I Open At the Close (Wednesday)

My last day of the trip began with a strange feeling, turned into a warm & fuzzy one, progressed into nervousness/stress, and ended in disappointment.

It was odd being back in Christiansburg & Blacksburg. I had a huge snarf map but wanted to concentrate on the campus at first and snarf in Christiansburg, Salem, and Roanoke on my way home. I got up early and headed down Main Street, which hadn’t changed much at all until I hit downtown Blacksburg. And then it was “HOLY COW WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?!” a few times. I snarfed a state marker that I’ve walked past probably 500 times before back when I lived there. And then I headed over to a house I thought might be a snarf (but it might not be). I then found myself automatically driving up the street toward my old apartment building. When I got to the cross-over street, there were two young deer standing there, eating. I’ve seen tons of deer there over the years and it was thrilling to see two young ones there. My apartment building looked just the same; the door to my building was even propped open the way it always was when I lived there.

I headed through campus to Southgate to snarf a few more markers and then get a parking pass at the Visitor’s Center. It was strange being back on the campus and even stranger being a visitor. After parking in a Faculty/Staff spot by the health center/Castle Coliseum, I walked around the dorms. I felt like a ghost. So many things would rush back to me but the emotions I’d most worried about haunting me while on my visit stayed away completely; all that was there were the fun memories. But it felt strange to be back, because I didn’t really fit there for any reason, but at the same time I felt such a tie to and familiarity with the place.

There were a few additions that jumped out at me, but everything that had been there when I was there looked just the same. I walked everywhere from L&R and Hillcrest to Eggleston and back again. I stopped for a while at the memorial for the 4/16 shooting; I had meant to bring a rose, but forgot until I was standing there, staring at it. So I just took a few moments before moving on. I also passed a few VT staff members who said hello so cheerfully. And every time I went to cross the street when I waved at a car and mouthed thank you to them for stopping, they waved back and more than one mouthed “You’re welcome” back at me. Not once did someone fail to hold a door for me as I walked up to it. I’d forgotten how extremely polite and friendly people were down at Virginia Tech. That always made me feel accepted and welcome, and it was wonderful to feel that again just by walking around the campus.

I re-parked on the drill field, wanting to take advantage of the parking pass. I parked in a section fully of Faculty-Staff tagged cars but the sign that was supposed to tell what that section of parking was was missing, so I worried the whole time that I might get a parking ticket (I didn’t, as it turns out; I’m sure it was just because the sign was missing). I walked around the academic buildings for a little while and over to the duck pond, where I visited the willow trees. I remembered all the wiccan holidays I spent among them. I also met a very talkative duck… and found a snarf I knew was there but always managed to look past way back before I joined Markeroini.

I walked over to the bookstore, on a mission to find my father a small flag for his car antenna and to purchase some bumper stickers. I struck out on the flag-finding, but I bought a few bumper stickers (I only just resisted the plaid one, choosing instead one of the Alumni ones). I walked toward Main Street a little, a bit taken aback by the giant glass performing arts building that was new. It was nice seeing a lot of the little shops still there, including the Lyric.

I also left a book on the stone bench by the War Memorial chapel, where I had left my 2nd ever BookCrossing book (that was my first catch) almost 8 years ago.

I drove off campus (though I did stop to look at the new Alumni building, I didn’t actually go in because I didn’t have time or courage) and was astounded upon approaching Tom’s Creek. It was another “WHERE DID THAT BUILDING COME FROM?!” moment. I couldn’t even see the Hardees where Chris & I would get food every week late at night when sudden hunger hit. I thought, at first, that the Math Emporium was missing, but they’d just moved the entrance to it. I peeked in and, thank goodness, it was the same as always. I think the employees were a bit weirded out when I took a photo of it though. I took photos of EVERYTHING (busses, ducks, you name it).

I checked the bookstore and the CVS (OMG I had my prescriptions here! *tries not to cry with sentimentality*) but still no flags. I did buy myself a Virginia Tech sun visor on impulse. I’ve been thinking about how much I needed a visor hat and I figured it was a nice way to commemorate my trip back.

I must also mention how awesome the Hokie Bird statues are. I enjoyed coming upon them here and there on my trip. I didn’t take photos of all the ones I saw (though I spent hours looking at photos online back when the project began). I was especially happy that the last two I saw happened to be the Vincent Van Gogh one (Vincent’s Sunflowers! SQUEE! and *sob*) and the LEGO one (More SQUEE!).

As I was leaving, I looked across the street. Macado’s! How could I have totally forgotten that place?! I ended up getting lunch at Kobe, the Japanese place where I had my after-graduation lunch back in 2002. The place has not changed one little bit. Still those laminated photos on the wall behind the counter, still the fish in the tank, still the television set, still the framed sports posters on the walls going to the bathroom (including one with my friend, Cheryl!), same banners on the wall, and same menu. I remember sitting in that place on my first time leaving the house after the watching the twin towers collapse. I don’t remember if I left my apartment after 1 day or if it was 2, but I finally convinced myself to leave Peter Jennings alone and go find food out in the real world. I remember sitting with strangers there at Kobe, as we all waited for our food and watched news coverage on the little TV there. No one spoke, but it felt good to share that with other people.

I ended up getting vegetable dumplings and my favorite thing of theirs, their onions & zucchini. Mmmm. Both were very difficult to eat while driving, especially because I lost my fork somewhere in the bag and then spilled soy sauce inside the plastic bag on my lap. So I had to be careful not to drip/spill and stain the rental car and I had to eat cooked onions with my fingers. LOL It also took about 30 minutes to get my food, so I was running majorly late, but it was worth it. I love that food.

I stopped at the Ironto rest stop on my way back to throw away the bag of sauce and Styrofoam and a fork I never located and a heap of napkins… and I snarfed the marker there. I also kept passing scenic vistas, wishing I would stop to get one nice photo of the mountains/valley. So I finally stopped at one and, right there, were two more state markers! I kept my camera out after that, and was glad I did.

Gillian told me there was traffic ahead and routed me home via Charlottesville and then Fredericksburg! Weird way to go, and the last leg was a big heavy traffic-wise but it was actually pretty quick. And the road she had me going on was FULL of state markers. There was one every 10-15 minutes or so. I just kept my camera in hand and took photos as I passed them. I perfected the art by the end, even making a list of them on my visitor’s pass to be sure I got them (some of my photos were blurry, so I’m glad I did that extra step).

I worried about getting the rental car back in time for the whole drive home, knowing I’d be late. Had a hard time reaching Mom, who was going to pick me up. (I thought) I was supposed to return the car by 5. After a HORRIBLE experience at a Shell gas station that almost had me in tears, I didn’t get to the hotel to drop the car off until 5:30. Would they give me a pass? No. I had to pay a whole other day ($126) just for being a little late. Yeah, I know it was in the contract I signed, but GRRR! Turns out I was supposed to have it back at 4:40 because I picked it up a little early in Orlando, so it was almost an hour late, not half an hour late. Still… I was mad at myself. If I hadn’t taken so much time that morning having fun reminiscing at VT, I would have made it in time. If I hadn’t stopped for lunch, I would have made it in time. But I didn’t. And I was mad, but it’s okay. If that’s the worst thing that happened during my trip, really that’s not bad. My chocolate frogs didn’t even melt after all that!

I got home around 6pm, quickly took a shower, and then raced over to Pohick Library for my Writers’ Roundtable meeting at 7. And that was my vacation!