Six: I had a long list of things to do constructed for the few interim hours between landing in Philadelphia the night prior and heading up to Middlebury for the opening tournament of what is likely to be my last semester associated with APDA. This included printing tab cards and otherwise preparing for yet another stint at Tab Director, one of my favorite roles on the debate circuit. I’ve devote a good bit of verbiage herein in prior posts explaining what I love so dearly about tabulating tournaments, but it remains the perfect intersection of my interest in debate, teaching, statistics, and competition. I am looking forward to Nationals for more than a couple reasons.
My stint running a calibration round to acquaint the rarely competing Middlebury team with the expectations of running a quality tournament was preceded by a remarkably short-seeming six-hour drive that wound us from cold to colder as we approached the remote climes of northern Vermont. Coming back to a debate setting, be it a car ride or a tab room or a round or a meeting always feels like a return home. Arguably even more than my actual return home did this winter. Indeed, it filled me with pangs of pre-regret to type the words above describing the separation I may about to be declaring from the world of collegiate debate. I remember missing it so deeply and I don’t relish missing it again. At least I know that coaching has, somehow, been able to provide me nearly as much joy as competing did, and that alone has confirmed at least one set of decisions from the last couple years as being irreproachably valid.
I found the Middlebury team to be much like all debate teams of a certain ilk, though notably larger and more participatory than I might expect for a school that has been of limited presence on the circuit the last couple years. The calibration round was a great success and we were whisked off to incredible buildings whose presence on campus postdates my last visit to the school, one of several semifinal appearances I made at the liberal arts college’s annual invitational. The remainder of the night, crawling into the following day, involved a series of false starts at sleep wherein I would awake to navigate another of our many carloads of people to the cemetery-side frat mansion that was putting us up for the weekend. Bleary but excited to sleep in, I finally succumbed to rest circa four in the morning.
Seven: The tournament went as smoothly as almost any I’ve tabbed, all the more remarkable for the fact that not one of the appointed Middleburians had served in a tab room before. We ran close to schedule after an expectedly late start in the face of an oncoming snowstorm, one that adorned the entire night with a Narnian fall of lamplit accumulating precipitation. The mid-small draw of the tournament gave it that memorably enjoyable Middlebury feel of a debate slumber party where camaraderie runs high and competition seems to carry lower stakes. Friday was punctuated by one of the most lavish banquets assembled in recent APDA memory, whose offerings could only be discovered after a long trek through the fast piling snow along newly slippery paths. I had to rush from it to get back to tab, but tab continued to punch along like clockwork and we had to wait to announce round three for everyone to return from dinner.
The remainder of the night, post-tournament, was spent in a comical run back and forth to the site of the debate party, almost entering before deciding it was unworthy of our presence. The team seemed to struggle with a certain schizophrenia about wanting to go to the party, and we talked it over at the lodgey student center with its late-night snack offerings and an epic game of pool where Farhan finally knocked me off with only the eight ball on the table. Another trudge back to the party revealed a comically depleted dance-floor and we had only the snow to play with on the long walk back, exhausting almost everyone with an every-person-for-themselves contest along uncertain paths and bizarrely footstep-rung trees. By the time we decided to bring the snowball fight inside to the few cohorts who hadn’t gone out, we realized it was probably time to turn in.
Eight: You can read about how the tournament panned out on the RUDU blog, but it doesn’t quite capture the drama of getting there. Going into round five, none of our teams were guaranteed a break appearance, nor was Farhan in any way ensured such a high speaker performance. Watching the ballots come back and being able to once again be blown away by how far the Rutgers team has come was a great joy while in tab, though not being able to share any information with them till the suspenseful post-pizza announcement was, as usual, aggravating. Nevertheless, announcements were made and break rounds were won, and by the end, Farhan had become the fifth modern Rutgers debater to qualify for Nationals, and the first to take home a top speaker prize at a tournament. Knowing that nothing was riding from a team perspective on the semifinal result – either Dave & Kyle would advance to second TOTY or Farhan would qualify, both excellent outcomes – was quite enjoyable as I tabbed up the speaker and novice rankings and noted that we’d taken both of those prizes as well.
