It was the biggest smile I've ever had on my face, at least to that point - the day I learned I would be accepted to attend The Ohio State University. An 18-year-old ready to graduate from a small, rural school in Logan County - ready to move to the city and live out my dream of being a Buckeye. My first time in Columbus, it didn't go so well - there was a culture shock that I did not anticipate happening. My grades slipped, my self-esteem was in the dumpster, and I had a tough time making friends. Going from a school of approximately 40-50 graduates to a campus with its own zip code was more daunting than I anticipated. Still, I was encouraged by family to get out and make friends. Find people who maybe enjoyed music as much as I did. That's when it happened.
Still, at 18 years old, it finally clicked when I met like-minded individuals. We were all from small towns in Ohio. We all loved music. We all thought - what the heck, let's pick up these instruments and see what happens. We caught lightning in a bottle. After playing just a couple of shows, we immediately had requests to go on tour with nationally touring acts. It was the balance I needed - music to rid myself of stress and to restore my confidence. After playing more shows than I can count, in more clubs and theatres than I can name - the time to get serious and finish school came. I focused on my job, in an attempt to make it into a career once I graduated. That is when my life was set on a path that saw me eventually move to South Bend.
That job I focused on did turn into a career. I moved into a management role, met a pretty lady, got married, and then chased the promotional opportunities - no matter where they were. We moved all over Ohio before my wife got the call. It was her turn to chase a promotion. The location - South Bend, Indiana. Well, Elkhart - but South Bend is about the only notable thing in the area. I'll never forget having a Penske truck packed full of our stuff and a car with the rest of the breakables (and our dog). We moved to Indiana over New Year's weekend. We rented a house off of Ironwood - the little area surrounding Notre Dame's campus. We walked to their campus to watch Ohio State play them in hockey, and to tailgate when they played Stanford in football (I enrolled at Stanford Medicine as well).
What was new soon became old, though. Much like the city of South Bend - my life felt cold, empty, and in need of invigoration. It was time to make a new set of friends and I did so the best way I knew how - through music. Through a complete blessing (or accident), we caught lightning in a bottle again. We signed another record deal, played shows in multiple states, etc. The main difference was that I was jeered when wearing Scarlet and Gray. I could hold my own, though - Notre Dame was recently stomped out by Alabama and they weren't on the same level as Ohio State in terms of on-field success. It wasn't hard to fire back when someone had something to say about the Block O on my chest.
My career hit a plateau, though. What did I want to do more than anything else to add new life to myself? It was pretty clear what had to be done - get out of South Bend. I traded lake-effect snow for white beaches and I now live in Florida. Still, I had the chance to go back to South Bend just last weekend to visit old bandmates. The city looked the same - still begging for investment, new ideas, and direction toward the future. It was that same culture shock I experienced as an 18-year-old - a complete 180-degree change from what I grew used to. It made me think of what is coming tomorrow.
I watched earlier today as national pundits and notable athletes alike picked Notre Dame to win. Their fans cheered behind them as they made their pick. Touchdown Jesus blocked the view of a Martin's Supermarket, just on the other side of campus. What looks idyllic on your television screen isn't the case in real life. In fact, the picture being painted is quite fitting for a place like South Bend, and for the campus of Notre Dame - it's a façade. A weak schedule hides noticeable deficiencies when one knows where to look. An admittedly beautiful campus hides a rusting-out city, just on the other side of its borders. A smile on the face and pounding of the chest hides real concern, nervousness, and doubt inside.
A culture shock is coming to South Bend tomorrow - and it wears Scarlet and Gray. As someone who has experienced both sides, I know South Bend, and Notre Dame by extension, knows it is coming, too. Let them pump their fists and sing the praises of a Quarterback who can probably qualify for Golden Buckeye discounts. It's all hiding what is really about to happen.
Go Bucks - leave no refuge and tear down the façade for all to see.