We packed the car with seasoned precision and pointed her south for the last road trip of Spring Break 2014.
Molly looked up from her perch in the backseat, rubbed a left bicep made tender by one too many games of Slugbug, rolled her eyes at her father’s repeated attempts to turn nasty potholes into a super cool amusement park ride (“Dip ahead! Hold on! Whooooo!”) and asked, “Is this Normal?”
“Not yet,” I answered serenely.
We detoured from Highway 39 for a quick trip through Streator, Illinois, a little town that time forgot but which gave me my first start as a professional sportswriter many years ago.
A stiff wind and intermittent sleet rendered my nostalgic tour through a place I hadn’t visited in 27 years somewhat challenging. The only three employees at my former newspaper, which had long since merged with our sister paper to the North, looked with lassitude when I stopped in and announced that I had worked for the paper a long time ago.
“Oh,” said one. “That will be 75 cents for that paper.”
A giant pit bull roamed the yard in front of my first house and no one wanted to get out of the car with me.
“Is this Normal?” Molly asked as she leaned out of the side door to take a picture of me in front of the house I’d rented for $200 a month back in 1987.
“Not yet,” I said as I sprinted back to the car and slammed the door.
We continued on through downstate Illinois and pulled up at Illinois State University, home of the 2014 ICCA Midwest Semi-Final competition. I pulled my bright red Badger jacket over my bright red Badger sweatshirt, which covered my white Badger T-shirt, and prepared to walk through the Home of the Redbirds.
We had come to campus to cheer on Fundamentally Sound, a University of Wisconsin a cappella team, on the same day the school’s men’s basketball team played in the first round of the Final Four, and I wanted to represent.
Strolling through campus, we stumbled on an intercollegiate competition of a different sort, co-ed quidditch.
Molly eyed the competitors, drolly noting the broomsticks that would never fly, the chasers, the beaters and the golden snitch.
“Is this Normal?” she asked.
“Nearly,” I said.
That evening, having staked out a route to and from the nearest flat screen TV and downloaded the appropriate apps, we settled in to watch our favorite a cappella team battle it out against nine talented teams. During intermission we sprinted to the TV and watched the Wisconsin men’s basketball team play Kentucky. We ran back to our seats to watch the second half of the ICCA competition, where Fundamentally Sound nailed their set in an extremely competitive semi-final. We joined a standing ovation for Fundamentally Sound and then quickly sprinted back to the TV, while we waited for the judges to determine an a cappella winner.
With 10 minutes left in the basketball game, we ran back to the auditorium to hear the a cappella winner announced…not our guys, which was a shame but we had no time to mourn as, joined by some members of Fundamentally Sound, we ran back to the TV to catch the final minutes of the game.
In the end, we were one three-pointer and a couple of judge’s points away from a monumental evening for Bucky’s basketball and a capella teams.
Still, we had a heck of a time.
This, I said to Molly as we walked our sweaty selves to a nearby pizza parlor for some much needed sustenance, is Normal.