I have always associated Richmond, VA with college senior week. A few days after finishing finals, a group of Smith girls piled into two cars and headed south. We stopped in Philadelphia for the night. With my parents out of town, their house was the perfect place to rest up before a long drive. Early the next morning, we got back on the road and drove straight through to Hilton Head, stopping only to eat, pee, and refuel.
One of our earlier pitstops was Richmond. Just after the large cigarette towers flanking I-95, we pulled off for a quick break. Everything about Richmond was gray: the people, the air, the sentiment. So it came as no surprise that the McDonalds we stopped at was filthy. The bathrooms smelled of urine. The food was stale and cold. We were back in the car in record time.
There were a lot of fun times that trip. When we finally pulled into the plantation where our rental was located, there was no one there to hand off the keys. One night, as a few of us roamed the aisles of the nearby Blockbuster, we spotted Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid also searching for a movie. During the daytime, we sprawled out on the sand until our flesh was bright pink. At night, we squealed in harmony at the gigantic Palmetto bug one of us trapped under a large drinking glass.
On the last day, we unanimously agreed to enjoy what was left of our vacation, delaying our departure until three o'clock. With salty skin and sandy feet, we piled back into our two cars and made our way north. We stopped along the way, but this time there was little excitement about the adventures. South of the Border never holds the same allure the second time around.
We drove straight through the night, crossing the Tappan Zee bridge as the sun inched above the horizon.
"I think I'm going to be sick," I said as I clutched the steering wheel, my eyes bleary and my stomach aching with pain.
A girl familiar with the area led us off the highway to a Dunkin Donuts where, upon exiting the bathroom, I handed over the keys for the first time the entire trip. We finally pulled into the quad at Smith a little shy of seven o'clock in the morning.
As I write this post, I'm sitting at the Richmond International Raceway. I'm here for work, hosting a booth at the Southern Women's Expo, hoping to interact with patients who could use my support. Across from me is a booth for Stella & Dot. To my left is a quirky foot-massaging detox vendor. If I get bored, I just might dip my toes into one of his tubs. After I buy a cute necklace, of course.
"I hear the firemen aren't going to strip at this show," the representative for Vitamist noted as she strolled past. "They did last week in Nashville. I grabbed one by the suspenders and told him he was coming with me." Even her girly giggle had a rural southern twang.
When she walked away, I reached for my Egg McMuffin and orange juice. As I neared the venue earlier, I pulled into a McDonalds for some morning sustenance. The rest of the day I will be relying on Kashi granola bars, grapes and gum. I peeled back the wrapper of the breakfast sandwich and hunted for the best first bite. With my mouth wide, I went in for the kill. The muffin wasn't toasted; the texture felt gummy. Even the cheese was unusually plasticky. Fifteen years later and nothing about Richmond has changed. But at least the last time around I had some damn fine company.