I looked around the room of the pre-departure meeting for the University of Wisconsin faculty-led summer program in Dublin, Ireland and wondered which of the faces I was too shy to make direct eye contact with belonged to someone I would soon befriend. A handful of the typical college groups were present: hippies, charmers, philosophers, ladies men, pure Wisconsinites, innocents, leaders, and academics. Would it be freshman year all over again? Having to navigate the different personalities of the dorm, trying on each emerging group like a pair of jeans to see which ones would fit the best? That process took weeks; this program was only six.
Once in Ireland, I began the trying-on process. Each night after class I would mix and mingle. By the end of the first week I thought I might have found a group. On the first available travel weekend eight of us planned a trip to Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast of Ireland. This would be the test to see if I liked who I had found or if I needed to try on some more groups. I just didn’t know the test would be so harrowing.
It was 11:30 at night and the eight of us had just been cheated out of our spots on the last hostel shuttle of the evening by a group of French adults who swooped in out of nowhere at the last second and jumped inside the bus. It was either call for cabs or leg it. We were poor college kids so we decided to leg it to our hostel on the outskirts of Dingle. The road, like most country roads in Ireland, claimed to be two lanes but was really one and a half lanes. Both sides of the road were lined with tall, thick hedges. There was no shoulder, no sidewalk. We had no choice but to walk in the road. Off we went single file.
The walk began normal enough. We were venting about the French shuttle stealers, our first impressions Dingle, and about our newly purchased hurleys. The lights of the town faded behind us and the darkness intensified. Then out of nowhere a car zoomed up behind us. It was going so fast we hardly had time to react. There was no place to go but up so we hopped up and squashed ourselves up against the hedges. If the car slowed down at all I surely didn’t notice. After that first near death experience we devised a system where the people in the back of the line yelled, “Car,” to those in the front, we would heed the warning, hop up into the hedges and grab on for dear life.
Further up the road seemed to narrow, we entered a curve, and the hedges felt like a cage. That’s when the line of speeding cars came. The person at the rear yelled, “Car!” All eight of us hopped up, purses, backpacks, shopping bags of hurleys and all, onto the side of the hedges desperately looking for a secure foothold, grabbing at whatever would hold us up with our already cut up hands, and pressed ourselves as flat as possible. The first car came speeding by and then another and another and another. I turned my head to see how those in front of me were faring and all I could see in the high beams of each passing car were their arms and legs splayed across the hedges . This is the vision etched in my brain.
Fortunately, we all survived that night and by the next morning we found the events ridiculous, funny, and to this day that vision makes me think of the ‘The Sound of Music’ scene where the Von Trapp children are high in the trees that line the roadway while their father, the Baroness and Max are driving below them. At the time, though, my heart was pounding, my hands were cramping, and my grip was slipping. I knew those cars would hit us if we fell into the road. Being in that precarious predicament with those seven (a hippie, a charmer, a philosopher, a ladies man, a pure Wisconsinite, an innocent, and a leader) whom I (an academic) just met, told me this group had passed the test and I didn’t need to try on any more groups. I had found my friends.