Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Reunion, Part I

Editor's Note: This is part one of a four-part feature about Ben's trip to Missouri for his high school reunion. We would have run it all together, but when he exceeded the 10,000 word mark we thought it would be better to split it up. Part two coming soon.

I recently went back for my 10-year high school reunion. It was a last-week decision. Two months before the reunion I got a surprise phone call from one of the organizers, after which I gradually warmed to the idea of going, but I didn't schedule a flight until five days before. The reunion was on the weekend, and I left a day early so I'd be more relaxed, and in case of delays since I was flying standby. One week later, after one high school reunion, nine passes through various airports, one trans-state hitchhike, five unanticipated sleeping locations, and one killer game of ultimate frisbee, I returned home at last. After such a wild trip I did what any rational person would do: I created a running diary of the experience. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Thursday (7/30):

Arose at 8:55am after about two hours of sleep. I had an hour-and-a-half until my 10:25 flight, I hadn't packed, I didn't know how to get to the airport, I didn't have a ride, and I should have left five minutes ago. But like I always say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to....improvise.”

When I reached the ticket counter at 9:56 there were 29 minutes before my flight. The lady at the counter said, "I won't be able to get you on this flight." I knew my day was screwed if I didn't make the flight, but I didn't think arguing would help. Turns out she was lying because three minutes later she had re-entered all my info (she couldn't find my listing), printed off my tickets, and told me to run like the wind. I'm not as fast as the wind, but I made it to the gate with 15 minutes to spare, and easily got a seat (remember I was flying standby, where seats are like gold).

At the Phoenix airport with just under an hour 'til my next departure, the lady at the St Louis gate said, "It's not lookin' good." I wasn't sure if she meant the flight or her face, but I didn't wait to find out. Instead I went to customer service and had a chat. Finding out the flight to St Louis was oversold with lots of people waiting, while a flight to Kansas City that left at the same time was merely "full", I opted for “full”, and ran back across the airport (kind of like the wind) to wait for the KC flight. I was the second-to-last person to board it. Gold is precious.

Waiting for the flight to take off I texted feverishly, telling my St Louis contacts I wouldn't make it, and contacting my high school buddy Frank Fleschner who lives in KC to see if he could help me out when I got there. He said he could, and the plane was off. Frank was pretty amazing—how many friends when called with two hours notice will pick you up, put you up for the night, and drive you three hours to a small town in the middle of nowhere the following day? That's what Frank did.

For dinner we went to "Gates" for some authentic KC barbecue. Frank warned me, “you'll probably get yelled at.” Sure enough, even before I neared the counter a worker screamed, "Can I help you?!" They may not be civil, but they can make some killer BBQ, which is really all that matters in the end.

The balance of the evening was spent watching various youtube videos on Franks rather large tv (Apparently when you have TiVo you can do that sort of thing). First we watched a video of opera tenors singing higher and higher notes until their heads explode , one cool enough that Frank shows it to all his visitors. Ok so their heads don't really explode.

We then proceded to watch a few matches from the professional Korean Starcraft league. Starcraft in South Korea is a 50+ million dollar industry, sponsored by Samsung, Microsoft, and some big Korean bank. You could call it the Great Korean Pastime. Plus they have some pretty sweet commentators, such as this guy, who's like the Gus Johnson of professional Starcraft.


I woke up at 5:17am and couldn't go back to sleep for a while, so I wandered around outside Frank's house. I finally went back to sleep around 8 and didn't wake again 'til noon, after which I was really groggy the rest of the day. It may have something to do with my yanking around my circadian rhythms like the Chain Chomp in MarioKart—you know Baby Mario's special item, the one that barks like a dog while it yanks you down the track and makes you pray it won't let go on the turns cuz you might end up going backwards? That's how my rhythms felt. I also felt a little like like I'd overdosed on benadryl, the way I did the night before I took the MCAT...but that's another story.

Frank and I took off for Kirksville in the afternoon, hitting up a sandwich joint called Mr Goodcents for lunch on our way. The worker got really animated when I asked him to make my Italian sub w/ marinara sauce the way I always do at Subway. He must not get that a lot. On the drive to Kirksville Frank listened to choral music while I slept, and at the end we threw in some Rage Against the Machine for a little pre-reunion adrenaline rush, much like we always used to do before choir concerts....What, we never did that before choir concerts? Well we should have.

We had a few hours before the reunion so Frank left me at my house. My parents were on vacation, so the house was empty, and I hadn't seen it that way or been home in the summertime in about a decade. Hoping to finally kick the grogginess, I took a long cold shower. Then I was cold, but still a little groggy. My sister Annie came over after a bit and we hit up Il Spazio, a decent restaurant that may or may not be Italian, for dinner with Frank, Ed Kohler, and Brian Woehlk, other high school buddies of mine. Just as we were leaving we saw two other high school friends, David Morley and Josh Lobert, coming into Il Spazio. After a little chat it was time for part one of the reunion: a social evening at the Dukum Inn (a bar).

Seeing all the old classmates was strange and cool all at once—a little like going back in time, which I've only done twice previously. Some people I recognized easily; for others it took several glances before their identity dawned on me. I was a little surprised at how many names I remembered--Facebook helped some there, but other names I hadn't been reminded of by any social networking sites seemed to pop back into my head out of nowhere. The turnout was decent, plus I figured more people would come on Saturday. I talked to several people (actually yelled mostly cuz it was so loud in the bar) and found out what they'd been up to for ten years. One thing about our class is, it's small enough that we basically all remember each other, so even people I didn't talk to much in high school were still fun to catch up with, see what has become of them and all. That kept me busy for about two hours and then I went home.

On the way home I called my friend Caroline who was driving down from Chicago to visit for the weekend. I didn't know what time she'd be arriving, but she told me she'd just gotten into town and was waiting outside my house. I remembered our back door was unlocked, so I told her to go in and make herself at home. To make sure she had the right house I described it to her, “White siding, light tan brick, white pillars, a big oak tree...”

When I got home I didn't see anyone in the house, so I called her to see what was up. Caroline reported she had tried the front door which was locked, and the back door which was also locked, so she was waiting on the deck behind the house. Well we don't have a deck. Confusing the neighbor's house for ours, Caroline had tried to break into their house and was now enjoying the view from their deck. Luckily they didn't see her and call the police or she might still be in jail. More importantly, that would have thrown a wrench into my plan to have her pose as my girlfriend (sort of) at the reunion on Saturday...

The story continues in Part two.

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