Sunday, November 18

The Whisper of the Towering Tree

Odometer: 14,181
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
States Visited: Indiana, Michigan

At this point in the trip, I’m not accustomed to finding myself in familiar surroundings. A drive I’ve probably completed 100 times in my life passed by more quickly than ever. Unsurprisingly, my perspective on what is far has definitely changed. My first stop was at the house where I spent my senior year. My how the times have changed. While I’m sure my standards for what makes a good home are different, I was kind of shocked at the poor shape in which I found the house. I don’t think they’ve put one iota of improvement into it since I graduated. Carpet, new when we moved in, was ripped up exposing pretty shabby hardwood floors. The most striking thing was that certain rooms seemed a lot smaller than I remembered them. It could be that the people currently living there have more stuff, but I can recall fitting dozens of people into rooms that now seem like they could only hold eight comfortably. It was an odd feeling to say the least. I know it’s been ten years since school, but it really hit home when I saw the inside of that house. After stopping by a fraternity house where they were sledgehammering scarlet and gray cars for charity, I had a choice on which restaurant to hit. This would be my only opportunity on the trip to hit one of my old haunts. I wish I could have eaten six meals instead of just the one. I opted for Maize N Blue Deli, a place I had not visited in over ten years. The food was every bit as good as I remember – in fact, maybe even better as I’d forgotten how much meat they pile on each one of their sandwiches. China Gate, Backroom, University Café, and Coffee Break – you’ll have to wait until next time.
Relax, all right? My old man is a television repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.

The school held a pep rally in the Diag (Michigan’s version of a quad), something I don’t ever recall happening in my tenure as a student. Like most pep rallies, it was loosely planned and went on far too long. Jamie Morris and Marcus Ray fired up the crowd, while Mike Hart appeared somewhat low-key as people shouted questions about his ankle. The Diag was completely packed. I’d never seen this many people congregate in that area before. Friday night was spent watching the HBO feature on Michigan/OSU at a friend’s house in Plymouth, just to get us extra fired up. We rose early and made it back to Ann Arbor by 7:45. Every time I’m back in town, I get a little nostalgic as the memories, good, bad and otherwise, immediately return. Hitting the tailgate scene, I first stopped by to see some friends who I hadn’t seen face to face in a decade. Everyone pretty much looked and certainly acted the same. It was extremely hard to pull myself away from that group to go do my job, but duty called.
Finest barbershop quartet on campus

The enthusiasm around town surprised me. After traveling around the country, I had a feeling that my return to Michigan would unveil a fan base that just didn’t care as much. I was pleased to discover that was not the case. Tons of students had their faces painted and many went well beyond that. I started to believe that maybe we did have a chance to find victory. Maybe Hart and Henne were rested enough that we could compete. Maybe the players would win one last game for Lloyd. I knew Ohio State was the better team, but perhaps we’d find some “old ghosts” just like in 1995.
Banned by Disney. AOK here!

Banding together with a couple buddies, we managed to snag three student seats for 160 bucks. Not bad considering the going rate was about a hundred per seat. Plus, I wanted student section anyway. If we were going to win this game, I wanted the maximum excitement, and if we were going to lose, I didn’t want any geezers yelling at me to sit down. The only way to utilize a student ticket is to pay 27 bucks to get it validated or have a valid student ID. For the next three hours, my name would be Olivia, the student kind enough to loan me her card. I was assured that they didn’t really look at the IDs, but sure enough at the gate, the woman taking tickets asked for it and said, “Olivia??” Then her supervisor came over and said, “You know, she’s supposed to confiscate the ticket.” I ably played off that I had accidentally brought my girlfriend’s ID, but they didn’t believe me. Feigning a trip home to get the right ID, I moved on to the next gate. This time, the guy saw the ID, gave a brief chuckle and let me in. By this time, the ball had been kicked off and the student section was swollen with kids. I stood in the aisle for the entire first half, sliding between fans standing on the benches whenever security stopped by. The second half view was much better as we positioned ourselves directly behind the Michigan Marching Band. Unfortunately, the game was a total stinker. I can’t imagine that the Buckeye fans found it to be anything special, either. While I’m sure they love beating Michigan, the second half was one of the least entertaining football games I’ve ever witnessed. If it weren’t for Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko, there would have been nothing worth paying attention to. But the fans stayed loud throughout the game, showing their Michigan pride. That’s a lot more than I can say for Mario Manningham who looked every bit like he wasn’t interested in playing football for Michigan anymore. After 14 games, and 14,000 miles, I’ve seen nearly a million fans cheering for their respective teams. I had hoped for at least a touchdown. For one of those moments that throws the audience into disarray with people falling on top of one another in a beautiful, joyful mess. Alas, it was not to be. My one weekend where I get to be a true fan and root for my guys ended up miserably.
Moving to Oakland upon graduation

The students left the game defeated and cold, knowing that Lloyd Carr had just coached his last game at Michigan Stadium. I have no idea how they felt about this fact. I’m sure it varied. I couldn’t help but get a bit misty-eyed thinking about Carr’s tenure. I’m going to miss the guy, and I hope he stays with the program in some capacity. He’s earned it.

From there, it was on to meeting up with more old friends to drown our sorrows at various watering holes. We told the old college stories that everybody already knew, but wanted to hear again. We called friends who couldn’t be there. We reminisced about the great times in Michigan football and raised a glass to Lloyd Carr. Every time I return, I feel a little older, a little more removed. But I also feel like a college kid again. This season keeps rolling along, and though my homecoming weekend featured a disappointing football game, I couldn’t have asked for a better return.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The game was disappointing but your weekly reports are keeping their sparkle and enthusiasm. How lucky you are that UM thought you worthy of a spot. You've certainly proven that they made a good choice. To tell the truth I dread the end of your journey. But maybe you can keep on writing, if not riding.
Ton pere Gauthier.

sarah said...

I was in AA for the Minnesota game and we hit up China Gate. Mmmm... MSG. The food was so-so and the waitresses weren't nearly as attractive as I recall. I think you made the right choice.

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