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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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Vignettes from an incredibly average, occasionally beautiful life

1. Strangers on a train

I sort of felt like I was running from something (my grades), or maybe running to something (my parents who would inevitably ask about my grades), but I swear there’s something so lovely about it. Running.

There’s something so lovely about being caught between places, watching the world tick by, preferably in a cushy chair on an overnight train next to some boy from Granger who feels like a stranger (but also feels like your best friend). 

He’s a freshman at Carnegie Mellon and seemed so interesting to me (although he was a business major, sorry business majors, I’m just kidding).

Of course, we talked about college admissions and college tuition and the Notre Dame endowment (which is my personal favorite topic that I hardly understand).

But then he asked me, politely, with a bit of hesitation: “So you’re an English major. What do you think about those smutty romance novels? Like Colleen Hoover?” Colleen Hoover is another one of my personal favorite topics that I hardly understand, so, although I haven’t personally read any of her books, I somehow still had an opinion.

When we were done chatting, I told him that I was falling asleep, that I had two glasses of wine before the train and was in need of some rest and relaxation. The next time I saw him, I was waking up in Pittsburgh to him rifling through the overhead bins — he was leaving. 

We said goodbye like maybe we’d see each other again (we probably won’t); I wished him well on his freshman year, he wished me well on my junior year. He left, and then I started thinking about my grades, thinking maybe it would be okay, thinking maybe this train ride was the occasionally beautiful part of an incredibly average life. 

2. Curb

I bumped the curb making the right hand turn onto Constitution Avenue, and then I burst into tears — partially because nobody likes bumping the curb and scuffing the side of their family vehicle (it’s no fun really), mostly because I did it in front of my dad who was in the passenger seat (and hardly knew about my various academic and personal failures so far this semester). 

Let’s just say, bumping the curb on the right hand turn was the last straw. So I cried and said, “I can’t do anything right,” because I really truly believed it. And it was sort of embarrassing to hear myself admitting these feelings out loud because it’s sort of embarrassing to feel like a failure when you know you live such a good life.

But sobbing is also sometimes extremely fun, and I was due for a really good cry.

3. Le Bon Cafe

I hadn’t seen Savannah in over a year, and she was only in DC for a few days, so I thumbed through my old 1991 DC Travel Guide and stumbled upon Le Bon Cafe — my dad told me the place was a classic and that I should take her there, so I did. 

He also told me I should try to get there before lunchtime because it gets really busy around lunchtime (we got there almost exactly at lunchtime).

The line was long, but the wait was great — us and everyone who works on Capitol Hill (lots of men in suits and Raybans, lots of women in long pencil skirts).

We got our food — quiche for Savannah, veggie sandwich for Casper.

We spent all day catching each other up on the past year of our lives — her life in Austin, my life in South Bend; her stupid stories about stupid boys who don’t matter anymore, my stupid stories about stupid boys who don’t matter anymore…

Then, of course, we talked about the stuff that does matter. Our friends. Our classes. Our aspirations after school. Our thoughts on loving others. Our thoughts on loving ourselves. 

We sipped coffees and walked around the National Mall. We blasted lots of girly pop music in the car with the windows down. We talked about reading books and not reading books, and then we went to my favorite bookstore and bought matching books.

And I didn’t bump any curbs on right hand turns. 

4. Laurel Canyon

It was my mom’s idea to go to the Laurel Canyon Show at the Birchmere that last night I was home. I didn’t really know what Laurel Canyon music was, but she told me it was a part of L.A. where some of the greatest rock and folk icons from the 60s and 70s all lived and made music. 

I was in a pretty bad mood when we got there (probably something to do with the aforementioned curb situation), but slowly, I came alive, watching the twitching of a guitarist’s fingers over the strings, the bounce of a singer who’s really feeling the music, the low pleasant pink glow of overhead lighting.

The artists sang Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They sang about how “things never change, but that’s not true” and “California, coming home” and “you better let someone love you before it’s too late” and “carry on, love is coming to us all.” 

And of course, they sang about the fact that “he’s no good.”

The women beside me were a bit older — they were drinking wine and dancing and screaming to “He’s no good,” and it sort of reminded me of the way my girlfriends and I drink and dance and scream to “good 4 u” or “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (from the Vault).”

During the last song, one of the women grabbed me and danced with me. She said her name is Pam. 

She said, with tears in her eyes, “Life is hard. This makes it easy.”

I couldn’t tell if she was talking about the music or the people or the wine or the nachos she and her friends were scarfing down … probably, all of the above.

I left the next morning on an airplane (not an overnight train, unfortunately), and I listened to Laurel Canyon music, thinking a little bit about my grades, but not at all about the curb (or the other academic and personal failures). I thought mostly of the things that make life easy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.