Extras from the Winter 2012 issue of Franciscan Way Magazine
I have many great basketball travel memories. I remember the angst that some of my basketball teammates felt on a flight to Chicago to play DePaul University. For some of the guys, it was their first airplane ride. I recall seeing some wide-eyed expressions of “Whoa!”
Our trip to play the University of Buffalo happened in the dead of winter, and we were greeted by 10 to 12 inches of snow that prevented walks downtown for shopping or a movie. Getting to the arena was a real challenge.
Then there was the trip to Carbondale, Illinois, to play Southern Illinois University with the great Walt “Clyde” Frazier. We combined this game with a trip to Owensboro, Kentucky, to play Kentucky Wesleyan, the NCAA Division II defending national champions.
A few Baron “maniacs” gave up their spring breaks to follow the basketball team. Their mode of transportation was using their thumb. On one of these trips, we saw them on the road “thumbing” and mercifully stopped the bus. One maniac was Ken Gaherty ’68 from New York. Ken and his wife, Sue Ann (Feile ’68), are friends of ours to this day.
In 1972, I signed up for a 3-credit anthropology course during Christmas Break, which was to consist of a two-week trip to Kentucky. When I arrived on campus in early January, we erected tents behind St.Thomas More Hall. It appeared we were going sleep outside! I left campus for my favorite watering hole, Peatty’s Bar. I never made the trip and instead spent two weeks alternating between my aunt’s house in Weirton, West Virginia, and the public library. I got my credits, but I never camped again and still haven’t been to Kentucky!
During Christmas Break of my senior year, Prof. Tom Lambert and Prof. Jack Boyde ’66 organized an archeology dig in the dead of winter. (How we survived, I’m really not too sure about except that I think there was a good bit of beer and wine to keep the blood warm.) We camped out in Kentucky—though most of us slept in our cars or in the heated restroom. We also stayed in a cabin in Ligonier. We had a blast, and the professors were very entertaining. We did actually manage to scrape up some arrow heads, pottery pieces, and other artifacts that I believe are still on display.
Another good memory is a trip to Fort Lauderdale. Many rode down in greatly overcrowded vehicles and with very little money. We had about 20 people in the room that I stayed in. There were lots of sunburns and laughter.
During the Barons’ 1972-1973 Division II basketball playoff run, the school chartered a bus for students who wanted to go. The Barons beat Hiram 54-51 and next faced Philadelphia University. We were really expected to lose that game but won 61-51. We had lots of Philly natives in our group, and those of us who went stormed the court like it was Duke defeating North Carolina. We were on break when we faced Akron in what I think was the regional final. I remember listening to that on the radio from my home, only to have us lose out 49-47. That was really an exceptional team.
I remember riding along Route 80 with John Fella ’74 in his Plymouth Volare from Bergenfield, New Jersey, to Steubenville. The car stalled every time we made a left turn.
My roommate and I used to shop at the Hub in downtown Steubenville, and one week we registered to win a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia. Surprisingly, my roomie won the trip and off we went for the weekend. Neither of us had ever been to Morgantown before, and we stayed in a beautiful resort. We noticed a lot of very tall men walking around, which seemed strange until we found out that the NCAA basketball tournament was being played in Morgantown that weekend, and the team from Georgetown University was staying there. We talked with some of them and actually got free tickets to the semi finals. The other highlight of the trip was eating in a Wendy’s for the first time.
My most memorable school trip was a Thanksgiving break trip to Hindman County, Kentucky, to study Appalachia with Prof. Chuck Fluharty and other sociology students. It was an amazing experience of meeting the people and seeing a culture unfamiliar to this Maine native. I could not have asked for a better professor for such a trip. Thanks, Chuck.
