Today we left New Orleans and began the long journey back to Carlisle, PA. We drove over 500 miles through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to reach our final destination of Chattanooga, TN.
Following along in a van convoy.
Kate and Nichole trying to figure out where they are on the map.
Although we have spent much of our time in a variety of locations ranging from rolling Appalachian Mountains with red and golden brown leaves to flat southern Louisiana marshlands filled with mosquitoes and DEET-covered lecturers, just as much time has been spent driving in the vans. Throughout the entire LUCE semester we have driven nearly 5,000 miles, enough to cross the continental United States almost twice. From this constant driving a LUCE “van culture” has formed, with several patterns and behaviors emerging.
After a few minutes of driving students form snuggle piles, and simultaneously collapse upon the nearest shoulder or lap available for a power nap or a two-hour siesta. Following our daily afternoon nap most of us are brimming and bouncing with energy and demand a rest stop or “play spot” where, upon stopping, 21 students rush out of the vans to the nearest field to play Frisbee or soccer, the comfiest grassy hill to lay down on, or to the closest tree to climb. Five minute play spots and rest stops last 20 minutes or more as all students must be “retrieved” from their play areas. Procrastination has taken new meaning as students, who planned to complete all their journal entries during various two-eight hour van rides, inevitably get distracted with telling various stories and the all important nap time. Most of us say we will complete these journals during the next van ride but whom are we kidding?
Prana chilling out during a much needed “play stop.”
Phillip climbing a tree…because he can.
No van ride can function without the proper musical equipment, including charged I-Pods, I-trips and CDs. These musical devices are necessary for students to have their ritual regatone, folk and rap dance parties and karaoke sing-a-longs to “Soldier Boy,” “Lean on Me” and the like. In vans that are filled with women, early and late 90’s music from our elementary and middle school days is played and sung to the top of our lungs; I am not sure what happens when a van is filled with all the boys but I guess some things are meant to be a mystery.
Mr. Shell Duckie resting on the dashboard of the Candie-van, listening to students singing pop music.
Dancing along to reggaeton music during one of many long van rides.
While in the vans, we talk about a myriad of topics. Professor Wilderman points out different kinds of birds dotting the sky, explaining the eating habits and lifestyle of that particular species. Often times she wishes aloud that she had a pair of binoculars so she could get a closer look at the plumage. Professor Heiman talks about his days at Berkley, wild adventures during his college years (conveniently edited out for this blog) and random facts about the places where we will stay for the night, including which hangouts in New Orleans have the best blues music and where to get the best breakfast food. Walkie-talkies are used to discuss the changing landscape or the local history; now whether we actually hear the walkie-talkie over the blaring music or not is another issue.
To sum up this van culture and what the mentality of driving during LUCE is truly like, here are what I like to call Ten Commandments that succinctly describe it:
The Ten LUCE Commandments of the Road:
- Thou shalt use at least four different maps to figure out where thou shall go for the day; thou shalt still manage to miss several turns.
- Honor thy gas stations and pay homage to them with $50 debit or credit card charges.
- Thou shalt change lanes no less than 37 times in 10 minutes to pass slow moving cars and vans. This number shall rise exponentially during rush hour traffic and when drivers are lost.
- Charge thy walkie-talkies for they shall run out of battery.
- Deliver us to thine bathrooms/rest stops/port-a-potties/convenient holes in the ground every hour on the hour for, if one person needs to go, ten more will surely follow.
- Thou shalt whine about food from the coolers and eating at sketchy buffets.
- Professor Heiman shall motivate students to leave by pulling out of driveways before they are ready.
- Five minute rest stops shall never be only five minutes.
- Honor thy walkie-talkies and use them for vital information such as learning about the history of New Orleans, discussing environmental justice issues and singing Britney Spears ballads.
- Thou shalt pile all students, professors, luggage, equipment and food into three vans and be ready on time and yet leave 20 minutes late.
It is this van culture, in culmination with the variety of experiences and discussions we have engaged in, that has created the close bonds that we have with each other and the communities we have contacted. The time in the vans, while tiring, time consuming and difficult, is when we as students have been able to process everything we have seen, spend concentrated periods of time with our fellow classmates and friends and just relax and exist as human beings on a journey and grow closer as a group. It is this closeness that describes the “LUCE love” we feel and share for one another and what we will carry on well after this semester is over.