Who says “you can’t go home again?” About a year ago, a buddy of mine suggested we plan a college pledge class reunion in honor of our respective 40th birthdays. (See “Mid Life Crisis” August 2001.) While none of us were crazy about turning “middle aged,” a weekend in Las Vegas to relive old college times could be just what the doctor ordered. (It sure beats what I understand doctors are ordering for that 40 year physical I have yet to schedule.) I thought it sounded like a great idea and was very excited to help plan the weekend. After all, these were my best friends for four years of my life. Back in the early 80’s, we lived in a fantasy world known as the University of Texas when our only cares in the world were acing that “open-mind” History of Rock and Roll final (among my only two “A’s” at school), getting out to Barton Springs before noon, and panicking about who to take to the spring formal (some things never change). Those carefree days seem like just yesterday. It’s hard to believe that was 18 years ago.
We chose the weekend eight months in advance to give everyone plenty of time to clear their calendars. We were careful to plan it in late April as to not coincide with spring breaks, the end of school, or summer vacations. (My friends with 2.3 kids were quick to point out these potential conflicts.) The initial interest after those first few emails was surprisingly lacking. Sure, several guys responded enthusiastically, but few were actually willing to commit to much more than “let me run it by my wife.” (Obviously, my friends had all become wimps.) For the first few months, it seemed as if only a handful of us would be making the trip, and most of those Houston guys I see all the time. While no one doubted the idea was a good one, people have different priorities these days; getting away on a guys’ weekend (especially with guys you hadn’t seen in years) just wasn’t high enough on the list. As the weekend approached within a few months, about 10 of us had confirmed reservations (and some of those were iffy). Still, I knew the trip would be fun, even if the attendance was going to be less than we had hoped.
LET THE BUZZ BEGIN
Once March arrived, the buzz began to take off. Old roommates began calling each other to gauge their interest. Mass emails were sent back and forth with “innuendoes” (in case wives read them) about wild stories and the fun times we all had. Sarcastic insults and stabs at each other were ushered through cyberspace, just like in the good old days. (Did we have cyberspace in 1984?) In college, I used to think that if we could not poke fun at each other with snide comments, none of us would have much to say at all. In fact, some of the “ruder” emails brought back those memories and made me wonder whether I liked some of these guys (anymore) and perhaps should reconsider going on the trip myself.
Other volunteers stepped forward to begin planning the weekend itinerary. Another put together and distributed a CD consisting of the greatest hits from our college years. Perhaps, renditions of “The Boys Are Back In Town” or “Glory Days” were the clinchers for those stragglers who just couldn’t make up their minds without a little prodding. With the trip less than a week away, 30 pledge brothers had signed up, some of whom I hadn’t seen since college. (One of our buddies was so excited, he actually decided to bring his wife, kids, and in-laws.) Yes, the reunion was really shaping us. From the last minute phone calls and emails, it was apparent that everyone was very “fired-up for Vegas.”
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…
For those two days, it was as if we had gone back to college again. We all picked up just where we had left off 18 years before. Instead of hanging out by the pool at the ZBT house, we soaked up rays at the Hard Rock Hotel. (Though I doubt any of the sorority age girls by the pool mistook us for current frat boys.) Instead of jamming to the tunes of Christopher Cross, we were introduced to Tenacious D and Oasis. Instead of going to Valentines or Club 606 for happy hour, we started the first evening at the Pink Taco in the hotel. Instead of steak night at the House or a special treat at Dan McClusky’s on 6th Street, we opted for great meals at Postrio and The Palm. Instead of margaritas at Jorges, we drank martinis at Red Square in Mandalay Bay. (Bartenders must be more generous with the alcohol these days because we seemed to handle it much better back in school.) Instead of ruling the intramural basketball courts at Gregory Gym, we went for a brisk (and extremely tiring) three mile jog down the strip. Instead of scanning Photo-tech proofs from the latest parties, we passed around recent pictures of our wives and kids. (Everyone thought my dog was adorable.) Instead of highlighting “paradigm” (Cliff’s) notes and text books, we read business periodicals, legal briefs, and work we brought from our offices (or some of us did). Instead of playing poker in the basement of the House, we took over roulette, blackjack, and craps tables at Bellagio. Yes, it was like we had never left college.
All in all, everyone looked great. Sure “they” were all a little grayer and balder and wore thicker glasses and carried a few extra pounds around the mid-section. But those who were hilarious back in school were still entertaining us even today; those who were loud and obnoxious were just as loud and obnoxious; those who were wild and crazy had plenty of great stories to share about the past 18 years; those who tended to exaggerate college experiences were now seemingly exaggerating business experiences. With all the great meals and tanning by the pool and gambling in the casino and the feeble attempts at exercise, the best parts of the weekend were when we simply sat around with each other sharing memories from college and catching up about current times. (I’m getting teary-eyed again.) Though 18 years had passed and much distance separates many of us, we were all best friends again if just for one weekend (that passed too quickly).
Sometimes you look forward to something so much that there is no way it can possibly live up to expectations. That was one of my fears heading into that Vegas reunion. As we had been talking about it for so long, I suspected it could not possibly as be as fun as I was hoping. Well, luckily I was wrong. The trip turned out to be everything I was expecting and more. We all thoroughly enjoyed seeing each other again, sharing stories about past experiences, and hearing about each others’ lives today. The bonds that were forged back in college still exist. While it’s easy to say we will all do this again in two years, five years, 10 years, there’s a decent likelihood we will not, at least not to the same degree. Sure we will see each other at future occasions, but getting 30 guys together again may be hard to pull off as even more time passes.
Then again, the advent of email should make it easier to stay in touch with each other; kids are getting older and more Bar/Bat Mitzvahs will be scheduled over the next few years; the Horns athletic programs look promising, prompting more folks to plan those Austin trips to see a game or two. And those last single guys among us may have bachelor parties and weddings to plan in the future. (That’s a lot of pressure on me.) In any case, though turning 40 has certainly not been easy (even before the physical exam), the college reunion in Las Vegas sure made it seem much more worthwhile. Regardless of that old saying, I’m convinced, “you can go home again.”