One Spring Break, four of us decided to drive to Colorado in a Capri stuffed with sleeping bags, clothing and a couple of guitars. We spent a night in Colorado after driving straight through for 24 hours. Next, we decided to drive to Pecos, New Mexico, where we stopped at a monastery that was holding a weekend retreat. The two guitars players in our group began playing, and the four of us started singing. The retreat leaders heard we were from Steubenville and were convinced we were members of the Servants of God’s Love singing group. Even though we tried to explain that we were not, they asked us to play and sing for them. It was my first and last time as a member of a singing group. On the way home, driving through the panhandle of Texas, we were praying the rosary. A truck had come down an exit ramp on Route 40 the wrong way in the middle of the night and was coming right toward us. The old brakes on the car tended to pull to the right, and that is the direction the car pulled as driver slammed on the brakes. We avoided an accident and thanked God for keeping us safe.
My best friend and college roommate lived down the street me in Long Island, New York, which allowed us to commute home fairly regularly. We often chose to drive right through Manhattan to take in the sights of New York City. Crossing the George Washing Bridge and seeing the famous skyline for the first time was an overwhelming and exciting time for our travel companions. We’d often opt to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel to go under the East River to test for claustrophobia. Sometimes we got more of a response than we bargained for.
We brought friends and girlfriends from all over the country home with us, and treating them to a few hours in the city and to a classic slice of the best pizza in the country (with Pepe's in New Haven, Connecticut, the only exception). That remains a fond memory for both John Fischer ’83 and me. I even have a photo of my then future wife and me standing on the top of the World Trade Towers from November of 1980.
Being from South Jersey, it was difficult going back to school before Labor Day (the last weekend of the summer at the shore). During my senior year, a couple of us rented a car to drive back for the weekend. It was a long drive for a couple of days at the beach!
During the summer of 1983 or 1984, I joined a swim club/pool north of Steubenville. On Saturdays or Sundays, depending on the weather, I'd invite MA graduate students to come and hang out for the day. It wasn’t expensive to bring guests, so I often showed up with 10 to 20 friends. Sometimes we would have a barbecue or a picnic. The experience helped us build community and gave us the opportunity to wind down, relax, and talk.
I was fortunate enough to have a roommate with a car and friends with the drive and determination to “bust out” on long or short weekends. I have great memories of road trips to American cities and colleges while listening to the Muppet Movie soundtrack. I often left the country to return to my native Canada with as many classmates as I could find.
The more memorable and very extravagant trip back then was spending Spring Break of 1986 in Medugorje with 40 other students. It was rustic by today’s standards and included lots of walking, meditation and warm pivo (beer). Being without luggage the entire time was another of life's lessons; thankfully, it was located in the airport on the way home. To this day I always carry an overnight bag and my rosary on long or short hauls.
In March of 1990, about 18 of us stayed with Father John at his parish in Catskill, New York. It was a truly God-inspired trip. We arrived on a Sunday night and Father told us he had forgotten we were coming and hadn’t shopped. Instead, he asked for donations from the community. All our meals were planned by the next morning. We were invited to eat others’ houses, and people brought food to the rectory for us. We helped with Masses during the week and got plenty of free time and time to witness to his parish community. It was incredibly fun and memorable.
I went on a road trip to the D.C., Virginia, and Maryland area with my friend, Justine. Her dad worked in D.C., and we toured one of the government buildings. We also went to the college strip and hung out at Irish pubs. Her family and house were so warm and inviting. One thing I remember in particular is driving down there (we had to wait for a few days because of the 1993 blizzard) and Justine and a few others singing the Texas Tornados’ song, “Hey Baby, Que Paso?”
Freshman year (1993) we took a road trip to Tampa, Florida, for Spring Break. The purpose was to help conduct a series of youth conferences/gatherings. Sounds simple enough, right? We had 11 people and a 12-passenger van and left the night the “Storm of the Century” hit. My mother (as well as several other parents) was sure we'd cancel the trip but we forged ahead. (Oh, to be 18!) Only four of the passengers were legally able to drive the van and one was afraid of the snow, which we hit quite early in the trip. We entrusted ourselves to Our Lady and Paul Kehoe, who was from Illinois and quite capable of white-out condition driving. At one point we were passing snowplows on the interstate!
Most of us packed Florida-type clothing only to get to Tampa and have it still flurrying. Our hosts kindly lent us sweaters and warmer clothing, and the trip was quite a success. The drive home was almost boring with no snow, no wind, and 100 percent visibility!
