Seeing Ethan is one of my favorite semi-annual events.
For my sophomore, junior, and senior years of college, my bed sat in the dormer of a small attic just north of the University of Minnesota, and Ethan’s bed sat in the dormer facing mine. You get to know a thing or two about a person when your beds face each other for three years.
Ethan went to bed at 10pm. I started my homework at 10pm. Ethan rose early in the morning to have the first of his thrice-daily petite vegetarian meals (supplemented by constant grazing). He gently set down his fork between every bite to patiently, contently chew his food. I woke up 15minutes before class started (even for afternoon classes), put on the pants that were on top of the “acceptably clean” pile, stumbled out the door, and neglected to eat until returning in the evening. My once-daily meal often consisted of a steaming pile of chili-mac (a can of chili mixed with a box of mac and cheese, possibly topped with a pack of sliced hot-dogs if I was feeling hungry.) which was not so much ingested as inhaled. Ethan had clear visions of what brought him joy in life, and had the discipline to maintain a lifestyle that made him happy. I never stopped to consider what made me happy, and wasn’t entirely clear on the concept of discipline, which was evident by the mountain of clothes, papers, and moped parts I allowed to consume our room. What really brought us together was our unreasonably joyful personalities. We were reduced to giggling fits on an almost daily basis, and in social situations you’d be hard-pressed to find us without silly grins on our faces. We were a beautifully matched odd couple. In the 9 years I’ve known Ethan we’ve never had an argument, although I’m not sure Ethan has ever had an argument in his life, so that might not be saying much. He became my voice of reason and confidant. (Although, I’m sure he would have appreciated it if I could have waited until morning to confide my adventures, but at 3AM the story is still fresh and I didn’t want to forget.)
After college I left the country, and Ethan moved in with other friends, including Justin. Two years after graduation, Ethan uprooted and abandoned the mid-west for sunny California. He’s since convinced at least half a dozen friends to join him, and has settled into exactly the kind of lifestyle you’d expect in Berkeley, hopping from one borderline-hippie-commune to the next.
Since he’s left, I’ve missed Ethan terribly, and we’ve made staying in touch a priority. In addition to regular phone calls and the annual Christmas party at his parents home, we set aside a week each summer to road trip and have an adventure. This year, with the bus at our disposal, it was the obvious choice. In fact, the schedule for this trip was set to fit exactly between Ethan’s 10-day silent-meditation retreat (hippie), and the start of the school year, when he returns to work one-on-one with an autistic student.
As we parked next to Ethan’s house and he climbed triumphantly on top of the bus, energy was running high. Everyone was ready to celebrate.
Well, except Ethan. He was ready for bed.
So as Ethan went to sleep in his own little RV parked in the driveway (don’t worry, it’s only until his sister finds her own place), Vince took off with his friend Alex (never to be seen again), and Justin and I went out for sushi with Ethan’s friend Hannah, and my roommate Phil, one of my best friends from the architecture program. Phil flew out from Minneapolis to visit friends in LA, and then hopped up to see us in the bay area. I practically pleaded with Phil to ride the bus with us back to Minneapolis, but he determined he couldn’t take that much time off; a decision he is surely regretting. (Hi Phil!) It’s a real shame, because not only do Phil and I get along really well, but he’s also much more concerned about keeping living spaces clean than I am, which is pretty handy to have around on the bus. Honestly I’m surprised he continues to put up with my slovenly nature. Phil is sharply dressed every time he leaves the house, and I’m always wearing a stained t-shirt and torn jeans, which has to be frustrating for him when we head out to the bars only to find that women are reluctant to play pool with us, unsure whether I’m actually homeless or just impersonating.
Sushi and Udon that night was delicious, although for the first time in recorded history the table had to wait for me to finish eating. I was too embarrassed to ask for a fork, and insisted on “using” (such a strong word) chopsticks to consume my dinner. At least half of my food made it’s way to my mouth via a detour to the table top. Was that less embarrassing than asking for a fork? Emphatically, no.
