By Dom Cioffi
He lived on my floor in our dorm during my freshman year of college. I knew him from countless parties and passing him in the bathroom, but we never hung out together. He looked like a young Tom Petty, with blond hair and perpetually squinting eyes. By all accounts, he was a good guy.
It was the last weeks of school during junior year when I wandered into one of the college bars just off campus. I was meeting some people and was early and I saw the aforementioned guy sitting at the bar having a beer alone, so I sidled up next to him and struck up a conversation.
We had a good time talking. After things progressed, I inquired what his plans were for the summer. That’s when he asked me the question that I never saw coming.
He flippantly said that he was thinking about driving across the country to California because his sister, who was in graduate school at Stanford University, had said he could live in her empty apartment for the summer.
“Wow, that’s an adventure,” I said.
His reply: “You wanna come?”
It was one of those moments where you find yourself talking before you’ve actually thought anything through. Before I knew what I was saying, the words, “I’m in,” were coming out of my mouth.
Three weeks later, we were on the road. We took turns driving his 1977 Monte Carlo from state to state; while one of us drove, the other navigated, slept, or read a book (remember, this was years before cell phones existed). W
hen we finally arrived in California after a week of driving, we moved into his sister’s quaint little two-bedroom apartment and went looking for a job. We both ended up employed by Stanford University, with me in the repair division and him in the laundry division.
This was one of those times where I lucked out. I basically spent my days driving from campus location to campus location delivering lamps and fixing broken chairs for summer students and professors, while my buddy was stuck in an industrial laundry room separating heinous linens.
The older guy I worked with was a character. He had been employed at the university for the majority of his life and was happy to have me along to help out during the summer months. I came to appreciate his ability to fix anything while also finding time for us to sneak in a nap after lunch in one of the empty dorm rooms.
I also came to appreciate California and its unique vibe. I remember someone telling me, “On the East Coast, everyone asks you what you do for work, and on the West Coast, everyone asks you what you do for fun.”
I actually found that statement to be true, as most of the people I met that summer were intent on having a good time.
My friend and I fell into a group of like-minded 20-year-olds and spent our weekends traveling to beaches and concerts throughout the summer. We saw the Grateful Dead on multiple occasions and were even lucky enough to be at a comedy show when surprise guest Robin Williams took the stage and riffed for a solid hour.
When the summer months began drawing to a close, my friend and I started making plans to drive back home. Our senior year of college on the East Coast was awaiting along with our friends and families.
During my last week on the job, the old man I worked for pulled me aside and told me he was retiring. He also told me that he was pretty sure he could get me hired on his recommendation. As a 20-year-old, I could be making really good money at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
I remember thinking about it intensely. In the late 1980s, it wasn’t easy to get a good job out of college. Maybe this was my big opportunity?
Ultimately, I declined his offer and returned to the East Coast and my senior year of college. I’ve often wondered how my life would have progressed had I stayed (especially since the little area I was in came to be known as Silicon Valley), but that wasn’t to be. Life took me in a different direction.
This week’s feature, “Look Both Ways,” also imagines two scenarios, but in this case it’s for a young woman who reaches a difficult crossroad as she graduates from college.
This was a surprisingly fun and poignant little movie that opines on the choices we make that lead to the unique lives we live. It’s clever in its delivery while providing a humorous side hustle to make the journey more enjoyable.
Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a unique little love story that makes a profound statement about life.
A thoughtful “B” for “Look Both Ways,” now available to stream on Netflix.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at email@example.com.