In the Spring semester of 1999, a few Communication Arts majors decided to create a Catholic reality program similar to MTV’s “The Real World. ” They wanted to make a pilot episode to pitch to EWTN and use the show as their major project for a TV production class. For whatever reason, they chose Niagara Falls as the backdrop for the project, and I agreed to come and help out.
Back then, there typically wasn’t a lot of hassle going back and forth over the Canadian border, but we did catch a little flack on our first entry into Canada, as one of our students from the Caribbean had a student visa, which allowed her entry only into the United States. They eventually let her pass anyway. But upon our reentry on the final day, things got a little tense. A couple of hot-shot border patrol agents took notice of the fact that we had many thousands of dollars worth of University-owned audio and video equipment in the back of Brian’s (Mungo ’01) Chevy Suburban.
They detained us at the border crossing for a brief time and asked whether we had declared this equipment when we crossed into Canada the first time. Of course we hadn’t—we were a bunch of 19 to 22 year-olds who had no knowledge of such things. The officers informed us that it was within their rights to bring in an appraiser to assess the value of our equipment and detain us at the border until we paid a duty tax on all of it. To his credit, Brian remained calm and was able to convince the officers of our status as ignorant students, and they eventually let us go. For all I know, they may have just been trying to scare us to amuse themselves. It worked. And it made for a nice memory and a fun story to tell.
My best college travel memory was to World Youth Day in 2000. It was a remarkable time seeing the now Blessed John Paul II with my friends and taking in the sites of Rome, Assisi, and Turin during the Great Jubilee Year! I will never forget walking through the Great Jubilee doors at St. Peter’s the day we arrived in Rome, as well as all of the events of World Youth Day itself, especially the Great Vigil and the Mass with the pope.
While a few semesters abroad ranked high among my more memorable trips, it was an October weekend visit to Saginaw, Michigan, that takes the cake. The extended family of my dear friend and roommate, Eleanor Seasgraves ’02, invited us to visit. On a beautiful fall Saturday morning, we admired the beauty of the changing leaves while sitting on the back porch reading the paper and sipping pumpkin coffee. We then went to purchase some freshly picked apples, and I was schooled in the ways of baking a homemade apple pie by “Elle Belle” and her aunt. We returned to the dorms Sunday evening, arms full of our parting gifts: fall decorations that I still use to decorate my office at work, years later.
My funniest road trip story happened senior year when a roommate and household brother got the other guys in the house together on a Wednesday night at 9 p.m. and said, “Let's road trip to Niagara Falls right now!” My more mature side gave an emphatic “Heck, no!” But I quickly succumbed to peer pressure and the idea of fun. I said I would only go on three conditions: 1. I'm not driving; 2. I'm not paying for everyone else’s share of gas; and 3.We have to be back by 6 a.m. for my front desk shift at the Fieldhouse. Long story short: We had one of the best times at Niagara that night/morning. But on the return trip, the driver ran out of gas because he couldn't find a gas station open at that early hour. We had to call the car ahead of us in the caravan and ask the driver to turn around and bring us a can of gas. No one had cash, so I paid. We ran into Pittsburgh bumper-to-bumper traffic for the next hour, and I had to call the Fieldhouse and explain why I was going to be late for my shift. I'm pretty sure I got a strike from Chris Ledyard for that excuse. Great times.
For Spring Break 2002, five of us from Brothers of the Eternal Song, Paul Coakley ’01, Sean Wilson ’01, Eric Harkins ’05, Mike Mason’05 and me, piled into Paul’s 1991 Ford Ranger, with attached camper, and set out for California. We gathered for a pre-trip blessing, and Sean poured a gallon of holy water over the whole truck for good measure. We planned to take a northern route west, driving south along the coast, and returning along a southern route—but plans are made to be broken!
Shortly after sunrise the next morning, the truck ran out of gas, and gas remained an issue as towns became fewer and farther between. At one point, Sean and I sat in the front watching the gauge dwindle, and when the needle hit empty we began the rosary. As I began to lead the Fifth Mystery, I knew we would be okay. Soon, a town rose into view, and we coasted to a station.
