I like to commemorate moments in life. Maybe it’s because I am the oldest in my family and every second of the first three years of my life is committed to film by doting parents, grandparents and aunts. There are albums full of pictures from the big moments – like my first birthday or my first day of school – and the everyday moments – just sitting in the floor playing. And that was before Papaw bought a camcorder – you remember those 40-pound behemoths that threatened to dislocate your shoulder and recorded to VHS tapes?
Maybe that’s why I have a weird habit of recording the most mundane of activities. When I’m with friends and family – whether it be one of countless family BBQs, a standard girls’ nights on Karli’s couch, or an epic adventure in a faraway land with Lacey, I like to take a second to sit back and savor the moments just spent with my people. But even with all my vigilant watching and moment absorbing, things still slip by unnoticed. That is, until years later when I look back and finally realize how a series of seemingly small – and extremely annoying – events quietly helped build a friendship.
The year was 2007 and I was a college sophomore travelling to Washington, D.C., for the first time. I was there for a student media convention. I think I was supposed to attend more of the conference and see less of the city, but I still learned much and more. I had never been in any city except Cincinnati. There is no comparison. I was in awe of the Metro – how awesome is it to take the seemingly endless escalator underground at Dupont Circle, board a train and re-emerge across town just minutes later?! I paid for cabs (like a rookie) and frustrated the drivers by always forgetting to specify “Northwest” after “Connecticut Avenue.” And I absolutely got into a cab with no cash and had to ask to stop at an ATM.
I walked the Mall for the first time – comically mistaking the “National Mall” for a shopping mall when invited to join a group. Imagine my surprise when we exited the Metro station in the middle of a field with the Washington Monument looming over us. I saw the monuments for the first time late on a rainy night with mist rising from the earth. That is still my favorite way to see them. Of course, that rain persisted throughout the entire weekend we were there. But did I let that stop me when my quiet, photographer roommate asked me if I wanted to leave at 6 a.m. to go with her to work on a photo contest assignment? Absolutely not!
Back in those days I had been on staff at the student newspaper for only a few months. I only really knew two people and the photo editor wasn’t one of them. She was the girl in the other room – the fun, less stressful room farther away from the editor-in-chief. I knew the photo editor’s name was Lacey and she almost always wore Chucks and a Canon. I was the Newb and she was the only member of the creative staff there – and college newspaper workers can be incredibly cliquish – so we got roomed together. This meant that we were largely overlooked by the rest of the group, which was pretty all right by us. We’re both totally fine left to our own devices.
Knowing her now – and knowing myself – it shocks me that either of us was up and anywhere before noon, let alone at 6 a.m. I still remember her saying I remind her of her mom because I got up super early to make sure I had time to blow dry my hair and put on makeup. Yes, just to go out in the rain. I used to care more about what I look like.
So with Lacey in a red hoodie and me in my favorite grey “Baseball Hall of Fame” hoodie, my kangaroo pocket stuffed full in lieu of carrying a bag, we hopped a cab and set off to enjoy the day. Not even when I stepped out of the cab into an ankle-deep puddle and not even when my head and shoulders were soaked and my feet ached from walking and were shriveled up from the water in my shoes, did my spirits dampen. We spent a great day walking around the city, unbothered by anyone and quietly getting to know each other.
And then I realized my phone was missing. Remember the Cherry Chocolate from LG? A cute, little, red, brick-like phone that slid up to reveal a keypad and was designed to be a great music player? I loved that phone. It had these touch-sensitive “buttons” on the front that were just ultra-cool to me. When I realized it was gone, I just figured it was wrapped up in the blankets on the bed back at the hotel. Nothing to worry about.
Lacey completed her assignment; we stopped at McDonald’s – McDonald’s! in a great foodie city we got McDonald’s? – and got back to the hotel. As we were peeling of layers of rain-soaked clothes, the phone rings.
It’s my mom.
Now, I didn’t tell my mom what hotel we were staying in. So obviously she didn’t have my room number. So imagine my surprise when I hear a strong voice, tight with worry, “Cassie? Where have you been?”
“Uhhh…the Monuments? I left my phone at the hotel this morning.”
Tension still there: “No, you dropped it on the road and the police found it. They called me.”
So while I was traipsing about DC, my parents were hoping and praying I hadn’t been abducted and sold into human trafficking. Mom, in the way that only mothers do, turned into some kind of crazy investigative reporter and found information on my desk that I didn’t even know was there, located the hotel and notified the police officer who found my phone in the same water puddle that I stepped into while exiting the cab outside the Washington Monument.
So the one connection Lacey and I had to the rest of our group was cut. We were on our own. Did we care? Nope. We went to a few more sessions at the conference and spent the rest of the time exploring the city and watching “Law and Order” reruns while trying to finish class assignments. She showed me how to navigate the Metro, helped me buy my first train pass and introduced me to Thai food.
Without realizing it, we had forged a friendship. When I think about it, that first trip to DC was a foreshadowing of things to come. We live to travel. We’ve taken several trips together since then, and every time something crazy happens. In DC, I lost the only cell phone we had between us and we were left to our own devices for a weekend. In Montana, we got stranded on the side of the highway, hopeless but for the kindness of strangers. We’ve set up camp on a flood plain, with the campground’s owner recounting how the spot we were pitching our tent was submerged just weeks before – but we left before the thunderstorms rolled in so we didn’t wake up floating in our tent down the Red River in Kentucky. Then we decided to trek downhill for an unknown number of miles at the Natural Bridge in Kentucky, thinking that we could get back down to our car that way. Then we ended up having to climb back up in a 110-degree heat index without any water and almost keeled over from heat exhaustion. And our friendship today has the same easy grace that it had when it began – even during my awful year when I didn’t know who my real friends were.
So after seven years of little adventures, the next logical step is to take one gigantic, huge, ginormous adventure, right? We’re both wrapping up our 20s and we’ve done our time in college, racked up the obligatory, financially-devastating student loan debt and been productive, cubicle-inhabiting members of society. I think I’m safe in admitting that neither of us is very satisfied with this arrangement. So, what are we going to do about it?
I’m glad you asked.
My number one bucket list goal has always been to visit all 50 states. Number two is to circle the world, starting with Europe for my thirtieth birthday, if I hadn’t made it before. Today, I’m 365 days away from that deadline and I’m itching to go. And guess who has the same milestone birthday next year? That’s right: Lacey! Next year, we are planning a three-week trip to Europe, but we’re buying open-ended tickets. I think I’m safe in speaking for both of us when I say that we’re tired of living our lives at the mercy of someone or something else and we want to enjoy this life before we’re too old and decrepit to leave our wheelchairs. So my birthday present to myself is going to be freedom. My student loans will still be there waiting for me when I come back down.
Lacey and I have had separate blogs with differing purposes for the last several years. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a joint travel blog. I haven’t been this excited about a project since I started my own little newsletter when I was a kid. (Yes, I’ve been an unabashed nerd my entire life.) We plan to start working together to chronicle our journeys, building up to the Grand European Adventure. Once we get on that plane next year, I’m going wherever the wind takes me, student loans be damned! I hope you will follow along with us on our adventures.