Do you remember where you were on this day in 1978? I certainly do.
On this morning, 44 years ago, I was arriving at South West Louisiana State University in Lafayette, Louisiana. Some friends and I had driven through the night from Charleston to attend a fraternity party. (Why else would one get in a car and travel that far? - 873 miles and 13 and a half hours?)
My freshman year in college I became great friends with a group of fraternity guys on campus. I wasn't dating any of them, we were just good pals, always game for anything. One of these guys stopped me on my way to class one morning asking if I was up for a road trip. Needless to say I was all ears.
Seems the chapter of their fraternity at SWLSU sponsored an event, the Green Party, every St Patrick's Day at their campus for all their fraternity brothers nationwide. It was legendary. Two and a half days of jambalaya, crawfish, zydeco music, and a tremendous amount of beer. Now who could turn that down.
By the time of the trip there were 15 of us going - 3 girls and 12 guys. I soon learned that everyone was not going together. There would be 3 groups. The first was going to leave early and spend a night on the road, the second was taking the I-20 route through Atlanta, and the third heading dead west on I-10. I was in the third group - me and 7 guys in 2 cars.
Traveling across the bowels of the south through the night is interesting enough, but going with 7 guys was truly a trip. Even though I was up for anything, they were all very protective of me. There were several places we stopped where they would not let me out of the car. Or if they did there was one or two by my side at all times. They knew my Daddy and knew it was their responsibility to get me there and back safely.
Thinking back on it, I'm not sure that one place we stopped in Mississippi around 4 am wasn't a brothel. Two of the guys ran in, got drinks for all of us, and we were off again. There were several other shady spots where we stopped but it was all part of the fun.
We arrived in Lafayette around 10 the following morning. My first hint that this was going to be a wild time was the sofa on top of the fraternity house with 2 guys and a keg of beer welcoming everyone. When we finally met up with the rest of our group, we learned that one car had taken the scenic route and stopped for lunch and the sights in New Orleans. The other car had missed several turns and arrived late. (This seemed an odd story when their route was a straight shot on I-20.) Given our experience, their stories sounded lame.
Needless to say, a large time was had by all. We ate and drank and danced. By the time the big party itself started, we found ourselves celebrities having driven further than anyone else. Our group was especially popular when the guys started telling stories about going through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in the dead of night. There was some embellishment, although the truth was interesting enough.
That summer when the movie Animal House was released, we all found the "Road Trip" scene humorous, but we knew our experience had been more fun. The Delta Tau Chi house in the movie closely resembled what we found when we arrived in Lafayette earlier that year. No doubt Pinto and Flounder were among the brothers we met. If not, there were characters there just as outrageous.
Throughout your life there are always "bonding" experiences. And this was one for me. These 7 guys have been life long friends. They were all fun, loyal, and extremely smart. Of the group, 3 would become doctors, 1 a pharmacist, 2 attorneys, and 1 a diplomat. 5 of the 7 were at my wedding years later. Since that time 2 have passed on.
Every year on March 17th I always think of that trip and remember what it felt to be young and free. Carefree enough to get in a car and drive 13 hours to a place you have never been, to see people you have never met, simply because you got an invitation that was too good to turn down.