‘imagine your worst nightmare times 15’

Because of the Super Bowl, and “All N My Grill” being in my head for about six months, I grabbed Missy’s first two albums when I went to my mom’s house last week. I have a spindle with some hip-hop and R&B albums I “retired” from my collection after my tastes changed began drifting away from what I considered my jams back in middle and high school, and I’ve noticed that I’ve been reclaiming albums as of late. I’ve been chalking it up trying to cling to my youth after a few years of being well on the wrong side of 25 and attempting to right the wrong of abandoning entire genres of music because I was becoming “educated” and “cultured.”

Thursday afternoon, I finally got around to popping in Da Real World and it wouldn’t play. I was adamant that it wasn’t scratched, so naturally, I started cursing at Nicole’s radio, which I plan on replacing within the next 12 months anyway. I finally inspected it to discover that there was some schmutz on it so I licked my finger and wiped it off, because I’m a grownup now. About a decade ago, I would have licked the entire CD. I was almost at work at that point, so I decided to wait until after work to give it an official spin.

I took a different route home than normal, and I’ve completely forgotten the track order, so the string sample I was looking for started (about 45 second into the video at the head of this entry) when I was less than half a mile from my house. I decided that I’d ride around until the song was over, which led me to 10th Street Northeast and East Market at about 11:30 p.m. While I was waiting for the light to change, a disheveled young man clad in a superb blue blazer, a bow tie, boat shoes, khakis — you know, the whole nine yards — started crossing the street to where there was no sidewalk.

“Where the hell is that UVa student going?” I asked myself as I realized he was walking to my car.

It happens a lot. I have a black Nissan Altima, a.k.a. the black Lincoln Town Car private taxi of the teens. I’ve largely stopped driving down Water Street on weekends, because every time my car is stopped for any reason by the Downtown Mall, I get hailed. There’s been more than one occasion that a drunk person has tried to get in. I’m glad my doors lock automatically.

I turned the music down (I didn’t want to because ALL N MY GRILL) and was about to tell him I wasn’t a taxi when I saw that he was more distraught than disheveled.

“How close am I to the Corner?” he asked.

The Corner, the restaurant-retail strip on University Avenue opposite the University of Virginia, unofficially begins at 14th Street Northwest. The grid starts over downtown, and I’ve long suspected that some wayward UVa students see the numbers going up regardless of which direction they go on Main Street and assume they’re heading the right way until they reach worst combination of them all: dark and unfamiliar.

“Dear God, that’s like two miles that way,” I replied, pointing west.

“Isn’t it just another left up here?” He was standing by the front passenger-side door. I could smell the booze on him.

“No, you keep going that way and you end up at the river.”

“Oh my God, how did I get this far?” In an apologetic way, he eventually asked if I could drive him to the Corner.

I cleared off the stuff I piled in the seat and told him to get in. I wasn’t worried as was obviously a student, waifish it wasn’t the first time I’ve given a stranger a ride since I’ve had my license.

My wife is going to yell at me about that.

I headed down Water and the student mentioned that the Corner was just to the left, which would have been his right a few moments before when he said it was another left. At this point, “left” was the railroad tracks and the Belmont-adjacent neighborhood that has been renamed the Strategic Investment Area because it’s about to be gentrified by way of bulldozer.

I pointed out that we were passing the bus station and the Downtown Mall was to our right. He calmly freaked out while texting. He told me he though he was on his way to a friend’s place in the Flats @ [sic] West Village. I asked if he wanted to be dropped off there, but he was adamant about going to the area of the Jimmy John’s on the ground floor of what is about to be The Graduate Hotel.

“This is bad. I’m not even that drunk. This has been a bad year.”

“What’s been going on with you?” My first thought was that I had a suicidal student on my hands.

“It’s been a bad year,” he repeated. “You know, with everything that happened. I live in Kellogg. Hannah lived with us.”

He was referring to Hannah Graham, a second-year UVa student who authorities say was abducted and murdered by Jesse Matthew Jr. after wandering from the Corner area to the Downtown Mall a few months back.

“They never gave us all counseling, just the people who lived with her and her friends,” he continued. “We were just … we needed someone. … They never told us how to get back and now here I am. Thank you for taking me back.”

“No problem. It happens. If I had a dollar for every time I wondered how I got back to my place in college …”

“No, this is really bad. Oh God, I know where I am now. I was so far off. … You’re not a taxi, are you?”

“No, I work at the paper, I was on my way home from the newsroom and just happened to take the long way.”

“Oh God, that’s even worse. This is a nightmare. Imagine your worst nightmare times 15. That stuff happens with Hannah and I have to get a ride back to the Corner … no offense.”

None taken.

I pulled over at a loading zone on Main between 13th and 14th Northwest. I asked if he was going to be OK. He said he was going to be fine now that he was back, apologized again and insisted on giving me his last three bucks. He eventually headed into the 24-hour convenience store on the block tapping away on his phone. There were some cops nearby. I hoped he’d be OK and set off for home.

I’ve been home about two hours now. Although I’m certain one of his texts before he got out of the car was “He dropped me off near Boylan,” I’m a little worried. I also feel a little queasy.

If I had a dollar for every time in college I’ve wondered where I was or barely know how I got home, I’d be a wealthy man. I wandered around Savannah, Georgia, drunk and alone about seven years ago. It was my first time there. It wasn’t a problem.

Nine times out of 10 nothing bad happens. Drunk twentysomething Elliott wandered home or back to where he was staying. Sober thirtysomething Elliott drives Drunk UVa student back to UVa Adjacent.

But.

I now really, really want Charlottesville to rename the northeast numbered streets.

I can’t stop thinking about what could have happened to that kid if I didn’t want to hear some Missy. I can’t stop thinking about how numbered streets ascending in both directions in an entertainment district could lead to huge problems. I can’t stop thinking about how something as simple as NE or NW on a street sign might have contributed to Hannah Graham’s demise.

I’m sure that guy’s vomiting into a friend’s toilet right about now or will be in about eight hours, but I’m still fretting a little. We don’t think about the consequences of something bad happening when we’re wastefaced when we’re feeling invincible in our undergraduate years. I guess I’m concerned because of all the “Dude, you were so drunk and stupid” dollars I would have amassed from my time at Christopher Newport University.

When I posted the abridged version of this on Facebook, one of the comments was, “You’re officially a grownup.”

I guess I am.

Stay safe out there.

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