Remembering a Cross-Country Journey to Law School

Dear Faye, We just arrived in Iowa City and wanted to give you an update. • So began the summer of 1997 e-mail correspondence to Faye Deal, associate dean of admissions and financial aid, from four newly admitted members of the class of 2000 on a cross-country journey to Stanford Law School. They were four strangers with the same mission: to move themselves and their belongings to school. Packed tightly into a Jeep Cherokee and a 24-foot diesel truck, they took a chance and shared the ride.• It has been 10 years since their trip and time has marched on for the group. Brian Johnson now directs the California Water Project for Trout Unlimited; Mel Schwing is an attorney at O’Melveny & Myers LLP; Mike Strauss is an attorney with the International Monetary Fund; and Lisa Horwitz is a litigator with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Today they remember the trip fondly, agreeing that it was not only a great way to make friends before the start of studies but also a foreshadowing of the close-knit community that awaited them at Stanford. • It was a technological chance encounter that started it all. E-mail was still a new communications tool in 1997 and through a series of mishaps newly admitted students were given each other’s e-mail addresses. Conversations ensued and the road trip group was formed. • “Mel, Brian, and I met once before the trip. We had been e-mailing about arrangements. I was going to D.C. anyway and they lived there, so we met. My goal was to make sure they weren’t serial killers,” recalls Lisa.

Day 1: Our troubles began when Brian arrived to pick up the truck from Ryder. They did not have the truck we reserved and we were forced to accept a larger truck (about 16 square feet larger). So now we’re driving around in a 24-foot monster truck.

While friendships formed on the trip, not all the members of the group were an obvious match. “I was more conservative then, and Brian was liberal. And I wasn’t cool, he was. But I remember him saying, ‘This is great because I would not have been friends with you were it not for this trip,’” recalls Mel.

“There wasn’t a whole lot to do driving through Nebraska other than talk,” muses Lisa, who remembers that the house Brian and Mike shared at Stanford Law became a frequent meeting place during school.

Day 2: The plan seemed to be working. Brian was driving; Lisa was resting; and I (Mel) was chattering nonstop (or so I was told) to keep Brian awake. However, suddenly we ran into SEVERE fog just beyond Cleveland. We couldn’t see the sides of the road and drove one reflector at a time.

They drove all day, often into the night as they sped through the middle of the country on their westward trek. They ate at Denny’s, filled up on coffee, and played road games to pass the time.

Days 3 & 4: List of things we have seen: fog, construction workers (Is there any road not being fixed??), a billboard saying, “Are you the father? Dial 1-800-DNA-TEST to find out.”

They took time to do some sightseeing too. All agree that Utah had some of the most beautiful scenery.

Day 5: Arrived in Utah. Bought burgers, brats, and assorted beverages and headed to one of the most spectacular sites on the planet: Arches National Park. Grooved to the sunset, cooked out, and contemplated the meaning of life under the grand backdrop of the Milky Way. It was way Shirley MacLaine.

“We piled into my Jeep and went offroading in Arches National Park. It really was spectacular. And we finally agreed to listen to one of Mel’s music picks, the score from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was the perfect piece to go with the scenery,” recalls Mike. “Seeing how perfect a choice that was, we gave Mel carte blanche to choose the next part of our desert journey soundtrack, but he quickly lost all privileges when he whipped out the theme from Ice Castles.”

Day 6: Alas, all was not perfect. We soon discovered that Utah is as lousy for late-night fun as it is wonderful in the great outdoors. The bar kicked us out before midnight and the hot tub was closed when we returned to our hotel.

They headed to Vegas for some fun. But Mel, the group’s self-proclaimed worst driver, was at the wheel.

“There I am,” says Mel, “driving down the strip in a 24-foot monster truck. And we didn’t have a reservation, so we decided to check out Caesars Palace and then I drive up and hit one of the urns at the front of the hotel.”

Day 7: There was no time to waste. Made the exit ramp on two wheels, stopped by the Church of Elvis (Get your drive-through weddings here!) and made a triumphant victory lap around the parking lot and sidewalks at Caesars Palace. . . . We put on the parking brake, gave Sheryl Crow a kiss, Frank Sinatra a high five, his “escort” a tip, and Siegfried (or was that Roy?) a fat lip. It was time to gamble.

After Vegas, it was Stanford or bust. But first, the gang decided to take the truck for a spin up Highway 1.

“We should not have been driving a truck up Highway 1. You had to know not to ride the brakes—we did not let Mel drive—but it was amazing,” recalls Lisa.

They ended the journey with a celebratory ride up Palm Drive eight days after setting out for Stanford Law School; they were a bit weary but thankful for the adventure.

Day 8: Finally the arrival—After narrowly escaping the gypsy moth inspector at the state line, we nomads toasted our new state with a rousing rendition of “Hotel California.” A few near death experiences later, Victory!!! Date: August 31. Time: 6:30 p.m. Place: Outside the Office of Admissions at Stanford Law School. We weary wanderers see ourselves celebrated on our fearless leader’s bulletin board, and we smile, and laugh, and completely lose it. No word yet on whether we’ve recovered our sanity. Over and out, Lisa, Brian, Mel, & Mike.

Ten-four, good buddies! SL