Friday, June 30, 2017

Maryland Visit--something old and something new!

Team WestEnders set off for our annual Summer pilgrimage to Maryland on Wednesday, after the usual planning and packing...and mentally preparing ourselves for the assault on Virginia. It has become the custom for Derek to take the first driving shift, since he prefers to pilot the vehicle during daylight hours when he's most awake and alert (and obviously his parents are in complete agreement that this is for the best). Besides, that way he gets the--undeniably boring but also generally uncomplicated--stretch of I-85, which typically causes us few problems.

And this year was no different...oh, right...except for the bear. You see, we were just moseying along, minding our own business, when suddenly Husband pointed out the window and yelled, "Hey, there's a BEAR!" The three of us who weren't busy navigating whipped our heads around to look at what was surely a...caffeine withdrawal hallucination?...and were astonished to be able to confirm that yes, there was a small-ish black ursine creature standing on the exit ramp we had just passed. All I can say is--well, a couple of things, really: 1) he must have been sooo confused to wander out of the roadside forest and find him or herself facing a highway full of speeding automobiles, and 2) only in Virginia, dude.

So, that was more excitement than we normally experience on our excursions between the old and new hometowns--at least if you don't count the traffic circus that we almost always encounter. This time, however, I'm almost afraid to admit (for fear of jinxing it) that we found very little gridlock. In fact, I was on my phone scrolling through Facebook...and missed Fredericksburg entirely. Trust me when I say that this is an unheard-of phenomenon, since that city's 24-7 freeway mayhem usually inspires...much colorful expression of....exasperation. The only real snafu came when it was time for a potty break, and rather than use a rest area, we attempted to kill the proverbial two birds by pulling into a Sheetz/WaWa/other similar establishment so we could both use the facilities and purchase edibles to provide sustenance for the rest of the way.

After passing several "towns" that merited only a plain identification sign, with no services listed, we finally spotted one that promised a Sheetz. It was only when you actually pulled off the interstate that they confessed it was "1.8 miles" further. Well, that hardly counts as "convenient", now does it? Shame on you, Virginia, for misrepresenting your....Sheetz the weary travelers in need! But we were already committed to this course of action, so we had no choice but to continue...which we did...well PAST the prescribed distance...with nary a Sheetz oasis in sight.

At this point there miiiiight have commenced some ranting about how Virginia was...I believe the term "sucky" came to mind...and also "a big stupid liar" Yeeaaaeah, this was all me--the kids found the whole situation inexplicably hilarious, and Husband occupied himself by alternating between running commentary ("Ooh, this place is scary! Let's not stop here!) and inane suggestions (There's a Walgreens! I know they have bathrooms! And snacks!") We eventually opted to just rejoin I-95 and make another attempt in Tyson's Corner...where we STILL had to concede defeat and pause at an extremely creepy, none-too-clean gas station for as short a time as possible. Once we'd crossed the American Legion Bridge, we heaved a collective sigh of relief and repeated a new addition to our family lore:'ll always get you SOMEHOW.

At least we did arrive safely at our HQ for the long weekend. On Thursday our first activity involved a tour at the University of Maryland in College Park. We managed to get up, get ready, and leave exactly when we'd planned to (which is quite rare and impressive for Team WestEnders), but Husband had forgotten--in the previous night's...uproar--that he needed to fill the gas tank. This slight delay made him worry that we'd be late...a fear which apparently awoke his inner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Thus we were reacquainted with the Beltway--a crowded, unpleasant, dangerous road I've never, ever missed for even one second since moving out of the area--with someone behind the wheel who decided to drive like a bat out of hell. Oh, joy.

Once we arrived intact (if a bit green), we sat in on the information session, which described the educational opportunities, social lifeadmission process, financial aid, blah blah blah. Then we followed a perky student guide (Amanda) around campus as she showed us points of interest like the Office of Admissions; the large green space in the center of campus called McKeldin Mall; a residence hall; a brand new building where the classrooms are "set up for collaborative learning"; the baseball and football stadiums; one of the libraries, with the iconic terrapin mascot statue in front (Testudo, whose nose you're supposed to rub for good luck--which we did, since you don't mess with that kind of thing); athletic facilities the students can use; and the student union, which includes a dining hall. That might have been Derek's favorite part, as food is near and dear to his heart--and I think he probably stopped listening to anything else Amanda was saying after she uttered the words, "You can eat as often as you want, as much as you want, and can stay as long as you want." Um...that's pretty much his idea of paradise, you know?

When we'd finished being led around and seeing the sights, we bid the university farewell and moved on to our next "appointment" of the day: a visit to the town where we used to live. Derek had made arrangements with some of his friends from Middle School to meet at the park around the corner from our old house, so we dropped him off. Then Husband, Riley and I had several hours to kill before joining some of our soccer family amigos for dinner, so we followed what has become our standard agenda....hanging out in the local library for a while, then taking a stroll around Lake Needwood for some fresh air, exercise, and communing with nature (some of our very favorite things, all wrapped into one neat package--not bad for a pleasant afternoon jaunt).

Finally, we gathered at the one restaurant I actually miss since moving to Chapel Hill, California Tortilla, for our twice-yearly combination food-fix and catch-up with the futbol crowd. It's always so awesome chatting with them...even if this year some of the conversation centered around the dually terrifying topics of "the younger siblings going to high school" and "the older boys starting the whole college search/application/selection rigamarole". Nevertheless, a satisfying meal and loads of laughs make for a fabulous end to a very long but totally entertaining day. And with that, it's high time for some well-deserved SLEEP before the whirlwind continues tomorrow....ZZZZZZ!
Jim Henson--famous University of Maryland alumni!

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