We're Not in East Lansing Anymore Biff

by John Johnson
Reprinted from V4N2, October 1990

[This story was written in September 1989 upon arrival at The University of Texas. It was an interesting trip and I can now look back on my decision to continue graduate school satisfied that I made the right choice. Of course even these comments may be superceded depending on how my qualifier and thesis go.... "Hook 'em Horns!"]

It is with great trepidation that I begin to write this story. The trip from Michigan to Texas to begin grad-school at the University of Texas at Austin was long and grueling, and it takes an extreme effort to even sit down and put it in print. But I shall try.

9:30am, Saturday August 26
The morning was heating up and the sky blue and the fabled six-cylinder Beretta was sitting a bit lower than usual. Perhaps a better way to describe it would be to say that the car was strained to within a millimeter of it's suspension's life under the burden of 90 percent of my worldly goods. And that was without ME in the car! Raman came out to see me off, assuring me that the voyage would be nothing compared to driving to Houghton from Miami in the old Capri. Thus with a quick pit stop at McDonald's the quest for a new graduate school began.

10:27am, 50 miles into the voyage
As I'd said, the day was warming up, in fact it was rapidly becoming hot. Being crammed into a small man-made cubical with my dirty sheets behind me didn't help matters at all. My visibility was limited to the driver's mirror and, with a slight stretch, the passenger mirror. The passenger seat was separated from the driver's side with the house white board so that it, like the rest of the car, could be filled. As I took the 94 exit to Chicago I realized that the physical laws of momentum even hold true in a Chevrolet. Some anal retentive driver had decided to stop on the on-ramp because the traffic scared him. I think he was even more scared when I barreled out of nowhere nearly ramming him. I, being the expert driver, neatly avoided him. It could have been a real short trip.

11:07am, 92.6 miles
I finish my first super-sized caffiene laden drink. My allergies are bothering me; it's nice to know that there is no ragweed in Austin. [Little did I know at the time that the mold/pollen count was considerably greater!]

11:30am, 116 miles, 77 degrees
Passing Michigan's wine country. Some guy in a truck proclaiming that he indeed was Mr. Battery was weaving around like he'd stopped for one too many winery tours. I have to pee.

12:37pm, 176.7 miles, 80 degrees
Took the wrong exit to LaPorte to visit my grandmother and great-aunt. Had a rueben sandwich to make the trip more exciting. 3:28pm, 190 miles, back on the highway.

3:40pm, 203 miles
First small rain, I expected a lot of rain on the trip but barely got any.

4:28pm, 253 miles
Chicago. Realize that I missed the turnoff for 57 South, so I took 43 (Harlem Avenue) south to 80 then went east to get on 57. That was easier said than done. I had to stop, submit my self to amazement and laughter and find my way to 57 since the map I'd purchased for about three dollars didn't have enough detail. 5:03pm, 266.3 miles. Stopped at White Castle to have my first and possibly last White Castle burgers. It will definitely be my last.

5:50pm, 303 miles
Stopped to fill the car with gas. Met someone who had just driven up from Texas. 6:02pm, back on the road.

7:00pm, 364.6 miles, 82 degrees
A little bit of rain. Finished my second liter of pop.

9:11pm, 502 miles
Stopped at rest area to take care of that last liter of pop. Also I had to stop and see if it was snowing. It wasn't. Instead, southern Illinois was undergoing a plague of insects. My car was covered with bugs, including some sort of big glowing insect that left glowing blood all over my windshield. I decided not to worry about cleaning my windows since I can't see at night anyway. At the rest stop I met someone else from Texas; a truckdriver that makes the trip from Texas to Chicago and back every week. Oooh doesn't that sound exciting Biff?

10:30pm, 583 miles
Stopped to fill car. Met a guy whose wife is in grad school south of Austin. He was driving back down to see her. I came to the conclusion that everyone between Chicago and Texas was either from Texas or heading there. I left and turned the radio back to the only station I could get; a PBS station that was broadcasting blues and jazz from a booth at a local fair. Learned a valuable saying from one song: It aint the depth of the water that drowns you...

11:22pm, 623 miles
Just over the Mississippi River, which was, needless to say, disappointing. There were several barges sweeping the river with large spotlights however. I figured that they were looking for bodies or escaped convicts. Pulled off on the Charlotte exit to find a Burger King. I expected that Charlotte would be a big town? Right? Wrong. This burg was so dead that it's idea of fast food was probably buying a candy bar at the only local establishment, a video store. The place was as dead as Raman at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. The town had one long false store front, but no stores. There were probably some bars, but I didn't see them and left as quickly as I could without alerting the local lawman that a yankee was in this Missouri burg.

