The E-mail from Erin said: "We're comin' to see ya'." It was early in October and Erin and her best friend Melissa were planning to visit, although they didn't know when they would visit or how they would get here. It was an impulse decision. I make such impulse decisions all the time. I'll be driving down the road and make an impulse decision to pull into McDonalds. It wasn't going to be so simple for Erin and Melissa.
Erin and Melissa are 20-year old college students from Iowa and I am a 58-year old college professor from New Jersey. I met them in Colorado where I spend my summers. Erin was working at a dude ranch where I occasionally help out, and Melissa came to visit her for a few days. Now, however, I am back on the East Coast teaching at a New Jersey College and they are in Iowa. I tried to imagine me making an impulse decision to see a 96 year-old woman in Iowa.
A few E-mail exchanges ironed out the details. It would be Thanksgiving. They both had a week off from college and were planning to drive until I pointed out that they would be spending at least four of their seven day vacation driving here and back. Flying was the only sensible alternative if they could afford it. I sent them a list of airports and distances from where I lived, and told them I was available any day that week but Tuesday, when I had to teach three classes. The airport list included Philadelphia, Newark, New York and Trenton, which is about 15 minutes from me. They bought tickets to the Baltimore-Washington airport - a three-hour drive from my house, arriving on Tuesday afternoon.
About two weeks prior to their departure their parents found out, and all hell broke loose. "You're not coming home for Thanksgiving?" "You are going to see who?" ('Whom!' would have been a correct response.) Suddenly I was the subject of heated arguments in two families that I had never met. Needless to say, their parents were greatly concerned that their daughters were flying off to spend six days with some pervert older than mom and dad. I got an email from Melissa's mom.
"Hello Lew, How are you? Are you the "Lew" from Pennsylvania? The professor and friend of Erin and Melissa? Please respond and tell me if you're you. I need to chat with you. I'm Melissa's mom."
I responded with a confession that, yes, I was indeed the person she thought I was and that I would be happy to talk with her. She wrote back:
"Basically, all we know is you are a professor at 'a university' and that you are older than us. Please, with all due respect, tell us more about yourself and reassure us that you're not a pervert or ax murderer. We don't have 'some' concerns, we have 'a lot' of concerns right now. I still can't believe they're planning on staying 6 days. Are they staying at your home? I'm anxious to here from you."
Thus began a series of e-mail exchanges where I wrote an abbreviated version of my life story and tried to explain why two 20-year old college girls would want to spend almost a thousand dollars to visit me for six days. This wasn't easy since I had no idea, but I thought I did a fairly good job of explaining it. Then the e-mail arrived in which Melissa's mom wanted to know about my faith and if I "...took the bible to be the sacred word of God?" My personal thoughts on the matter were that if God wanted to write a book, he could have done a lot better job than the bible. That was what I thought - not what I wrote.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving came quickly and I cancelled three classes so that I could make the three-hour drive to Baltimore. My students were happy, of course, and were quite cooperative in giving suggestions as to where I could take two underage girls, how I could get them fake IDs, what bars would not question their age, etc. It was enlightening, but I took none of their suggestions.
My e-mails, combined with ultimatums by Erin and Melissa to their parents, were eventually successful, because they both arrived in Baltimore as promised without permanent damage to any family relationships. I arrived at the airport an hour early and their flight was an hour late, so rush hour was well underway as we headed north towards Pennsylvania. I was driving my 3/4-ton Dodge Diesel truck, which was a good thing because the luggage they brought would not have fit in a normal car. Just their carry-on luggage would have lasted me for a winter month in Europe.
We stopped at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore for our first sight seeing adventure, but it was deader than a sun-dried frog on the interstate. We surveyed all the good seafood establishments and ended up eating burgers at Planet Hollywood before continuing on north - arriving home around 11 PM.
The next six days were not the wild sex orgy that my younger male friends would like to have believed, nor did I have to "baby-sit" as my older peer group suspected I might. Some folks felt sorry for me, others were envious, and still others did not know what to think - like Erin and Melissa's parents. All in all, it was a fun and adventuresome time. There was a close call in Philadelphia when they almost got their tongues pierced, and I almost got arrested for peeing in a park near the Liberty Bell. My friend Chris accompanied us on that adventure and got violently ill from something he ate. He threw up twice and got uncontrollable diarrhea - which evoked sympathy from Erin and laughter from Melissa.
We went to Atlantic City and explored the boardwalk, the beach, and a number of casinos where people said we would get carded, but we did not. We took the train to New York City and did the tourist thing at the Empire State building, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. I was disappointed when I showed them the lights of Radio City Music Hall and they asked me what it was. Saks 5th Avenue was another "department store" that they had never heard of, and likewise with Tiffany's. They were not impressed with Macy's but spent much time in Old Navy across the street. The only photograph I recall them taking was of all the bags of garbage piled 5' high along 7th avenue. I guess they don't have that in Iowa.
I think the highlight of the visit for them was getting drunk at Marley's Ale House in West Trenton, NJ. The bartender there is a student of mine and she served them whatever they wanted. It is amazing how several drinks can transform two conservative and shy Iowa farm girls into social butterflies. It also transformed the spaghetti that Erin ate into a pile of gross looking stuff in the grass outside of Marley's, but that did not stop her from going back inside and dancing for another hour and a half. We returned to Marley's two more times that week, and now all of the regulars there know two girls from Iowa and ask me about them every time I stop in.
If there is a single episode that sticks in my mind from that week, (my near arrest not withstanding), it is when a fight broke out at Marley's and a drunken Melissa jumped into the fray. Four police cars arrived and Melissa was going from cop to cop and saying: "Hi, I'm Melissa from Iowa." I managed to get her out of the bar and kept her from getting into a police car. At that point, the week was only half over, and my expectations had been radically altered.
In retrospect, their visit bore little resemblance to the one I somehow managed to foresee prior to their arrival. That is good, because if I had it all to do over, there is very little I would change. At the very least they forced me out of my routine and reminded me that life is multidimensional - like silly putty. You occasionally have to push the boundaries in order to make it more interesting. So I thank them for that. And if I am really lucky, they will visit me again some time.