Summer, that season of heat and humidity, existing in our hazy memories of family trips and vacations from school, has always been a rather perfunctory time of year for me. I travel no more or less during summer than during other months (we're doing our Florida vacation this year in October), and many summers have been pretty much the same as the last one, or the next. That's not to say that they aren't nice (they usually are), just that they don't always rank high on the special scale.
One summer that was a notable exception to my rule of mundanity was the summer of 1994. I had just graduated high school (yes, we're having a 20th reunion this year), and adult life lay ahead of me. School had been stressful, as I've written about before on this blog, and so I was looking forward to relaxing a bit before deciding what to do next. 'Next' ended up being starting at Parkland College in the spring semester of 1995, and working a part-time job at Garcia's Pizza-in-a-Pan beginning in October of 1994, but those were still months away.
June through September of 1994 was, simply put, a quite wonderful time in my life. It was one of those periods that so many of us go through, when our minds are suddenly opened-up to new people, ideas and experiences, we have great fun, and then the bubble pops and life continues on, as it must. It's fair to say that I was a different person then, although the memories of that summer remain to this day, and no doubt helped inform who I am, even if to a small degree.
First, there was Mike. I'd met him a few years earlier, one of those things where his mom knew my mom, and they thought we might make good friends. Very rarely does such friendship match-making truly work. Mike and I didn't gel, at least not then, but by the summer of '94, we met up again, were older, and began to enjoy hanging out together. Through Mike I ventured down the rabbit hole and met a whole host of new and interesting people.
There was Neil, a tall, lanky fellow who had a unique voice and was very intelligent. "Ice", as he liked to be called, was a short guy with a chip on his shoulder, not unlike Jimmy Cagney's character from The Public Enemy. I can't remember what his real name was, but he had attitude. Underneath the tough veneer, however, you could tell there was a sensitive soul. Rich was a young guy living on his own in the bedroom of a house, and he very rarely wore a shirt (this was not a bad thing). Then there was Cyka (pronounced "suka"). Her real name escapes me, but she was a full-figured young woman who liked to wear skin tight black clothing and reveled in her nickname being Russian for "bitch."
There were others whom I encountered, but I can't remember everyone's names. Our lives during those few months would snake in and out of each others' vicinity. There would be the mega-parties at Cyka's place, a rented house in west Urbana, where loud music would play, people dressed like extras from The Crow, and the partying would go on from just before evening to just before sunrise. There was the time when several of us needed transportation across town, so about 8 or 9 of us piled into an old '70s banger and somehow managed the trip. And then there was the time that Mike took me to the apartment of some people he knew, and they were watching sexually explicit Japanese Anime.
One hopes never to see that again.
I wasn't working that summer, much to the dismay of my mom, and so she eventually took away car access from me (understandable, looking back), and so I spent much of the time walking all over Champaign-Urbana with Mike, Neil, Ice and whoever else drifted in and out of the gang. Before becoming car-less, however, there was the night when I was transporting Neil and Mike somewhere in my '78 Buick LeSabre, and we ended up by the entrance of the Urbana Country Club. It had been raining, and I managed to get the behemoth of a car stuck against a huge mud wall. Defeated, we abandoned the car and walked through the nearby cemetery on the way to civilization to find a pay phone and call for assistance.
Many of us spent several nights just hanging out at the Burger King on campus that is now a high rise apartment building, and at the open-'til-late university computer labs, where I chatted with folks from all over the world on IRC (my pre-cursor to the internet as I know it today). It was a fun time. It ended, as it should have, and I got a job and started going to school, but those few, aimless months during the summer of 1994 are ones that I will never forget.