12:36am, 701 miles
Entered Arkansas. I'm getting hungry. Isn't there a law that there have to be fast food drive thrus every ten miles like back home in Michigan?? I'd even eat an Armadillo burger right now, if I could get a greasy side of fries with it to go! Soon after I did indeed find a McDonald's. Ahhhh! Large fries....

2:00am, 760 miles
Briefly entered Tennessee, skirted Memphis then left. Back to Arkansas, where I thought I saw either an Armadillo or a tire shaped like one. I think it's getting time to take that rest break.

2:40 to 7:03am, 800 miles
Pulled into well populated rest stop and slept in my smelly coffin. Not very comfortable, but it avoided the sort of hallucinations that Raman gets on those long Miami to Houghton trips.

8:00am, 868.2 miles
Gassed up at an Arkansas gas station called the Road Runner. There were bugs crawling over everything, big bugs, and the people were talking funny. I may never see the civilized world again.

9:11am, 923 miles
Tanker remnants on the side of the road. I avert my eyes from the Texas guidebook that I'm reading to look at where a tanker ran off the road and blew up.

10:25am, 1003 miles
I definitely saw an armadillo this time.

10:50am, 1030 miles, 91 degrees
Stopped in Texarkana at a Burger King for breakfast. I'm in Texas now ma!

12:20pm, 1100 miles
Switched to AM radio to avoid religion. It didn't help. I turned off the radio and started singing to myself. But I'm in Texas with everything that I own, people will understand.

12:50pm, 1130 miles
Gas stop.

1:30pm, 1166 miles, 95 degrees
The car is making a weird noise. I don't like it, if this car has a flat and I have to unload it.... I decided, instead, that it was just one of those noises that a car makes from time to time.

1:44pm, 1175.1 miles
"Am I lost sir?" "Nope."

2:20pm, 1200 miles
Drove around Dallas. It 'looks' like a nice city. The traffic sucks though.

2:48pm, 1232 miles, 96 degrees
Waxahatchee (walks-a-hatchee), home of the SSC.

3:15pm, 1259.9 miles, hot
Stopped off at Carl's Corner, Tx to get film. They had a strip tease going on in back in the bar, but they didn't have any 110 color film.

4:11pm, 1311 miles
Stopped in Lorena (?) for film. They had some, but no dancing girls.

5:09pm, 1361 miles, 100 degrees
Gas stop. Boy it's hot, I hope I can find the hotel o.k.?

5:50pm, 1393.1 miles
Found the hotel. Executel, $19.85. Air Conditioning. Big beds... I unloaded part of the car (TV, VCR, computer...) took a shower found the local Red Lobster for dinner (I still had some money back then) and passed out. The quest was nearly complete. Now I just had to find a place to live, a bed, get the melted bugs off of my car, find a job and register for classes... in two days.

As for the rest of the story... I found an apartment hunter who called around and by Wednesday, and a couple of cash advances later, I had a place to live. A nice big apartment with a patio, a bar, a large kitchen, a walk in closet and a nice cool pool right outside my door. I also bought a king sized waterbed, a computer desk, a bookshelf, a modem, a telephone and rented some furniture. By Friday September 1 I had moved in and women were hitting on me. Ahhhh! Friday I got a commitment for a Research Assistantship, found out that I'd receive almost as much in financial aid as I spent in moving. I signed up for classes Tuesday. I am taking quantum mechanics 1 (with Cohen-Tannoudji, what a coincidence), stat mech, and plasma physics. [Note: As of 1990 I have officially taken graduate quant 7 times. Does that explain anything?]

What do I have to look forward to? If I want to be positive I would say that I'll enjoy the beautiful and plentiful city of Austin. I'll do well at UT, make money, meet the perfect woman and get married and live happily ever after. (Was that positive? Maybe we'll skip that getting married part, o.k.?) And the pessimistic side would be, I could look forward to hell in my classes like I have never known, and have to pick up and leave to live in Los Alamos in 9 months, or Long Island (BNL) for that matter. Why, they are only 900 or 2000 miles away... Ahhhhhhhh!!

[Note: in retrospect, classes were hell and I'm now womanless in Los Alamos.]

Last Updated 04/13/95.© 1996 PPSA