Wednesday, April 22, 2009


After a long, relaxing train ride that included a lot of reading but unfortunately little sleep, no thanks to the guys who got on in Philadelphia, sat right behind me, and yammered away the entire time. It was kind of curious that after being right on time for every stop, we somehow arrived in Pittsburgh a half hour early. It must be a way for Amtrak to have a better on-time record. I had to wait around for a little while until Mike and Doug came and picked me up and took me to dinner at a favorite place of theirs in the South Side. I ate most of an enormous sandwich and a bunch of homemade potato chips, and my plate still looked full when I was done. We didn't stay too late, since they both had work in the morning. They dropped me off at my hotel, where I did a little reading before going to bed around 11.

Thursday morning I ate breakfast in the cafe in the hotel building and then walked the roughly mile and a half to CMU's campus. It was pretty early by college standards, around 8, so it was pretty lifeless. I wandered around for a while, checking out new construction and other things that might have changed since that last time I visited. Then, at long last, began the start of competition of what is, in my opinion at least, the most prestigious and highly anticipated event of the school year, and CMU's most unique event, as well. It's probably been since I was an undergrad that I was in town for the Design Competition portion of the Sweepstakes races (better known as Buggy). I was and, like many alumni, remain, a rabid buggy fan, which has only been fueled recently by the rise of a great forum site sponsored by the recently created Buggy Alumni Association. From about 10am to noon I was in a gymnasium, checking out new buggies (and being amazed by how many were built while or even before I was in school), and chatting with other buggy-mad alumni, and even a few people less informed but interested in buggy. I left design for a while to grab lunch and attend a talk by a buggy alum about how buggy relates to/prepared him for projects in the real world. After design comp, I swung by my old fraternity house, but since they're on probation and aren't allowed to have any alcohol in the house, it was pretty empty. I decided to head toward my hotel to drop off the shirts I'd bought and possibly get a little nap. I first took a swing through "Midway," the other competition held during Carnival, where organizations build elaborate booths based on an individual theme that ties in to an overall theme. It was shortly before the midway officially opened, so I wasn't able to get a real good look at any of them. After hoofing it back to my hotel, I laid down, read a little, but didn't feel sleepy, so about 4:30 I headed back to campus. Instead of going all the way to campus, I stopped in at the bar closest to it, to see if there was anyone I knew inside. There were in fact several people I knew, so I stuck around and had a few drinks before going to dinner with a few of them. After dinner I went back through Midway, even though many of them were still not completed (since judging isn't until later), and, since it was on my way back to my hotel, I stopped back into the bar. There were some people I knew, so I stuck around for a while. I finally left after 11, but the problem was that at that point it was pretty cool out, and I had left my jacket at the hotel. I started off jogging to keep warm in my t-shirt, but that didn't last long and I went the rest of the way at my usual quick walking pace.

I set my alarm to wake me up at 6am on Friday, so I wouldn't miss a minute of racing, which started at 8. I grabbed a breakfast sandwich to go from the cafe, then got a Dr Pepper from the drugstore around the corner, and ate the sandwich on my way to the buggy course. When I got there at 7, there was almost nobody there, which probably shouldn't have been particularly surprising on a big drinking weekend. I kind of wandered for a while until I ran into a fraternity brother I hadn't seen in a while, so we chatted until it got closer to race time and more alumni showed up. There was still not a big crowd when women's races started at 8, but by 9 when it started warming up and the more competitive men's races started, there was a good crowd. The racing action was really good, and the coverage was excellent, with a jumbotron set up at the top of "hill 2." I moved around some, watching a number of heats from hill 2, which is close to the finish line as well; and from the "chute," the high-speed 90-degree turn where most accidents occur. While I was down in the chute, one of the top organizations' B team buggy had a complete wheel failure and crashed pretty hard into the hay bales lining the road. There were a couple of other spins in the chute, but I didn't see them. As long as the tiny girl inside isn't hurt, the spins are pretty cool to see, just like NASCAR. After races finished around noon, I met up with the BAA folks for pizza and, of course, to talk about the races. At 1, I went over to the History of Buggy presentation given by an alum who is even more into buggy than myself, or almost anyone else for that matter. It was really interesting historical information, but I was tired enough that I managed to fall asleep for a few minutes. I headed back to my hotel not long after that, where I relaxed for a while, but didn't fall asleep. All the walking and standing was making me think I hadn't fully recovered from the Marcy climb, my knees were getting sore and stiff, as were my feet. At 5 I called up a friend about possibly getting dinner, but I pretty much just missed him as he was already on his way to another fraternity brother's house and was too far to pick me up. I went and had dinner at an old favorite sandwich shop that serves everything with fries and coleslaw in the sandwich. I pretty much just wandered around for the next several hours, stopping in at the campus bar, but it was packed wall-to-wall and I didn't know anybody; strolling through Midway; stopping by the nearly empty fraternity house; until I decided to go back to a different bar, where I'd had dinner the night before. It wasn't particularly interesting there, the hockey game was on, but they do have a decent beer selection. Frankly, I was kind of bored at that point, until finally I got a call that someone was going to give me a ride to the party at a bar owned by some fraternity alumni. That turned out to be a pretty good time, but quite a few of the people were pretty drunk by the time I got there around 10. I got a chance to meet and hang out with some of the younger alumni, who weren't even students when I graduated, as well as some old friends. I got a ride back to my hotel about 2, and I immediately went to bed.

I actually didn't have too much trouble waking up at 7am on Saturday and getting to the buggy course just after 8. I was surprised, however, to find that buggies were already rolling on the course, since I thought races started at 9. It turns out they were just exhibition races, done just for fun and not competitive. The races went pretty smoothly, and I spent most of the time at hill 2, until the final race by a team that had numerous spins during practices, when I went to the chute. They didn't wind up spinning, and in fact set a new course record (after having reset the women's record earlier). The problem was that as the day went on, it was becoming clear that what had started as "maybe I'm coming down with something" in the morning was definitely turning into "something," and I was not feeling well. Not having anything with me, I picked up some drugs at the campus store, then met people back at the house. I went to lunch with three other alums, and at least I had an appetite, but I was not feeling well and just wanted to go to sleep. After lunch I wanted a nap more than anything, but when the others decided to stop in at the bar, I said goodbye and took a bus back to my hotel. As we parted, one guy said "I'm sure I'll see you again," and I gave sort of a "maybe, but don't count on it" hand gesture. I laid in bed under the covers as the full brunt of a fever hit me. I slept from 4 to 6, but I was probably in worse shape when I woke up, feeling freezing cold, but my skin burning up. I put a moist washcloth on my forehead while I shivered under the covers. Finally around 9 the fever subsided enough that I now felt warm and came out from under the covers. I was a little hungry, but in no shape to even leave the room, so I ate all that was left of my mom's cookies.

Sunday morning I was feeling slightly better. I gathered my things and took an 8am bus to the airport. It was pretty sparse when I got on, but was packed from downtown to Robinson. The first flight was pretty terrible. Not only was it only a small regional jet, I had a window seat, and there was a very annoying baby sitting right behind me. This little girl was kicking the seat, making the tray table drop, and possibly worst was the screaming as we were making our descent. I was so exhausted that I did manage to sleep, but it was very fitful. The second short leg home was relatively uneventful except for leaving late due to some sort of medical emergency. I finally made it all the way back to my own home around 4, and watched TV (sometimes through the backs of my eyelids) until I got up and went to bed.

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