It’s not too often that a person can recall exactly where they were, who they were with or what they were doing twenty years ago to the day — but as for April 9th, 1994, I remember.
Half a year earlier on August 22nd, 1993 (the night of my 20th birthday) I moved to Weatherford, Oklahoma and moved in with Susan and another one of her friends. I had spent the two years following high school commuting to Redlands Community College, while Susan had spent her time 60 miles east in Weatherford attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU). Susan had recently moved into a three bedroom mobile home and offered me the master bedroom to rent. We spent the next eight months partying, working, and occasionally attending college classes.
Susan worked at the Wesley Foundation on campus and a local print shop; I briefly worked at a local pizza joint before landing a job at Long John Silver’s. I worked 40-50 hours a week there as a shift manager, a job I was by and large terrible at. Back then I simply didn’t have the maturity, experience or conflict resolution skills needed to manage anybody, much less a bunch of teens that didn’t want to be managed.
By the time spring flowers began to bloom, more than my allergies were suffering. I wasn’t doing well in school because I was working too many hours, and I hadn’t racked up too many “Employee of the Month” awards while slinging fish if you know what I mean. For her part, Susan was dog paddling just as hard as I was to keep her head above water. Late at night over styrofoam containers of leftover fish the two of us would plot our escape. All we had to do was make it one or two more months. If we could just make it through one more semester, everything would be fine.
The two years I attended Redlands I spent busting my ass in the journalism department. I had served as both the newspaper and yearbook editor and despite occasionally showing up late on the weekends, or hung over, or still drunk, or some combination of those things, my staff and I never missed a single deadline. Ever. I had a solid reputation for delivering there because I had earned it. As an overweight smart ass with a weird wardrobe and a worse haircut, I assumed that my reputation for always meeting deadlines (even if they showed up at the 11th hour) would follow me to Weatherford. It didn’t. My journalism professor at Weatherford got so sick of my antics that she fired me as the yearbook editor roughly a month before the end of the semester. From a previous blog post:
In the spring of 1994 after pushing the word “procrastination” to an all-time high, I was let go from my position as SWOSU’s yearbook editor, replaced by my understudy. A month before the book’s final deadline, I showed up to class to find everything from my editor’s desk neatly packed into a box for me to take home. My journalism professor pulled me aside and briefly explained her reasoning, none of which I could argue with. I wasn’t mad; I was embarrassed. I told her I would take my box of junk out to my car and then would come back that afternoon so we could talk about what needed to be done and how to proceed. But I didn’t. Instead, I dropped out of school via telephone and never showed my face on that campus again.
That last part isn’t entirely true. Nineteen years later in 2013, I took Mason to a basketball tournament there.
In a bit of “Rob and Susan Lore,” it was on that day in April of 1994 that I flipped a coin, declaring heads meant we would “try and salvage what was left of the semester” while tails meant “let’s go visit the Grand Canyon.” I really did flip that coin and it really did come up tails. We packed some clothes into a bag, loaded up Susan’s car, and drove west the following morning.
I don’t know that I’ve had another week quite like that in my life. We had no jobs, no school, no one to answer to and no real destination. After a few days of driving we did make it to the Grand Canyon…
…and Carlsbad Caverns…
…and Flintstone City, USA…
…and a dozen other places. Eventually we ended up in Tucson, where we ran out of steam and money at roughly the same time. We spent a night or two sleeping on my Aunt Eva’s fold out couch before we decided to go home. But not before playing one last round of mini golf!
On April 8th while visiting the Grand Canyon, it was announced that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, had been found dead. Nirvana, along with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains had ushered in the new wave of grunge music. In just a few short years, flannel and blue jeans had replaced leather and jean jackets. Hair metal was out and grunge was in. Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind had been released three years prior in September, 1991. Three years later, he was dead.
That night as we began meandering back home we stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When we pulled in to town that night we saw a long line of lowriders driving slowly around the block. We pulled over to watch the show and were soon informed by local police officers that this was not a parade; we were watching gang members. The police officers suggested we relocate to a safer part of town and so we did. We found a hotel that was painted pink and looked like a castle. My most vivid memory of the place was that there was a hole in the upstairs concrete sidewalk that you could see all the way through down to the ground. Susan remembers the roaches.
On the morning of April 9th, 1994, we rolled out of the hotel and had breakfast. We piddled around town a bit and around lunch time stumbled across Little Anita’s. If nothing else, Little Anita’s had the hottest hot sauce I’ve ever tasted. I was disappointed that the waitress had only brought each of us a small cup of sauce for our lunch. I dipped my fork into my cup and touched it to my tongue. It burned hotter than fire. I was just about to mention how hot it was to Susan when I saw her dump the entire cup of hot sauce on to her taco. Instead of warning her I decided to sit back and watch the show. After one bite, she immediately drank her water, followed by my water, followed by waiving down a waiter and drinking an entire pitcher of water. Hot stuff. Anyway, Little Anita’s has become a mandatory stop for us every time we drive through Albuquerque. We’ve driven through two or three times since then and we’ve eaten there every time. These days we go easy on the hot sauce.
On the way out of the restaurant I spotted a local newspaper with the headline NIRVANA SINGER FOUND DEAD. I bought it, and still have it out in my box of keepsakes. Crime scene investigators estimate that Cobain died on April 5th. His body was discovered on the 8th. We heard about it on the radio that day, and read about it in a newspaper on the 9th. April 9th, 1994.
On the last leg of our trip home the mood had changed. Susan and I both knew once we arrived back in Weatherford we were going to have to face the music, and the loss of Kurt Cobain made the trip that much more depressing. Not to make it sound like I was a huge Nirvana fan — I liked them as much as the next guy — but grunge belonged to my generation. Kurt Cobain was “one of ours.”
During the trip Susan and I convinced ourselves that if we called the school and told them we were withdrawing from school because our roommate had died they would be lenient on us — a hair-brained scheme I’m pretty sure one of us had picked up from a sitcom. Later, after arriving home and calling the school, the first question the administration asked me was, what was the name of our roommate? Not having thought that far in advance, I hung up the phone. For our part, each of us received a smattering of W’s (“withdrew”) combined with WF’s (“withdrew while failing”) on our transcripts.
April 9th, 1994 was more than just the day Susan and I read that Kurt Cobain had died. The week before we walked away from our school and our jobs, and when we got back, we had to deal with the consequences. April 9th, 1994 was the day we grew up.