Setting Out: A West Point Graduation Weekend

Travel is one of my Umbrella Terms for a reason. I’ve been going new places my whole life, and the thrill of turning a corner I’ve never been around before never seems to get weaker. I’m beginning to think that the thrill seeking part of me is the same as the part that loves travel. Not knowing what’ll happen next gets the blood pumping like nothing else.

My first time to West Point, home of the United States Military Academy, was for a

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football game. A dear friend of mine was attending the academy at the time, and her parents had some extra tickets, so away we went. I am diametrically opposed to what I think of as “army material.” I’m fiercely individualistic, I question all kinds of authority and rules, and I do not succeed in a setting that requires me to sit (or stand) still and quiet for, well, any amount of time. Because of this, I had some presuppositions about what the culture at West point might be like.

Army vs. Rutgers isn’t quite a headline matchup, so the stands were about two-thirds full, but the cadet section was absolutely packed. They hollered and cheered during one of the pregame ads; we in the rest of the stands had no clue why. Before the game, the recently promoted paratroopers did a demonstration; a cadet (current student at the academy) flew the chopper several other cadets jumped out of. One of the paratroopers brought in the game ball, landing right on the midfield logo. I had never seen a helicopter take a bow before that day. Another neat tradition: each time the home team moved the ball ten yards downfield, the announcer said over the loudspeakers, “And that is a first down…” at which point all the cadets yelled in one voice, “ARMY!”

It was eye opening to see hundreds of people, all of whom had willingly sacrificed individuality to be a part of something larger, something incredibly strong, all having fun at once, together. There was a power to it, a strength. I still don’t think I’m army material, but that football game changed my perspective on the people who are.

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That dear friend graduated this past Memorial Day weekend. She made it known to her parents who exactly it was that she wanted to be around her as she finished this chapter of her life, and I made the cut. There was lodging room for me to bring my girlfriend, so away we went on a five-hour drive through the Adirondacks and Catskills that Friday afternoon to go support Rachel.

Rather than my 1981 Mercedes, with its diesel engine, we elected to drive my girlfriend’s 2010 Mercury Milan, figuring the gas would be cheaper and the car would be safer and that in general fewer things were likely to go wrong with a ’10 than an ’81. Not to mention the Mercury’s Bluetooth. We escaped Vermont cleanly, me having a blast in the driver’s seat; her keeping Waze’s alerts accurate and doing an excellent job dj-ing. The next portion of the drive is on New York State Route 74, which connects the town of Ticonderoga with I-87. This is the part of the journey I worry the most about, as cell signal is extremely limited, and the roads can get uncomfortably snug. It’s a good place to get stranded.

A new dashboard light was on when we left Burlington, but as it was the battery light

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and the car had just been using battery power alone for a bit longer than normal, I thought nothing of it, figuring the engine would recharge the battery after enough run time and all would be well. We got on 87 without a hitch, and though I like winding Adirondack roads better than highways, it felt good to have nothing but smooth sailing ahead of us.

Two exits later, more lights popped on the dashboard, and I knew something was wrong. When the Bluetooth inexplicably disconnected, I pulled over without hesitation, unfortunately just after exit 26’s on ramp. As it idled, the engine started to shudder, so I turned it off, hoping that giving the car an opportunity to take a breath would clear its head enough that we could continue. The car would not start again. I looked under the hood, to see if I could recognize anything out of place, but I don’t know the first thing about the inner workings of motor vehicles, so I was out of luck. All we could do was sit in the warming car and wait for the tow truck to arrive. To make matters worse, my traveling companion had made known to me that a rest stop would be in order just before the car stopped. She’s not opposed to hiding in the trees, but the fact that she was wearing a romper made everything worse.

Thankfully, we had recovered cell signal. AAA is an incredibly handy service, and though I’m sure there have been years my family paid for it and never used it, the times we have called have more than made up for that. Within twenty minutes of stopping, a tow truck came down the on ramp behind us, loaded us up, and bore us off the highway into Pottersville, New York. Riding in that cab, it was difficult to keep our hopes up.

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