This is all to say nothing of rounds I enjoyed judging, especially fifth round between a Canadian team and Stanford that provided the perfect blend of fun topic with serious debate. And I was quite proud of the Final, watching Farhan get within a ballot of winning his first final round appearance, made all the more incredible for it being with an unpracticed novice partner he’d met the day prior. We capped the celebration with a long fun dinner with the Maryland team at a local diner, missing the three teammates who’d departed early but reveling in the additional definitive proof that this team has Arrived.
We were ill prepared for the daunting snowbound journey that awaited us upon heading east for an interim week in New Hampshire with my friends Stina & Dav, however. Snow was falling heavily as we trudged back to the car, almost at whiteout by the time we were fishtailing on country roads the GPS insisted would get us across the width of two states and into Durham. After an eleven-mile stretch of particularly daunting road, I pulled over into a church parking lot, making jokes about sanctuary, contemplating seeking a hotel or alternate lodging if we weren’t close to getting on an interstate. The GPS revealed that our next direction would put us on I-89 in just a couple miles, though, and I’ve rarely been so relieved to see the letter I. The rest of the trip was uneventful till the next departure from an interstate, this time outside Durham, put us in the heaviest snowfall I’ve ever driven through. But the roads were full of traction and progress was quick, if blinding. We hit Stina & Dav’s student housing and were quickly all asleep, bone-weary but quite satisfied to punctuate Middlebury’s successes with living to see another day.
Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve: I can differentiate between these days at this point, but I probably like them better bundled since that’s how they’ve felt. Like any good vacation, especially one unscheduled and in an unfamiliar place, the days have melded into a relaxing blend of half-effort activities. Games and reading, computers and snow, practice rounds and TV have swirled together in this medium-sized apartment and series of locally run eateries. Durham, New Hampshire wouldn’t be my first pick for a place to live, but it’s a great place to stop by in the winter and all five of us (Farhan and Dave came along for the ride) have gotten along well over Clue, Trivial Pursuit, snowball fights, and meals. We’ve one more day to come of this, one foraying all the way out to Manchester to see some summer friends of Stina’s, but I think I can already call the tour a success in its ability to restore energy. It’s also taught me a few things about the sudden pervasiveness of laptops and a general computer mentality, especially in those younger than I am. At the same time, this same attitude has enabled me to write these posts about the opening fortnight of the year, as well as participate in online Diplomacy games and keep informed about both local and worldwide circles of information.
I’m not sure I like it as a model for a vacation that I initially assumed would require reading and maybe some games or snow-play as the only possible outlet. The vision of a New Hampshire retreat to a snowed-in world (and we did get about a foot and a half today) is marred somewhat by the ubiquity of technology and its corresponding proliferation of television reruns. Let alone how much broadcast TV I’ve watched this week and how foreign it feels to my newly untrained eye – one of the very few improvements to my life that the recent losses have created. Granted that much of that has been sports that I’ve enjoyed, though the loss of a potential Oregon championship in anything was deeply sad. Which reminds me also of a Middlebury tie-in I nearly forgot – the finding, through all that technology and Facebook – of a friend I last saw in person on the Middlebury campus, during a magical weekend in 2000 when Zirkin and I made semifinals at a thoroughly enjoyable little tourney. The friend is one of my oldest, a literal pen-pal of all my Albuquerque days, one whose letters I was hoping to show Brandzy as part of his visit through my archival history when he came to New Mexico. She was my best friend from seventh grade and has long been living in Seattle, but only just joined Facebook this week and looked me up right away. We haven’t even properly caught up yet again, but the loose ends in my life who feel important have started to feel all the more important in the last few months, unsurprisingly. Where are you, John Schneider? Just drop me a line someday once again.
I guess all this technology is worth it, even if its saturation could stand to be kept at bay in favor of a little more paper now and again. That friending the day after Middlebury wouldn’t have been the same in a week. And these posts probably wouldn’t keep over longhand drafts of endless paper.
Like everything in life, or at least the last few parts of it, it seems to be all about trade-offs.