Annual Boys’ Weekend Fosters Deep Connections in an Otherwise Superficial World

We moved away from the Bay Area a few years after college to build a life in a more affordable part of the country. We love living in Phoenix and have no regrets about moving to a new city — my wife and I have indeed built a great life in the desert over the past 25 years. Phoenix is home.

At the time, we didn’t really think much about what we’d be leaving behind in the Bay Area. But now, in hindsight, it’s clear that the thing we’ve missed the most has been the ability to cultivate deep friendships with the people we were close to when we were young. Facebook has been a saving grace, but let’s face it, trading witty comments on a timeline is not the same as going out to dinner or grabbing a drink after work.

Sure, we’ve flown back a few times and seen friends. We’ve been to a few weddings and a high school reunion. There are phone calls on birthdays. Greeting cards at Christmas. Pictures of the kids posted online. Superficial stuff. As I’ve gotten older, this lack of quality time with people I love has become a sore spot for me. Some of this emptiness can be chalked up to nostalgia and the longing for youth that comes with age. But some of it is pure regret that distance has gotten in the way of closeness.

One of my favorite films from the 80s was The Big Chill, in which a group of college friends comes together for the funeral of one of the old gang. Over the weekend they reconnect, reminisce and even bring up old grievances. The cast of the film seemed so old to me at the time. Kevin Kline and Glenn Close were both 36 when they made The Big Chill. I’m 52! Still, you could feel the love these friends had for each other even though their lives took them in different directions. The college connection is really strong. I feel that way about many of my college friends, but I certainly don’t want to wait for a funeral to reconnect.

One great way to cultivate deep connections with far-flung old friends is to meet somewhere fun for a weekend escape. A few years ago some of my friends and I started doing this, and I just returned from the most recent boys’ weekend feeling tired but fulfilled.

The gang from The Big Chill bonded over a Michigan football game, but unfortunately, I didn’t go to a school with a big-time college football program. In fact, we pretty much suck. Over the past five seasons, not counting the 2018 season, the San Jose State University football team is a combined 21–41. This year, as of Nov. 8, we are 1–8. But football, love it as we do, is really just an excuse to get the gang together to eat, drink, and make new memories. So despite constantly sitting at or near the cellar of the Mountain West Conference, we’ve been meeting for a road game, donning our Spartan gear, and cheering our team toward…victory? Well, okay, covering the spread!

This year we decided to meet in Laramie, Wyoming to watch SJSU take on the Wyoming Cowboys. I’m not sure why we chose to go to Wyoming in November (thanks Kano), but how cold could it be really? The answer is very fucking cold. This desert dweller was not prepared for game-time temperatures in the low 30s, intermingled with periods of sleet and snow. My new puffy jacket from Uniqlo helped, but even with three layers under it, I was still shivering at times. I wore my San Jose State cap over my beanie, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and kept my hands in my pockets where I held tight to a pair of Hothands hand warmers. Unfortunately, I had to take my hands out of my pockets every time I wanted to take a sip of my beer! Laramie, at 7,220 feet of elevation, was my own personal big chill.

From left: Larry, me, Zac, Mike, Gregg, and Chuck braving the sleet and snow to watch our beloved San Jose State Spartans play the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie, Wyo. on Nov. 3, 2018.

But as I said, football is really just an excuse to get together. If we cared about winning, we might have given up after last year’s trip to Austin, Texas when we lost to the University of Texas by a score of 56–0. Or the previous year when we met in Boise, Idaho and watched as our Spartans lost 45–31 to Boise State. No, football is secondary on these trips.

Zac was my best man when I got married and I’ve known him since high school. He still lives in the Bay Area, out in Pleasant Hill. Gregg is a long-time friend of Zac’s who I met at San Jose State. He lives in Boise. Mike is a fraternity brother who I first met in the dorms and who I once took a summer trip with to try to see a game at every major league baseball stadium (we didn’t quite make it but we had a hell of a time). He lives in Spearfish, South Dakota now. Larry and I were roommates for a time after college and we worked together at a Sunnyvale-based defense contractor. He still lives in San Jose. Chuck is a friend of Zac’s who I didn’t meet until our first Spartan roadie in Boise and who despite not having gone to San Jose State has joined us for the past three trips. An honorary Spartan, he lives in Bend, Oregon.

I’ve seen Zac and Gregg a few times here and there over the years, but these football trips have increased the frequency of our face-to-face connections. Mike joined us in Austin last year, but before that, I hadn’t seen him since the early 90s. Larry I definitely hadn’t seen since the early 90s.

It was great catching up with Larry after all these years. He owns a landscaping business these days. I had forgotten how much time we’d spent together back in the day, whether at work or at a Sharks game when we shared season tickets. I attended his wedding and we shared a love for baseball. His kids, whom I’ve never met, are both in college now.

Mike is a middle-school teacher and I remember his Christmas-themed wedding to Michelle as if it were yesterday. Mike wrote on Facebook after we returned from Laramie that he was impressed by how successful we’d all become, but he’s the one who deserves the accolades. He is giving back to his community, has been married to a wonderful and successful woman for more than two decades, and together they have raised a severely autistic son. That is the definition of success.

We had a great time in Laramie. We hit more than a few bars, drank more than our share of adult beverages, and made some great memories. At one bar, late on the night before the game, we met San Jose State’s athletic director, Marie Tuite. One of the only female ADs in the country, she walked up to us in the bar thinking we were locals and asked us if we wouldn’t mind rooting for the Spartans at the game the next day. Zac opened his jacket to expose his SJSU sweatshirt and before long she was high fiving us and introducing us to her team. She couldn’t believe we’d made the trip to Laramie and she promised us she’d buy the game tickets if we made a trip to a road game next year.

We spent maybe 48 hours together over the weekend and it was as if no time had passed since college. The bonds we’d made more than 30 years ago have remained strong despite the distance between us all. We talked about sports. We talked about the good old days. We talked about common friends. We also caught up. We talked about our jobs. We talked about our families. We talked about the stock market and real estate investing (thanks Chuck). We talked about retirement plans. And of course, we talked about next year’s road trip and hoped more old friends would make the trip.

If you’ve never done a boys’ or girls’ weekend with your college friends I can’t recommend it enough. It’s easy to let the years slip by, but getting together even for just a weekend brings you closer. You don’t have to plan yours around football — maybe you’d rather do a golf weekend, or a fishing trip or a couples retreat to wine country. The activity is really secondary to the experience of reconnecting with old friends.

Zac, Gregg, Mike, Larry, and Chuck — see you next September in Fayetteville, Arkansas! I’m already looking forward to it.

Oh yeah, San Jose State lost to Wyoming 24–9. It was closer than the score suggests, but a loss nonetheless. We stuck it out for four quarters, which is more than I can say for tons of Cowboys fans who left early to escape the cold!

Sporting our Spartan colors at breakfast before the game at J’s Prairie Rose, the most popular joint in Laramie.