it. Cool. Rad. But adults never seemed to speak my language, you know? It always seemed pretty serious and routine and nobody ever seemed to be having a whole lot of fun. I mean, let's say you're an adult, right. If you want to eat Lucky Charms for dinner, then by golly you can eat Lucky Charms for dinner. You can eat Lucky Charms whenever you want. This always seemed like a pretty good argument, but every time I thought about it, this irrefutable rebuttal pops up: If adults can eat Lucky Charms whenever they want, how come they never do it?
Especially after Oberlin, where you can easily find people willing to stay up with you playing Bananagrams until the wee hours, or go ghost hunting, or shave off all your hair, or try to decipher the Morse code from a shortwave radio station, or whatever, you know? What happens after this?
Anyway, it is the tail end of winter break and I am in the Washington-Dulles Airport, equipped with backpack and sleeping bag, on my way back to Oberlin. Winter term looms, like a big, snow-covered moose, and beyond this moose stretches the academic wilderness of The Final Semester of College, and then the endless arctic tundra of Adulthood. But this will have to wait for a little bit, because my flight is canceled.
Yes, the lady behind the counter informs me, my plane is in fact canceled, 100% canceled. The next plane to Cleveland is Thursday, because right now (Monday) it is literally negative one billion degrees in Cleveland, and if the planes tried to land they would turn immediately into plane-ice and slide right into Lake Erie, or something to that effect. Dang.
The lady gives me some cards with phone numbers of shuttles, hotels, Amtrak, Greyhound (which also turn out to be canceled). And then I am out of the line, standing suddenly alone in an empty gate, clutching my borrowed Outings Club sleeping bag. My teeth hurt.
Washington-Dulles is a great airport because it has free wifi. Having nothing to do and a very large amount of time, I decide to begin by checking my email. I have no new email. I send apologetic messages to some people, and then I notice my dear friend Nathan, his little icon set to "busy," lurking like a crocodile under the still waters of gchat. Our conversation goes something like this:
Me: I am stuk at DC airport 4 3 dayz? ☹ ☹ ☹ ☹ ☹ I cry
Nathan: I see. Allow me to send an electronic message to an Oberlin alum friend of mine who lives in the city. He may be able to assist you while you wait out the tempest.
Me: !!!! ty ty ty ily
In a few minutes a message from Nathan's friend comes to my inbox, including a phone number and the following couplet:
You need a place to stay? I have a couch if you need it.
It is pure poetry. I close my laptop. Yes, hope has returned to this frigid land, a single flower blooming through the icy grasp of winter.
At the beginning of winter break my friend Stephen and I drove from Oberlin to Portland Oregon through (in order) Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon (Truly one of the best things about Oberlin is that there are people always down to do wacky things, like drive halfway across the country in late December and sleep in sleeping bags in the front seats). We are mid-Iowa, about, pushing on through rolling yellow hills, studded with towering wind turbines rotating slowly against a bright blue sky (nice description right), when I start to feel a slight pain in the back of my mouth. Later that night, as we fight through a snowstorm like a migrating Prius-goose, I figure it out: my wisdom teeth are coming in.
Driving across the Midwest you get a lot of time to think about things, you know?
Wisdom teeth are pretty weird, right? What are they even for? Man, it's pretty weird to have teeth coming in again! When was the last time that happened? Like, when I was a little kid? Man! This is, like, the last physical change that happens to your bod in the whole adult-becoming process, you know?
Nebraska trundles by, and we cross into Wyoming, a strange rocky landscape, luminous in the moonlight, dotted with tangled refineries spitting fire into the sky. It's pretty cool, pretty cool. In Utah we turn onto I-84, the highway that will take us west through the Columbia Gorge to Portland. We make our way through red rock bluffs, mountain passes, Idaho flatland. I wish I had some pictures of the road to post cause it was super-nice, but really all I can think about is this weird tooth-pain in the back of my mouth and the future: this is the last winter break of college, then the last semester of college, then the summer, then the total future of the Real World, of Grown-Upness.
Anyway, break happened, which was nice, and then two weeks later I head back to Oberlin for Winter Term, and the Polar Vortex spread out over the Midwest like a big snowy octopus.
In our nation's capital, the weather is cold in a pretty serious way. After a bus and metro ride and short walk in the frigid frigid air, I find myself in the cool house of Joe, OC class of 2011.
Joe shows me to the couch, which is bigger and softer than many beds. Then he asks me: "Would you like some hummus?"
Would I like some hummus? We see in sped-up flashback the past 12 hours of my day: waking up at 4:15, the Portland airport for an hour and a half, a three hour flight to D.C., waiting at the Washington-Dulles Airport for four hours, one hour bus ride, figuring out the DC metro, walking in the bitter cold. I could do with some hummus, I decide.
Joe's from Portland too! Nice. He's the general manager of a bicycle cab company and a teacher at a synagogue. In the winter, he tells me, the pedicab business is pretty slow, but over the summer he makes phat stax ferrying tourists around, plus seeing/getting to know the city, plus staying in hella good shape. Dope.
Just the offer of a place to stay for three nights, to a pretty complete stranger who is kinda gross from traveling, would be enough. But no. Joe gives me hummus and also pita bread, rice cakes, veggies, some spicy sauce, beer. I wasn't even invited.
He lends me a pair of gloves and shows me how to rent one of those Capital Bikeshare bikes and we go on a group bike ride party with people dressed as David Bowie. He takes me to a cool bar and, boldly, we challenge a pair of grizzled pool sharks to a game of pool. We lose. I meet his housemate and his friends. We watch Gattaca and decide that it is an okay movie.
For me it's a weird layover/vacation (a layovacation, if you will. Or vacayover), but for Joe, this is just his regular life, more or less. Mid-week, to boot.
"Do you miss Oberlin?" I ask him at one point.
His answer is more or less to the tune of this: "Oberlin was a great experience, and I loved it, but when it ended I was ready for it to end."
I sleep on Joe's couch in my borrowed Outings Club bag for three nights, and each night I fall asleep to the twinges fading in the back of my mouth. The days go by mad quick.
By Thursday the Polar Vortex has calmed down a little bit, and I say goodbye to Joe and pack up my stuff and head out. The flight to Cleveland is surprisingly brief. Probably could've walked there faster.
In Cleveland my housemate Kai graciously picks me up from the airport and we set off, blasting tunes, into the Ohio flatland. In the next few days I will notice, looking in the mirror, teeth in the back of my mouth poking through gums. But they've stopped hurting. Kai and I talk about the future. Wouldn't it be cool, we imagine, to gather up some friends and go find some land somewhere, grow your own food, generate your own electricity, live in a big house with everybody? A pipe dream maybe, but at this moment, driving through the snow-dusted Ohio fields, exceedingly fresh beats pumping from the speakers, anything seems possible.