Way, way before I was a real adult, a responsible friend, or wife I was a fifth year college senior sitting in my apartment on 11th street in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, making plans for my life after graduation. I was a summer grad, working at Wings in between semesters, taking my sweet time while most of my other friends had zipped it up in four years and made the move to Birmingham or Atlanta to find their first jobs. I was coasting, finishing up my last group project and planning my graduation dinner with my parents at Cypress Inn.
My fellow Communication Major classmates were looking at big advertising agencies in Atlanta and cities all over the southeast. The PR major was never without her Jennifer Anniston haircut, three-button suit from The Limited and Steve Madden Mary Jane heels. The Business Major/Advertising buying his first Brooks Brothers suit and Johnston Murphy’s was always ready for that big opportunity. All of them lined up outside the Ferguson Center (student union) with their portfolios waiting to go to some gray cubicle to be interviewed by overly enthusiastic college recruiters from all over the Southeast. It was the end of the 90’s and the Clinton era when everyone got a job, a starting salary and chance to work their way up the corporate latter. A time our now Gen Y would scoff at. They expect more by working less and the starting salary they anticipate would have been professional suicide if even suggested to companies interviewing my generation in 1999 where 18-24k was what you took regardless of how “Special” you were. And you wonder why they can’t find jobs? But that is a story for another blog.
Being non-conformist I had different plans. I did stand in those interview lines, I had the heels the hair and the suit, but I did not have the same drive they did. The last thing I wanted in my gut was an office space or a city where I would be surrounded by the same people I knew the last five years. I wanted to be successful in my own right. Competing for the same jobs, the same lawyer boyfriends and the same seat at happy hour was not meshing with me. What I did take from my communications classes was that is was all about the presentation. So I played the part.
Playing the part bought me some nice interview clothes and a proud earned A on my Campaigns Project. Secretly I was listening to John Denver CD’s, wearing puffy vests, lighting woodsy candles in my apartment bedroom and planning my escape to Colorado. My childhood friend Carmella, who had recently graduated from Randolph Macon, moved to Vail, Colorado, after college because her family had skied there and she fell in love with the Rocky Mountains. She had a steady job out there and was making it work. She sent me brochures of the Vail life and we talked endless hours about me moving to Vail and how I could stay with her until I got a job. I owe a lot to her encouragement. Usually people who moved to Colorado after college in the South where “lost” trust funders (what Carmella called Trustafarians) or pot smokers trying to “find” their way. I was neither. I can’t speak for Carmella personally but she landed on her feet there and had some honest parental support if she needed it. She was not the typical 90’s grunge either. We were raised strong and right and wore our pearls with pride mixed with our corduroy pants and luggage tag earrings.
When I told my parents about my plan they pulled back at first. We were not a ski family, it was just not part of the May family vacation budget. Colorado was expensive. The family ski vacation was as foreign to me as a backwoods farm in Alabama would be to California girl. Our vacations consisted of the Alabama State Park in Gulf Shores and trips to my Grandfather’s farm in Eutaw, Alabama. Visiting my brother in New Orleans where he had his first job with Arthur Anderson Consulting or Mississippi for our Family Reunions. We made the flight to Boston twice to visit my mother’s family but that is as far north, east or west I had ever been. My parents are educated, worldly and open-minded so they finally agreed to let me spread my wings and fly.
On September 8th 1999 along with my father and five hundred dollars of graduation cash in my pocket we packed up my new, but old, gray beat up GMC blazer that my dad got a good deal on from one of his dart playing buddies and headed out West. Those two days in the car with my father will be some of my best memories of him one day. My dad is somewhat of a southern mixed drink. Part Atticus Finch, part Jack Ryan from The Tom Clancy novels, part 1960’s beach party bass player. He was my hero, he was cool with his Benson Hedges and his L.L. Bean corduroy blazers and Gant ties. He was tall and handsome, stern yet sensitive, high expectations for his children, but realistic expectations because he himself was never perfect.
The image I take of my father and share with people is the image of him on this Colorado trip. He was still relatively young and living vicariously through his 23-year-old daughter’s experience. Living through his children is something my dad relishes. My brother who is eight and a half years my senior got a different father. He got the 26-year-old returning Vietnam solider just starting the process of making a life for his family. I got the father who had come into his own, the more settled version. But both of us would agree he is jack-of-all-trades way of life rubbed off on us in a positive way.
On our drive West we crossed the Mississippi, saw the arch in St. Louis, we drank a beer together in Kansas and actually saw tumbleweeds crossing the highway like in the old John Wayne movies. It was the best adventure of my life. The deal with my dad was that I would drop him off at the Denver Airport where he had a one-way ticket back to Alabama. I would then drive the 2-hour jaunt by myself up highway 75 to Vail Mountain, elevation 8150, where I would meet Carmella and start my job search. My parents told me that if I did not find a job that could support me, when the 500 plus some dollars ran out I had to come home and figure it out in Alabama. I had three weeks to make it work; this was my one big chance to be different. If it did not work out I would chalk it up as an adventurous graduation trip.
When we finally arrived at the Denver airport I was so ready to break away. This was the girl that cried when her parents left her at Tutwiler dorm before sorority rush 5 years before. I was free, free at last! Bring on the slopes, the mountain boys, the job I had not found yet!!! I was free until I hugged my dad and saw him walking towards his pre-9/11 terminal, canvas tote bag in hand. My heart let go and I started to cry, I felt like the 18 year old being left at the dorm, the six year old on her first day of kindergarten, the 3 year old in the “way way” back of our 1976 ford station wagon watching the world go by backwards. I was still a child, and I was about to make a two-hour treacherous mountain drive to becoming an adult?? All of a sudden I was not ready. It took everything I had not to run after him and jump in his Eddie Bower tote bag to sneak a ride back to the comfort of my mothers down couch and wood stove fireplace, sitting next to her while she graded papers. My life was about to begin, and I was alone in this so far. A long way from sweet home Alabama with the white peaks of the Colorado Rockies hovering right in front of me.
To be Continued….
|Picture taken September, 10 1999, on my drive|
up to Vail Mountain for the first time