Oh Yeah, The Reason We Actually Came

The following post is the 6th in a series recapping a recent road trip I took with my two sons. Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here. All posts in this series can be accessed from this site’s home page.

My experience with college campuses…campii?…whatever, is not extensive. Following high school, I attended Eastern Arizona College, a small community college in the town of Thatcher, Arizona. EAC is not large. It does not pretend to be large. If anything, it celebrates and thrives on its general lack of largeness. There is no college scene, per se, unless you count the library or the occasional trip to the local Sodalicious. Everything in Thatcher is shuttered by 9:30 p.m. except the local convenience store, and the lobby to the post office. In other words, Thatcher does not have the feel of a typical college town.

Not to say I didn’t have fun. EAC was great. But as far as a typical college life experience? It was pretty tame. Which in retrospect, for a teetotaling Mormon wishing to remain a teetotaling Mormon through the whole college experience, tame was probably the best option for me.

Following EAC, I moved to the big city and attended the main campus of Arizona State University. Now, in light of the previous paragraph, I know what some of you are thinking. Isn’t ASU like one of the top party schools in America. The answer is no. Not anymore. That designation now belongs to the U of A. But in the ’90s when I attended? Yes, that would be true. However, I got married before I ever attended one class in Tempe and I lived off campus, only venturing in for classes and the occasional football game. Again, not the normal campus experience. Plus, very little about the ASU campus is historic. Same with EAC.

Now I share all of this only to set the stage for our last morning in New Orleans. The entire stated reason we had embarked on this trip was to engage in an official campus tour of Tulane University. Braden was super excited. And to be honest, my emotions weren’t far behind. This was something I had never done. How could it not be cool?

And you know what? It was. Really cool! From the tree covered drive down St. Charles Avenue to the stately historic building that greeted us at the entrance to the campus, it was just…awesome!

Tulane 1

Now, we did learn something very valuable very quickly when it comes to future campus visits. In my mind, a campus visit was something that would qualify as a big deal. Big deals generally require some amount of dressing up. Apparently, campus visits are not all that big of a deal because even in our jeans and polo shirt combos, my sons and I were the most dressed up of anyone there, including the tour guides. But in retrospect, I should have expected this. They want these kids to come here. It’s July in New Orleans. Why on earth wouldn’t everyone dress down and enjoy the experience?

Tulane 2

Surprisingly to me, Tulane campus was not that big. Especially compared with what I had experienced at ASU. I could be mistaken, but I believe the entirety of Tulane might fit inside ASU Stadium. But that is what made it kind of cool. Okay, cool isn’t the right word because by 10 in the morning, it was freaking hot. When they would actually take us into buildings likes the library, the wellness complex or the business school, I could practically hear my sweat glands sighing with relief. They hadn’t been worked out this hard…maybe ever.

Tulane 3

But overall, it was great. As we walked along the sidewalks, I couldn’t help thinking that this felt like a college campus in a way that I had never experienced. And Braden was totally awestruck. I think for the first time he was actually realizing he could go to a place like this. Whether he will or not? Doesn’t matter. He knows it’s a possibility and that’s enough.

Following the tour, we slipped into the bookstore and got some mementos of our visit and we even found Kate a souvenir. Which, admittedly would not have looked very good on Logan.

Tulane 4Tulane 5

Then we headed back toward our point of entry. As we neared the main building, we were met by a nice lady who either lives nearby and uses the campus walkways for exercise…or is a ghost. Not sure which. But anyway, she met us by the “Bead Tree”. The Bead Tree is a campus tradition that totally makes sense if you’ve ever been to New Orleans. The legend goes that if, as a freshman, you throw a string of beads into the tree and they stay, you will have success and finish your undergrad degree within four years. The nice lady informed us that the tradition can be altered and if you throw a string of beads into the tree and they stay, you will have four years of good luck. There were some beads on the ground and she handed them to Braden. He tossed them up and…good news, things will apparently go his way through his 20th birthday. Then…the ghost lady walked away and we headed back out to our car so we could get on the road and begin our long trek home.

Tulane 6

It was hard to pass through the outskirts of New Orleans. Our time there had been truly memorable and it’s always hard to see a good time come to an end. It’s even harder when you know how much driving you have ahead of you without the promise of an adventure waiting for you at the end. Nevertheless, we cranked up Willie and moved along.

