Hello from Alexandria, Va., on the last day of our mini-vacation. It’s been, as always, a blast. And as always, it’s ending too soon but it was long enough to stir a big, bubbling pot of nostalgia.
In the fall of 1977, my junior year at the University of Illinois, I enrolled in a political science course on the history of party politics. I ate it up, and the professor was engaging and demanding in a way intended to build into our 20-year-old gelatinous brains a sense of responsibility as U.S. citizens. One day he announced the availability of internships in Washington, D.C. One semester working on Capitol Hill or at a government agency or other Washingtonian kind of place would earn a semester’s worth of credits.
I filled out the application, sheepishly asked for recommendation letters from past professors, and the next thing I knew, I was living at 1430 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. In minutes I could be walking by the Washington Post Building, the one where Woodward and Bernstein worked, and in another block or so I had a nice view of The White House. Then there were all the Smithsonian Museums, the monuments, all just a stroll away. As Gomer Pyle would say, “Shazam!”
Then again, making a wrong turn (or right turn, depending on your point of view) landed me on a patch of strip clubs and seedy bars. Fourteenth was notorious. Heading north was treacherous; the neighborhoods that had burned in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination hadn’t recovered. (That all has changed, but that’s another post.)
I was as green as green got. But I landed in the right place, Consumers’ Checkbook magazine. My supervisor Dianne took me and a fellow intern, who hailed from South Carolina, under her wing. Next thing you know Dianne introduced us to Pick, and Venita and he (fellow southerners) talked trash over games of backgammon.
I went back to complete my senior year and met a girl named Beth in my basic reporting class. I told her about my internship, and she eventually did the same program in D.C.
A couple years later, I’d graduated and taken a real job at the magazine and moved to Northern Virgina. At some point Pick needed a roommate and so did I, so we got a place together. Pick introduced me to his North Carolinian friends, a married couple named Michael and Susi, who ended up living upstairs. Pick and I and Mike and Susi all became fast friends, making camping trips along Skyline drive, and one to the Outer Banks of North Carolina—my introduction to saltwater.
I eventually moved back to Illinois and about the time I reconnected with Beth in Urbana, Pick met Hank, and we more or less share anniversaries. Saturday night, Pick and Hank hosted a dinner party for me, Beth, Mike, Susi, and Dianne.
Hank cooked a marvelous meal, Pick made sure everyone had a glass, and a thousand memories were triggered. But it wasn’t maudlin “good old days” stuff. Way back when was fun, but we were all working harder at finding our way in life than we have to now—well, I should say I know I was—and we did plenty of stuff worthy of gut laughs, particularly in hindsight.
There’s a lot good about growing older, at least for us lucky ones. We get more comfortable in our own skins and shed insecurities. Troublesome things that seemed to be really important a long time ago have dissolved, replaced by gratitude and appreciation for a few hours of the company of the people we love. Here’s to all of you.
And to Professor Seligman. I’ll never forget him.