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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

WTF: What the F**k I Did to Get Here

It often takes a lot of time and work to get to nowhere—especially to a town like Grinnell. Sometimes the drive is so long or the layover so intense that when it is over you find yourself staring up at he JRC asking, “How the fuck did I get here?”

Grinnellians come from all over the world and somehow manage to converge in a town of nine thousand where it can seem to some that the closest taste of mainstream civilization is a mega-Walmart and the wildest thing you can do is drunkenly attempt to ride the tractors next to Noyce late at night. Many Grinnellians sometimes just need to get the f**k out of here at all costs. But some are going to get the f**k out with style. Some just have a taste for the quest.

Last year, Eric Ritter ’12 spontaneously planned and spent six days in his beat-up, eighteen-year-old white Camry driving to campus for NSO from his home in Connecticut. “I just knew that I wanted to drive to school cross-country, I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Ritter. “Even though it’s only half the country, I knew that I’d make an adventure out of it.”

And Ritter did. The first stop on his journey was a K-mart parking lot. Driving down I-80, Ritter spotted the thousand-car parking lot and, becoming curious, pulled over to observe the people walking in and out of the store. He decided right on the spot to learn about them. He put on a pair of sunglasses, a clean shirt, stood at the store entrance and asked people about their lives. He claimed he was a representative from a website that he made up: (which, unknown to Ritter, is a run-of-the-mill blog).

Ritter particularly remembers one elderly couple. “This couple said, ‘every other Sunday, we go to K-mart. We live thirty-five miles away and it’s the highlight of our week!’” Ritter said. “I remember thinking to myself that there are definitely better things in life than having K-mart be a bi-weekly highlight of existence.”

After leaving K-mart, Ritter stopped in a small town to look for a thrift store, only to find that the only convenience store in town had been attacked by wild boars. Ritter said that a woman told him “for some reason, they were attracted. A herd of about 15 went into the store, went crazy and then ran out.’”

On the last leg of his journey, Ritter stopped in Indiana to purchase some fireworks, illegal in his home state, and set them off outside his car, not really knowing what he was doing. “I watched them alone, sort of giggling to myself,” Ritter said.

While Ritter arrived in Grinnell in the spirit of Jack Kerouac, Nic Wilson ’12 decided to take on a different set of hot wheels when he biked home to Minneapolis for fall break last year. “It seemed really ridiculous, something really impossible,” Wilson said. “I’ve never done anything like that. It was something like 300 miles.” But Wilson did it. Prior to leaving, he read up on the necessities of long-term biking and bought the equipment for it, along with some camping gear.

Wilson slept for two nights in state parks in his hammock tent. One of the places he stayed at was a park called Beaver Creek, right near Parkersville, IA, where Wilson ended up eating a meager dinner of cheese and crackers at a gas station. After three long days of biking, Wilson finally made it home. “By the time I got into Minneapolis that day, it was dark and I had been on the bike for ten hours. I was pretty much hallucinating.”

Despite his hallucinations, Wilson couldn’t help but insist on the point of the comfort that being alone on this trip brought him. “Today, you’re never really alone. You have to try. You have to try really hard,” said Wilson. “But this time, I was. I’d be on state highways, county highways, so there’d be hardly any traffic, so I’d be completely alone on my bike for eight to ten hours a day . . . which was really nice.”

While Ritter and Wilson took one-way journeys on the road, Benj Wagman ’08 went there and back again Samwise Gamgee style. “It was really just let’s get out of here for the weekend and go have some fun,” said Wagman of the trip he and Sean Miller ’08 attempted to take to Columbia, Missouri during December of their freshman year.

The third and most important member of their guild was the “red and rusty” 1988 Toyota Celica GT stick shift Wagman had received from his uncle for his sixteenth birthday. “It had all kinds of problems. It wasn’t weatherproof, but it was very charming,” said Wagman, who also requested that the car be referred to as “weathered” and “determined” rather than “shitty.”

The weathered stick shift’s spirit wouldn’t get it far. Jitender Seehra, a mechanic from Wagman’s hometown, warned that the car wouldn’t make it back from Iowa alive. “He was totally prophetic,” Wagman said, because true to the mechanic’s words, just outside of Macon, Missouri, the determined little car “died in the snow, in all its glory, at 70 mph,” said Wagman. “I knew it was over.”

With a busted car, Wagman and Miller found a pay phone, called a tow truck, and ended up trading in the teenaged vehicle for 80 dollars in cash. Sitting in a McDonald’s with the car stereo and all their possessions wrapped up in a blanket, they decided to do what any “dudes” would do in their position. “I spent that 80 bucks on beer and bowling,” said Wagman.

After their “fuck it, let’s go bowling” weekend, they ended up wending their way back to Grinnell, through the generous rides of both strangers and distant acquaintances to whom he is forever grateful. “And that was that,” Wagman said. “My car was gone but it was a really fun weekend.”

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