I suppose a bit of an explanation is in order. “In order to what?” you might well ask. In order to assuage your curiosity and to facilitate my memory enhancement program, and because it’s fun to tell stories, especially geographically challenging ones with convoluted plotlines and numerous twists and turns. I bet now you are sorry you asked, but nonetheless, a good round of story time is in order, because blogs tend to veer into philosophical ramblings and pointless conjectures that both have no defined structure. A story then will provide a proper framework to slip in those ramblings and conjectures all the while entertaining you the reader with the excitement that is my life. I figure if I’m excited about living it, you might be excited about reading about it, or least find my annotated footnotes on reality amusing. But I digress…
It all started with a road trip. It always starts with a road trip. Judging from the fact that my 99 Toyota Camry is pushing 240000 miles you could rightly infer that I have quite a few stories to tell simply from the fact that I’ve obviously been on my fair share of road trips. Indeed, I’ve driven every mile of interstate in Florida, across Georgia north to south at least a dozen times (once through the middle of the night with only boxers on and wisely with no stops), from Dallas to Knoxville 3 times each way, from upstate New York to Knoxville 5 times each way (once coming back through Ohio, but that comes later), Chicago to Knoxville 2 times each way, and once an ill fated jaunt up to Montreal that involved being searched for drugs on the border (leaving the US) and a thorough interrogation upon returning. I’ve driven across New York state north/south and east/west. The same goes for Tennessee, Alabama, and Ohio. I’ve relieved myself while operating a car at 80mph as well as sleeping at the wheel at roughly the same speed (can’t say I’d recommend either). As a passenger, I’ve gone out I-70 to Colorado, Utah, Las Vegas and eventually to most of central California only to return very hastily across I-40 (which stretches from Barstow, CA to Wilmington, NC and has been graced by my presence at some point on each and every mile marker). Later I also participated in putting 5000 miles on a rental car in two weeks by driving it from Las Vegas to Vancouver by way of Yellowstone NP and from Vancouver hurtling all the way down the west coast to San Diego and just shy of Tijuana before bringing it back to the astonished rental car attendant. By bus I’ve seen most all of southern Spain, but that is part of a different story entirely.
Back to this one though and the specific road trip in question. It may come as a surprise to those who know me now, but there was a time when I was opposed to the idea of any sort of college education. Upon graduating high school, I decided I’d had enough of school and spent the summer life-guarding (as was my custom) and with those savings and my Dad’s credit, bought all the essential ingredients for a recording studio and proceeded to set up shop in our attic which would later turn into my own private studio apartment during my junior and senior years of college (spoiler alert: I actually do go to college, and even now am “enjoying” college +, for those who just couldn’t get enough the first time around). The following year (what should have been my freshman year) was spent working as a cashier as Lowe’s Home Improvement, barricaded in the attic recording, or sitting on the couch watching the TV. Very little reading happened. I know it’s unfathomable now, but in fact, I probably read less than…well come to think of it, I can’t think of a specific book I read that entire year. Shocking.
Somewhere though along the way I decided I would go with my best friend Steven to a one year Bible school, conveniently located in sunny Florida only a few miles from the “beach.” Later we would find out that being 9 miles from the coast does not equal being 9 miles from the beach, but at this point the prospect of a year in Florida with sunshine, beaches, shows to go to (by shows I mean concerts that rock bands play at), girls to meet, etc. seemed like a grand prospect, and with only a one year commitment involved it seemed like a good synthesis of my mutual goals of doing something with my life and avoiding a prolonged educational experience. Or in other words, the trap had been sufficiently set. Honestly I don’t remember how or when this idea came about, but some of it had to do with finding out that while the original campus of Word of Life Bible Institute was in upstate New York there was the aforementioned extension campus in Florida. If just New York had been an option, I probably would have just assumed to offer moral support to Steven rather than actually going along for the ride. But I couldn’t really say “no” to a year studying the Bible in my idea of paradise especially with no better plans in mind. So, committed I became and come September of 2003 we were on our way to Florida with both families along for the ride and the brink of a rather life changing year looming in the distance down southbound I-75.
Steven and I had mused that we would simply hang out with each other down there and not really make an attempt to befriend any of the other 150 students on campus. This should strike you as ironic depending on how familiar you are with the events of the fall quarter (did I mentioned I was later student body president?). Whether or not we were really serious, God apparently took notice and what was flu like symptoms when we left gradually turned Steven into a moaning nauseous mess by the time we stopped for dinner at a Arby’s/Pilot station in north Florida. I meant to take note of the exit number when I drove past there a couple of weeks ago, but sadly my mind was elsewhere. Anyway, Steven went from riding shotgun to lying sprawled out in the back his parents van and at this point, I feared, and rightly so, I would be forced to interact with strangers upon reaching campus.
Sure enough, with Steven vomiting in the bushes outside the Harry Bollback Performing Arts Center (HBPAC) during registration I knew I was in for a treat. I wish I could remember seeing all the people I know now when they were just random faces, but most of those initial memories are not very well preserved and are not integral to this story anyway so it’s probably just as well. Most of what I remember was getting moved into Germany Left and meeting my roommates and spending the rest of the blur that was registration soaking it all in like someone who had just emerged from a year long sensory deprivation chamber. This of course is a rather poor use of hyperbole. That night, Steven was admitted to the hospital and in line with my intuition was diagnosed with appendicitis and operated on shortly after that. Upon driving back to campus that night, it was as if the palm trees swaying in the breeze outside the conference center were saying, “Welcome to Florida. Looks like you’re going to have to make some friends.” Like most things, this is easier said than done.
Frankly, once Steven made it back to campus he looked like death warmed over. Besides being weak, pale, and glazed over, he had lost a noticeable amount of weight. Somewhere around the 2nd week of class (which would have been James, he missed Leviticus entirely) Steven made it back to class, albeit in a wheelchair. Being the good roommate that I am, I thought I should be in charge of his care and guidance. Classes typically went from 8am-1pm with a 10 minutes break at the end of every hour (this an oversimplification but nobody really cares about all the intricacies of Word of Life class structure). It was on one of these breaks that an event that would drastically shape the course of history for untold thousands would occur (this may or may not be an exaggeration). I should preface this though with saying I don’t think I honestly thought this tactic would seriously work but more or less for the humor value in it decided that it would be an appropriate course of action. Basically, using my crippled roommate as a conversation piece I decided to try to meet some girls. I think Matt may have been with me, but somehow I remember Jamie being involved even though he left on Saturday at the end of the first week of class (long story that no one cares about). Either way, I noticed two girls who seemed to be the perfect choice for such an encounter and so, pushing Steven over to where they were seated in the back of the GTAC (George Theiss Assembly Center) I said some sort of opening line like “Hey this is my friend Steven, he just had his appendix removed, isn’t that neat?” or some other mindless drivel followed by something like “By the way, my name is Nate.” Somewhere in the awkwardness that followed I gleaned that their names were Ali and Meg and that they both had boyfriends. Oh well, I thought, I got a good laugh out of it anyway (which is true), I didn’t seriously expect to meet my future wife in the encounter (which is in fact what happened) much less make a friend (which surprisingly enough did not happen). I walked away not thinking much of the exchange, Ali walked away blown away by my pretentious weirdness and upon telling her boyfriend Wes about it was instructed not to talk to either of us (Steven by implication) ever again. And that in a nutshell is how I met Alexandra Kaufman.