The View from the Road - Then and Now

Katherine Perry

Onondaga Community College
Director, Extension Sites

In 1981, I wish I drove a red, sporty, Corvette.

In 1981, our fleet vehicle was a black, boat-like, Oldsmobile.

Obviously not a lot of concern about the environment or the cost of gas, which averaged about $1.30 a gallon in those days.  The most popular TV show was Dallas (think  the “who Shot JR “ version), Iran released the hostages they had held for 444 days, Ronald Reagan and his press secretary Jim Brady were shot , MTV debuted and Charles and Diana got hitched.

That’s what was happening when I got the keys to the Oldsmobile, a map of Northeastern Indiana and a list of high schools with the college fairs that we had committed to and went “on the road” for the first time.  Does any of this sound familiar?

In between training on the presentation, tours, and programs and policies, I made calls, plotted routes and estimated drive times.  I had done a few college fairs for another school in New York in the past, but this was the big time, THE job.  I was scared to death, excited and very eager to make a good impression on the Director, my new colleagues, and most of all, the Guidance Counselors and students I’d be meeting.

The process was the same then as it now in most schools. Attend College fairs, visit the local high schools in priority order and then the little places if nothing else fit.  Leave Sunday afternoon or early Monday morning and get back Friday afternoon from mid-September to mid-November.  Your first response to any request for a social event was “I’ll be on the road” and Willie Nelson's song was your anthem.

The difference… no cell phones, no Garmin, no Mapquest to estimate drive times, no internet hotel reservations.   I used AAA books, the phone book and basically guessed for that first venture.   My Director had no way of contacting me unless he called the schools I was due at or the hotel I was staying in (we had to leave an itinerary with the secretary) and often I would go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing or speaking to him.  I can hear some of you now,  “WOW, That sounds awesome!!” 

Those years as a “road warrior” were some of the best of my adult working life.  Here’s a few memories I’d love to share.

Climbing on the hood of that car and looking for football field lights because I KNEW that school was around there somewhere, behind all those acres of corn fields… FOUND IT!

Pulling into a school parking lot, running late, laying my purse in the trunk as I hefted out the big black briefcase full of viewbooks and inquiry cards (yup, same as now!), setting it on the ground, slamming the trunk, realizing immediately that I had locked the keys in it and letting out a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Of course, it was September and the windows of the automotive shop class were all wide open and yes, they all heard me! I heard laughter and then the teacher hollered, “Need some help miss?”  He and the students got in the trunk, while I went in and met with the counselor and the students.  I never knew how and I didn’t ask, but that was always one of my best schools!

How about this one?  A huge spring snow storm shut down schools all over Fort Wayne Indiana, BUT the mall was open and I had that land yacht of an Oldsmobile, so another rep and I went - you got it - shopping!!  What else do you do if you are stranded?

My favorite story is of the rep, and good friend, who shared my last name.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of times hotel clerks would assume we were husband and wife based on the names on the reservations.  When one or the other would check in they would ask if we wanted one room or two.  Sometimes we would have fun with them if we arrived at the same time and pretend to argue and then say “We’ll just keep the two rooms”.  You have to do something for entertainment on the road, right? 

I think the theme that ties all this reminiscing together is a network of amazing colleagues that take care of each other and that hasn’t changed in 30+ years or over 900 miles.  Your office colleagues are there for you, of course, but once you hit that first road trip you feel isolated and on your own.  BUT you aren’t!  The men and women of admission, both then and now, have an amazing relationship that defies logic if you really think about it.  We are, after all, in competition.  But, unlike the Glengarry Glen Ross world of sales, we take care of each other.  I went through a divorce, remarried and had a baby, all while a road warrior and those other admission folks were my rocks and my salvation.  They took me to dinner, carried my briefcase, covered the table while I had a good cry (or had to the use the restroom for the 100th time!) and made life on the road bearable.  I wouldn’t trade my road years for anything and have often thought it would be fun to go back to that life... then I wake up!