Confused about what to major in, yet feeling spontaneous and free to do whatever I wanted because I was a responsible and rational-thinking college freshman, I woke up one Friday morning, ripped off a piece of cardboard from a box, grabbed a black magic marker, and wrote one word: “Harrisonburg.”
Stuffed some boxer shorts in a paper bag, left my dorm room, walked a half mile to a main road, and held out my sign while sticking out my hand with my thumb pointing towards the sky.
This launched my spontaneous hitch-hiking odyssey from Wake Forest U. to James Madison U. some four hours north. I knew several guys who went to school there who had messed up my high school academic and athletic aspirations and wanted to go up there and see what they were doing in their new college lies, not optimistic they had changed and become nicer and more responsible people.
Hitch-hiking is always weird. Somewhere in southern Virginia some middle-aged guy picked me up and for the next few hours told me all about his horrible life and job and how life sucked and I listened and tried not to do anything that would make him want to kick me out on some random place on the road where I would have to start hitch-hiking again.
It’s amazing what people will tell complete strangers they pick up while hitchhiking. They figure, correctly, they can unload whatever on the new passenger because it’s a certainty they’ll never ride in a car with that person again. One interaction and no more for the rest of your lives.
Eventually, I got discarded on the road and put out my sign which was getting soggy from the drizzling rain. Some heavy-set twenty-something woman picked me up in a tattered Volkswagen. She was nice and normal compared with the middle-aged malcontent. She got me to within an hour, dropping me in Charlottesville, A. Unfamiliar with the geography and map-less, I figured that was close enough so I called my buddy Bert and asked him to pick me up. “How far is Charlottesville from Harrisonburg?” I asked.
“About an hour. It’s not that close, actually” he said.
“Can you pick me up and drive me to JMU? I’ve been hitch-hiking.”
“I can pick you up but I don’t want to,” he said.
“Come on, Bert,” I said. “We’ll party all weekend long.”
“Why are you coming to Madison?” he asked.
“Because I’m in college now and I can do whatever I want and today I decided I wanted to hitchhike to some college four hours away because I can,” I said. “Isn’t college the best?”
He picked me up and kept telling me it was odd to be hitchhiking without telling him or any of our other friends at JMU that I was coming to visit.
“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?” he asked.
“Because I didn’t want to,” I said. “You know me, Bert. I told you I’m destined to be a reactionary poet. This is a reactionary poet more coming to JMU unannounced.”
“Hitchhiking isn’t poetry,” he said.
Once we got to James Madison, the party started. Everywhere we went, parties. Beer, wine, hard liquor. All night long, in every dorm room, no matter who was there. Went over to see Rudy, in best frenemy since second grade. Of course, he “Ed-ed” on and me. Left town for the weekend. So went to see Qweenie, his roommate, who introduced me to his and Rudy’s roommate, Bunkie.
“Rudy and I beat up bunkie every day,” he said. “We can’t stand him. I swear, we beat the hell out of the guy.”
Bunkie looked at me, nodding, and wondering if I was going to beat him up because I knew Rudy and Qweenie.
Then we drank more beer. I don’t remember ever going to a place where no matter where you went all over campus all night there were people doing nothing but partying. No one talked about the classes they were taking. There weren’t any books in the dorm rooms.
Met some girl. She kept telling me she wanted to transfer to William & Mary, which sounded like a stupid idea because JMU was much more fun I felt certain. We ended up talking in the ticket booth alongside the James Madison football field.
Which brings us to now. That’s the same field where the JMU Dukes played their way into the school’s first bowl game ever in football with an 11 and 1 record. Wherever that game is played, and for however many weeks there are until that game gets played, I feel confident JMU students will be partying around the clock because there is no place on Earth that is more fun for more hours in the day than James Madison U. Take it from someone who soaked in that dream life one aimlessly blissful weekend in 1981. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone else who’s spent a weekend at JMU. The most non-stop, unapologetically wrong-headed, reckless two days of my life.
Win the bowl game, Dukes. But if you don’t, you’ll still be ranked America’s number one party school — forever.
And that’s what winning is really all about.