The next morning, Justin took off early to wander the Mission District and meet his friend Ellie. For the first time since the trip started, all the bus travelers were separated. During our stay in San Francisco, each of us spent at least one night sleeping somewhere other than the bus, choosing instead to crash at various friends’ homes. Bus life involves constant social interaction. Most people would recognize that I’m an extrovert, and thrive in most social situations, but it consumes a lot of mental energy. After almost two weeks sleeping face to face, Justin, Vince and I needed some time apart.
I spent the day lazily writing, heading out later in the afternoon with Ethan and Phil for food, and to pick up supplies for a new skylight. That morning and afternoon were refreshingly content-free.
That night Ethan planned to gather a few of his local friends who were interested in seeing the bus. The result was one of the wildest mobile-parties I’ve ever encountered. In a space that was designed to comfortably hold six, we had, well, let’s say it was whatever the legal capacity is for a vehicle that’s being driven without a CDL. It was a wild ride, and I’m grateful the other passengers were only dancing on the roof while we were stopped. I was glad Phil had the chance to experience the bus party, as it was clear he was disappointed he couldn’t continue on with the bus. (sorry Phil) We even picked up Lacy, a former roommate Ethan and I lived with in college. She had flown in from Minneapolis to join the bus journey back to the midwest. I love Lacy because she is one of a handful of people who refuses to let me get away with my nonsense. She’s a hard working, hard partying, sassy, don’t-take-shit from no-one kinda gal; just the way I like it.
The next day was yet another lazy day. I should probably regret not getting outside and experiencing the city, but traveling isn’t just about seeing the sights, it’s also about relaxing, and being just a little hung over.
The days energy was being reserved for the main event, Nerf wars. Ethan’s friend Stephen runs The Port Workspaces, a collaborative work space in Oakland consisting of a series of two floors of offices spread out around a central common space, with a spiral staircase connecting the central courtyard. During the day, these offices are rented and used by local, independent professionals, looking to work in a cooperative environment. Every few weeks, however, Stephen commandeers the space for an evening to use for 007-style Nerf-gun battles. All the lights were turned off except for the stairwell and emergency lights, allowing scattered beams of light to bleed into the space, giving players ample opportunity to hide and ambush. Security cameras with night vision added an extra layer of complexity. A computer set up in one defensible corner was able to monitor every camera at once, providing viewer an omniscient view of the complex.
That night we had a record showing, 20 people armed with Nerf guns, scurrying around the dark corners of the abandoned offices. In a matter of minutes, the casualties began to pile up and the floor became littered with little foam darts. After a few rounds of every-man-for-himself chaos, the crowd was split into teams.
Aside from the painful realization of our poor physical condition, we felt like kids again. We hid crouching in elevators, our Nerf’s cocked, and scampered around firing indiscriminately at friends and foe yelling, “I got you!”
It was a pretty magical event. And a good reminder to join a gym.
The morning of our departure, we assembled the crew of six who would be making the journey back to Minneapolis. Justin and I were still riding along, but Vince had found a flight home. The flight was sooner than anticipated, and he didn’t get the chance to return to the bus to grab his things or say goodbye. I felt bad that I didn’t get to see him off, but was glad he would be in Minneapolis when we returned. Joining the crew were my former roommates Ethan and Lacy, as well as Ethan’s friends Hannah and Sam.
Hannah is a friend of Ethan’s who has a story not dissimilar to mine. She has a background in architecture, but prefers to work in the shop rather than on paper. As fellow archies, we hit it off, geeking out about buildings and talking in archi-speak.
Sam, who has a fantastically unique look (one that he was briefly concerned may resemble a gay pirate), and incredibly entertaining personality (it’s not every day you get an acoustic rendition of Ke$ha on a ukulele), was a bit of a wildcard. On first meeting, it’s difficult to tell if he’s insane or brilliant, assuming those two things are mutually exclusive.
Fully assembled, we got rolling toward Yosemite. I apologize for the lack of adventure in this post, but my time in the bay area had very little to do with the sights or the scene. It was a reunion of old friends, and an introduction to new ones. It marked a clear break from the trip to-date, and was the beginning of a new journey.