Boomerang Days: Spring Breaking Bad

Boomerang Days: Spring Breaking Bad

A Longhorn does college all over again.

Spring Break! It’s a time to abandon all sense of responsibility, academic accountability, and make complete asses of ourselves.

I long to once again experience the glory of that leisure-intensive joyride, but it turns out most 43-year-olds are expected to work each and every week of March, a clear case of unjust ageism. So this issue’s column is a special-edition throwback to those carefree days of yesteryear.

In the spring of 1994, three fellow Longhorns and I set forth on the American rite of passage known as the Epic Road Trip. In that dark era before Google Maps, we planned an impractical and nearly impossible itinerary, drawing out routes that crisscrossed the Southwest like a coked-up bumble bee.

We were an odd bunch. We avoided the party scene, enjoyed some nerdy pastimes, and had memorized most Indigo Girls lyrics. We also celebrated self-abuse, challenging each other to eat a dozen Kerbey Lane pancakes in one sitting, running a 5K while smoking cigars, or timing how long we could keep a hermit crab pinched to our nipple. So driving across six states in seven days, forgoing sleep, nutrition, and proper hygiene was the perfect plan for a holiday.

COLORADO: Our first destination was a mountain cabin and a group of female Longhorns. Meaning, we drove for 17 hours to flirt with the same girls we flirted with back in Austin. There were four girls staying in the cabin. I had a crush on all four. Zero of them had a crush on me. This mathematical equation would represent my romantic situation throughout college.

We had no time to take in the beauty of the Rockies. We were road tripping. We jumped back in the car and headed west.

GRAND CANYON: We pledged not to shave for the duration of the trip. Scott and Derek were already looking impressively scruffy. Russ had no beard skills whatsoever. Hairs grew haphazardly, as if he’d eaten a glazed donut and then whipped his face on the floor of a Supercuts. My beard was red and frothy, like a leprechaun just hitting puberty.

Strange things happen in an enclosed car after three days. Back then, with no texting or tweeting, the only communication we had was with the people in the car. We argued theology, politics, and Star Wars trivia. We began to know each other’s smells and digestive quirks intimately.

Near midnight we arrived at the Grand Canyon and set up camp. Only we didn’t have any camping equipment. Or food. Or matches. Or much chance of surviving. But we did. Barely.

It would have been wonderful to hike the canyon. But in our planning we had not calculated experiencing any of the destinations. Just reaching them.

LAS VEGAS: In Vegas we splurged on a $30 room that resembled an over-used petri dish. Everything was sticky: the carpet, the towels, the curtains. It was like sleeping in a cotton candy machine that had failed its last health inspection.

We cruised the Strip, haunting nickel slots and sipping free White Russians. Before dawn we used our winnings to buy $2.99 steak and eggs breakfasts and hit the road again.

The odor emanating from the car had grown uniquely pungent, like an upholstered dumpster teeming with man-gas and bacon grease. A Costco bag of cheesy popcorn exploded, filling the air with a tangy scent and an orange dust that managed to creep into every crevice.

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NEW MEXICO: We had no Yelp. All we knew was Truth or Consequences had a fun-sounding name.

We found a hostel run by an aging hippie named Feather. The walls were tie-dyed blankets and the ceiling seemed to be held up only by patchouli and positive thoughts.

Feather urged us to skinny-dip in the hot springs and purify ourselves in the sweat lodge he’d built with used tires and hemp glue.

It was the hippie destination of my dreams. But to my travel companions the hostel was less Woodstock and more Texas Chainsaw Massacre. At first light, we were on the road again.

TEXAS: On day seven we crawled across the West Texas desert. The car smelled and felt like a microwaved litter box. We giggled hysterically for no reason, confessed hidden secrets, and unraveled into slaphappy, homebound pilgrims.

At 3 a.m. we rolled back into Austin—seven days older, over 4,000 miles wiser, unbathed, unhinged, and utterly victorious.

Today’s Longhorns might brave the epic road trip aided by smartphone maps and online reviews and find it a challenge to get lost on American back roads. But one thing remains a constant: Few things singe a nasal cavity like four men living in one car.

And I’m still finding orange dust in my crevices.

Illustration by Mario Zucca


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