Our first stop was supposed to be in Rapid City, South Dakota, just long enough to see Mount Rushmore. Within an hour of Rapid City, Nature called. Unfortunately, the only gas station was closed, and when we returned to the truck it would not start. We were three miles from the main road, outside in a wind chill of 40 below. Paul worked on the engine, and finally, the truck started better than it had the whole trip. We leaned out the window to celebrate, but Paul was nowhere in sight. Suddenly, from the back of the truck, he ran and jumped in, exclaiming, “I got shocked! I got shocked!” (Maybe it didn’t help that he was working with battery terminals while standing waist deep in snow!)
We arrived late in Rapid City and still decided to see Mount Rushmore, but there were no lights on. On our way back down the hill, the transmission quit working just as we passed through a tiny town that thankfully had one hotel open. We had the truck towed to Rapid City the next day, a Saturday, but no transmission shops were open. Paul couldn’t fix the truck either, so we had to wait until Monday.
My brother’s seminary classmate, Father Brian Christensen, was a priest in Rapid City, so I called him to help us find a place to stay. He offered the floor of the rectory or a cabin set deep in the Black Hills National Forest that the diocese owned. He also offered us the use of his car. We chose the cabin, and this stay was the highlight of the trip, as we ended the day beside a roaring fire playing a Catholic trivia board game called, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
We were able to get the truck fixed Monday for only $37 and left that evening, crossing three states in the next 24 hours. We made it to the Coakley house in California on Tuesday, departing on Wednesday and heading south through California. Paul and Sean visited some old friends, and the rest of us went to Thomas Aquinas College. We hit the Pacific Ocean on Thursday and met up again that night to hit the road. We knew some other Franciscan students, including another household brother, Thomas Kosh ’04, were camping in Joshua Tree National Park. We met up with Thomas for some midnight rock climbing and then piled back into the truck at 2:00 a.m.
Around noon Friday we made it to the Grand Canyon, then headed to Mike’s house in Gallup, New Mexico. As we got close to Gallup, we realized the spindle, bearings, and a rotor were bad, so we were stuck again. Mike, Eric, and I moved our gear into Mike’s car that evening and headed back, while Paul and Sean stayed with the truck. We made it back in 28 hours, arriving in Steubenville at about 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. Paul and Sean got back about 9 a.m. The 10-day trip covered a total of 15 states and approximately 6,000 miles and provided stories we have shared ever since.
When I first drove to Franciscan in August 2007, my car broke down opposite “Devil's Tower” in Wyoming. I called the Benedictine sisters in Wyoming with whom I had stayed the night before, and they called their Oblate colleague who was closer to me, to see if she could help. She—bless her heart—came and got me, loaded all my stuff into her tiny car, and took me to her home overnight. After that she put me on the bus to continue on my way and later sent my belongings to me in Steubenville, one box at a time.
The bus from Rapid City was fine, but the next bus was overbooked so in Kansas City I had to stay overnight in the bus station along with about a dozen lovely Amish people, including several children. They were a very peaceful group, and they sang hymns often through the night.
The next morning I boarded a bus to St. Louis. My daughter picked me up there, and I stayed with some Carmelite nuns who were extremely gracious and provided meals and personal support as well. The next day I got onto a train—no more overbooked buses for me—to Pittsburgh, where a very helpful Franciscan graduate student drove the 80 miles round trip to pick me up.
At the time I interpreted the whole excursion as a test. Thanks to all the kind people along the way, I learned the value of community, friendship, and Christian hospitality, and I also learned about the local bus service in Steubenville. For the first few months, a new friend drove me with her to daily adoration until I could get a car of my own, and for her I will always be very thankful because she introduced me to that wonderful practice. One Valentine's Day I was particularly sad, and the local bus driver, who I sort of knew by then, gave me a free ride in honor of the day. It is these loving people who make all the difference! None of this would have happened without the vehicle mishap out west.
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