Henry Gargan is the Opinion Editor. He is a senior journalism and global studies major from Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill can be a lonely place in the summer. I know this. I’ve spent 21 of them here. As a college student longing for the hustle and bustle of campus and nostalgic for his high school friends who return home in decreasing numbers with each passing summer, it would be easy to despair during these long, hot, quiet months.
But four summers ago, an amazing thing happened that gave me hope — hope that summer in Chapel Hill wouldn’t be as bad as all that. And it hasn’t been.
It was the June before I was set to start at UNC, and my high school friends and I, enjoying our lives’ final period of uninhibited irresponsibility, made plans to get together and throw around a Frisbee. We did this pretty much every day.
And as we always did, we headed to a nearby field that’s precise location will go unsaid for reasons that will soon become apparent. Something was different that day, though. From afar, we saw two brightly colored, shapeless blobs lying near the center of the field.
Up close, we saw what we were dealing with: two deflated bouncy houses, a generator and five gallons of gasoline.
We looked at the assembled items and around at the rest of the field. It was deserted and silent but for the hum of a nearby building’s air conditioning unit. We looked back at the bouncy houses.
Finally, one of us got up the courage to fill up the generator and start it up. It might have been me, but I’m not sure if grand theft bouncy house has a statute of limitations, so let’s assume it wasn’t. The inflatables — one, a traditional moonbounce; the other, a Twister mat — roared to life, and we were in business.
For nearly two hours, the four of us lived out an 8-year-old’s dream birthday party: Two bouncy houses to ourselves in the middle of a field and no lines, no parents, no screaming toddlers to worry about accidentally kicking in the face. We dove after frisbees onto the springy Twister mat and did flips inside the castle.
But like all inexplicable good fortune, this too came to an end. We looked up and saw a van approaching from the distance — all we could make out were the words “party supply,” but we knew the jig was up.
In full view of the van’s driver, we put our shoes back on and walked away, the generator still roaring and the castle rippling slightly in the wind. We were action heroes walking away from an explosion. We didn’t look back.
We have our theories about what those bouncy houses were doing in that field, but it doesn’t matter, at least to me. I like to think they served the grander purpose of teaching me that nowhere, even after a childhood’s worth of summers, will run out of ways to surprise you.
If you find yourself in a rut this summer, just keep doing the things you love, and savor the routine of it all. Maybe you’ll be rewarded with a pair of bouncy houses yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised.