Last week I took our eldest child to college in Iowa from Raleigh.
Our wonderful son, Will, is a brilliant pianist, a math brain, and a computer programing wizard. It’s a great combination of gifts, all of which he has worked hard to nurture in the direction of excellence. Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, my wife’s alma mater, early on recognized his unique bundle of talent and courted him with a fervor.
The college had to work hard to even get his attention. Raleigh, North Carolina is a long way from Decorah, Iowa, and even though Luther is known for strong music, math, and computer science/data science courses of study, it’s still a small liberal arts school in relatively remote northeastern Iowa. Will looked at a lot of colleges and universities, all much bigger and more prestigious than Luther.
Luther lassoed Will into a recruiting weekend (at their expense) to campus in November last year, and he liked what he found: a great music school that promised to perfect his piano talent, a personalized approach to learning computer science, and a friendly environment all round. Still, he wasn’t convinced.
Then Luther offered him the school’s top piano scholarship and the top academic scholarship, together worth $30,000 per year, edging him closer to acceptance. After a miserable experience in his high schools International Baccalaureate program, twinned with the realization that no big university would give him the opportunity to include a music major with his computer science studies, Will opted for Luther, where the parallel study of music and computer science was possible.
The decision brought with it certain logistical challenges. Driving to Decorah, Iowa from Raleigh is a two-day affair, and the timing of moving our son there coincided with our daughter starting 9th grade. That negated a family road trip. My wife and I agreed that I would accompany Will to college and assist with his move-in while she took care of getting our daughter off to high school.
After searching all the airports with commercial service surrounding Decorah, large and small, flying Raleigh to Minneapolis proved to be the best bet. Airports nearest Decorah, IA are:
58 miles: La Crosse, WI (LSE) La Crosse Municipal Airport
70 miles: Rochester, MN (RST) Rochester International Airport
84 miles: Waterloo, IA (ALO) Waterloo Regional Airport
115 miles: Cedar Rapids, IA (CID) The Eastern Iowa Airport
115 miles: Dubuque, IA (DBQ) Dubuque Regional Airport
150 miles: Minneapolis, MN (MSP) Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
MSP is the biggest airport by far near Decorah (about 2.25 hours by car) and the least expensive combination of airfare and car rental cost, not to mention convenience (direct flights rather than connecting flights).
Delta has the only nonstops, and the fares on other carriers were not significantly cheaper, so I bought tickets for my son and me RDU/MSP. Happily, I was able to use two of my remaining Delta Platinum upgrades to get us into First Class. I wanted my son to have a first class experience going off to college.
Because we were not driving up to deliver the usual vanload of furniture, linens, and clothes to his dorm room, I ordered linens from a college supplier approved by Luther, and that big box of sheets and towels included a small lamp and clip-on fan for his use. Those were delivered straight to his dormitory room by the college, thanks to a service provided by Luther.
We researched the closest Target Store to the MSP Airport going in a southerly direction (that is, going toward Decorah) where we could stop to buy such dorm room essentials as a small fridge, waste can, and oscillating fan. I reserved a Nissan Pathfinder from Hertz to have a vehicle large enough to transport all the Target items we intended to buy, along with his several suitcases and duffles of clothes, computer, toiletries, music books, programming language manuals, school supplies, and miscellany which we would get from Raleigh to Minneapolis via checked luggage on Delta.
To my surprise, we were able to get everything our son wanted and needed (save the Target stuff) into two large and two carry-on bags, plus a backpack for his computer and other valuables. It’s been many years since I checked luggage on an airline, and I was pleased to see how smoothly it went. My Lifetime Platinum status on Delta merited special elite tags, and it was a snap to leave them with the fellows outside the terminal at RDU. (At the other end of our journey, however, those tags seemed only to assure that our bags would come off last on the belt.)
Since I am compulsive about arriving to airports early, Will and I had loads of time to lounge in the Delta Sky Club (I still want to type Crown Room) at RDU before our flight. It was an emotional time for me and would only get more so as the next few days wore on. I tried to read the papers, but I was too anxious to absorb the print. My son, though, appeared cool and tranquil to be embarking upon one of the greatest adventures of his young life.
The flight to the Twin Cities was on time, with a good breakfast up front even on the dinky little CRJ. First Class seats are three across in the usual 1-2 configuration, and surprisingly comfortable, especially compared to the very cramped economy seats. We landed a few minutes early and were soon headed for Hertz after waiting for the checked bags.
I love Hertz’s email that comes the day of pickup providing the space number in the Gold Canopy. We walked straight to the car and took off, checking only that I had just 5/8 in the gas tank. Hertz said they didn’t have time to refill all the cars that morning.
Our planned stop at Target yielded the items we targeted (no pun intended), and we stuffed the big mini-fridge box into the back of the Pathfinder in misting Minnesota rain. Afterwards, we stopped at one of Will’s favorite fast food joints, Raising Cane, to get our fill of their delicious fat and juicy chicken fingers drenched in their famous “Cane’s Sauce.”
All the distractions since we landed kept my heavy heart at bay. So did driving in the rain for over two hours south to Decorah from Minneapolis. Both of us were impressed with the Pathfinder. It handled beautifully, responding with a sure feel and with automatic switching to 4WD as driving conditions warranted. I was to discover that it merely sipped fuel, too, getting about 31 MPG on the trip. It made me want to buy one.
Arriving to Luther College in Decorah mid-afternoon gave us plenty of time to hit the marks of our scheduled appointments with Residence Life (to get a photo ID made and to acquire the dorm room key) and to meet with the head of the Music Department for a tour of the Music Building and piano practice rooms. By 5:00 PM Will was moved into his dorm room and mostly set up.
That night I checked into one of the 34 rooms of the restored 19th century Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah. Just a mile or two from Luther College, the grand old lady has been updated without losing her charm. The property boasts pretty swift wifi and is the only full-service hotel in the surrounding area. My son and I dined next door at the oldest and most storied pizza joint in town, Mabe’s. The pies were delicious, if too big for one meal, and the local lager was excellent .
Driving out of town to return to Minneapolis to catch my flight back to Raleigh, I mused that our son is on a fine heading for his future happiness and for a fulfilling life. We couldn’t be more pleased for him. Will is the smartest guy I know, capable of doing anything he wants. Luther College is going to offer him life and learning experiences he never imagined in computer science/data science, music, and math. He is brilliant and can do anything he decides to do. We are so very happy for him and so very proud of him. But I cried like a baby as I drove away.