The string of events that occurred once we reached Baton Rouge had to be the most frustrating of our trip mainly because we were up against the clock and just couldn’t seem to get anywhere. First off, we pulled off the freeway to get gas and get a bathroom for Logan only to find that the promised gas station/freeway town was four miles away. Then, when we did find the “gas station”, it turned out to be two gas pumps in front of a grocery store that no one in their right mind would ever buy produce from. If you don’t understand, well…be glad you’ve never been in a grocery store like that. Anyway, I wasn’t going to get gas there, but Logan was desperate so we sent him in. He claimed it was possibly his most disgusting/frightening bathroom stop ever. He had to go into the back storage area and find a barely marked door in a dimly lit corner. I felt bad for him until I remembered the old AJ Bayless in Safford where my mom used to shop growing up. Upon reflection, his bathroom and that bathroom sounded exactly the same. Unrelated to anything, that AJ Bayless bathroom is where I learned the concept of a dirty limerick. Anyway, the other problem was that time was movin’ on. Logan finally emerged, shuddering. We rushed him into the car, queued up Willie and took a back road to Baton Rouge where a Chipotle was supposedly waiting for us.

Except we couldn’t find it. Braden’s GPS swore it was there, but we’d already had the Shipley Donut experience so our trust level in him wasn’t exactly brimming. Nevertheless, we finally did find it, ate, changed, got gas and somehow managed to put Baton Rouge into our rearview mirror just 1 1/2 hours after we’d arrived. It felt like twenty.

I could describe the convenience/cigar store we stopped at just inside the Texas border, but I’ll let these pictures do the talking.

Suffice it to say, I know as a general rule I try to get my boot, crucifix and John Wayne portrait shopping done at roadside gas stations so this store totally spoke to me.

It was coming up on dinner time when we hit Houston, but our Chipotle stop had been later in the day and was still with us, so we decided to skip dinner and just go with a box of…you guessed it, Shipley Donuts. Rest assured we found a different location not associated with downtown. They were good. But then again, they’re donuts. It’s pretty hard to mess up a donut.

The night before, we had decided to be adventurous and return home through Austin rather than San Antonio. This meant getting off the I-10, which turned out to be one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever experienced. Rolling green hills and plenty of trees made for a nice change. It was a little disconcerting that the speed limit remained 75 mph despite houses now being less than 50 feet from the road, but hey, it’s Texas. And…I’m sure there’s some macho allegory that ultimately teaches us that Texas is superior to all in there somewhere.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see much of Austin because darkness was settling in as we hit town. The one thing I did take away from our Austin experience is that whoever their city planner was, I hope he hangs in effigy somewhere in the downtown complex. I mean, seriously, that was the most convoluted set of roads I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I’ve been to England…and Tucson.

As a final event for our trip, we decided to take in Ant Man and the Wasp since it was opening night. After another adventure on the streets of Austin that I’m fairly certain actually took us through several people’s backyards, we made it from our hotel to the theater. Great flick. The Ant Man movies are by far the funniest of the Marvel library and yes, I’ve seen the Guardian movies.

There isn’t much to report about our final day of travel. It consisted of waking up early, getting on the road and driving. And driving. Stopping for gas and a bathroom, and driving. It was enjoyable enough except, it gets hard to keep everyone’s attention after five days together and so Braden drifted into his own music and Logan slept a lot. But it was good. When we finally made it to El Paso, we knew we’d broken the back of the trip and it felt good to be almost home. We’d definitely missed the women in our lives.

However, one last thing that brought us all together was that over the course of several trips, we had now driven the entire length of the 1-10 freeway from California to Florida with the exception of the small stretch between Lordsburg and the turn off just before Willcox. We decided there was no time like the present so pulled a Thelma and Louise/Kramer and the car salesman, and watched the Lordsburg exit fly by as we embarked on one final adventure. Turns out it wasn’t that adventurous, but, we are now numbered among the very few (other than truckers) who can claim to have driven the entire 1-10. I feel very proud.

To wrap things up, I couldn’t have asked for a better time with my boys. I am so glad Braden talked me into it. We’re already planning another one for next year, although the fact that it is planned already takes some of the fun out of it. Nevertheless, the men of the Ryan Rapier family will always look back on the summer of 2018 and smile. And maybe even start humming an old Willie Nelson song that will forever be attached to those fabulous memories.

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