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Last week, seniors found themselves in a temporal void, having completed their exams but left with a number of days before senior week activities got underway. Some of them worked to earn a few extra dollars, many chose to relax in the houses for one last week and make an occasional swing into Boston, while others took the opportunity to leave Cambridge for a while to visit places they didn't have a chance to see during their busy Harvard careers. A handful of seniors, who chose the travel option, split up into two cars that were slated to slither down the East coast to bask in Florida's beautiful weather. But, after both cars took a wrong turn that landed them in Philadelphia, only one kept its original agenda. Each trek turned out to be far from routine.
The journey southward took its participants on an adventure that will be forever remembered as the QUEST.
"We went on a quest to find our long-lost roommate--he's a fugitive," says Nikos Buxeda '91.
Buxeda, his roommate Evan B. Dobbins '91 and fellow North House resident David D. Berger '91 decided it was time to locate Buxeda and Dobbins's roommate from their junior year.
Their buddy, whom Buxeda wished not to name, had been asked to take this year off from school--then camped out in their suite for a couple of months last fall before his van mysteriously blew up outside Cabot House.
Shortly thereafter, Buxeda's friend embarked on a one-way voyage to Florida, leaving his hosts a list of phone numbers and addresses where he might be found--as well as most of his belongings.
"We just stored his stuff in the North House basement, Buxeda says.
But when bills for the former roommate started piling up in Buxeda's mailbox, and all efforts to locate him through unanswered letters and disconnected phone numbers had failed, the trio of seniors couldn't help but wonder where their friend was, and why he was being hounded by numerous credit agencies.
So, during the first of the two weeks between their last-ever Harvard exams and their graduation, Buxeda and company set off for Florida on an investigative search.
And at worst, they figured, they could kick back for a few days at Buxeda's grandmother's house in Orlando, Fla.
While the two-day trek southward to the Sunshine State fostered little excitement--excluding a wrong turn that steered the automobile to Philadelphia--the journey soon produced a collection of stories that the seniors will be telling at their 25th reunion.
They were thrown their first curve as soon as they reached the grandmother's house after an all-night drive along the East coast.
"There was water coming from the roof, and it was all over the floor," says Buxeda, a resident of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who had never before set foot in Florida. "The pipe had burst, so I called my grandmother right away and she flew down that day."
But leaky pipes didn't stop the seniors from pursuing their primary mission--tracking down their former roommate. After significant sleuth-work, the trio ultimately found their man.
"We were driving all over to every address he had given us," Buxeda says. "We finally found him sitting outside a house with his mouth wide open with disbelief. He was a bit surprised to see the three of us walking up."
Buxeda says he enjoyed visiting his "fugitive" friend, but wishes he had been able to uncover his plans for the near future.
"He said he wants to come back to Harvard in the fall and finish up here, but he hasn't contacted anyone about returning," Buxeda says. "I think he said he doesn't have the money to come back right now."
With their mission accomplished, Buxeda and his two friends--tired of grandmother's house after a few days--decided to swing westward to New Orleans. Or, as they might call it, "Alligator Land."
"We ate a lot of alligator food, which I had never tasted before--even 'gator' burgers," Buxeda says. "It's pretty good--something like a cross between pork and chicken."
But while the trio was having fun tasting new foods and relaxing with some drinks at the well-known bar Pat O'Brien's, someone was making sure that their drive home wouldn't be so cheery.
"We got to our car ready to head back on a 30-hour drive to Boston--only to find that someone had smashed in one of the windows and stolen a few things," Buxeda said. "We tried to have a new window put in before heading back, but no one could install it on such short notice. So we took our chances and started off."
And, just as it always rains when you're without an umbrella, it always rains when your car has an open window frame that can't hide from a storm.
"We had to drive through a vicious thunder storm for four straight hours," Buxeda says. "We tried to improvise but gave up after having to stop 10 times when our [plastic bag taped to the window] kept peeling off. And I was afraid that we would get struck by lightning, but all that happened was that we got extremely wet."
But now, looking back at the week-long excursion, Buxeda says he couldn't have planned a more worthwhile vacation if he tried.
"I can't think of anything better than finding my long-lost roommate," he says.
The journey that never made it to the Sunshine State did acquaint its participants quite well with QUEENS.
On the final day of exam period last month, happy-go-lucky North House resident Henry B. Wilson '91 and his girlfriend spontaneously decided to withdraw a few hundred dollars from the bank and set out on a trip to Florida.
But somewhere along the way, their journey went awry. After one wrong turn that placed them in the unfamiliar hustle-bustle of downtown New York, the couple concluded that an all-night drive in the direction of Disney World wasn't for them.
"I had fallen asleep, and when I woke up the next thing I knew Henry was driving over the Washington Bridge into New York--at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon during Memorial Day weekend," says Heather D. Hughes '93, Wilson's girlfriend, who lives in Kirkland House. "We were so lost in Queens that it cost us $10 in tolls just to get out of there."
But once they found their way out of the Big Apple, southerners Wilson and Hughes--who hail from Fort Smith, Ark. and Fort Worth, Tex., respectively--decided that they could have just as good a time exploring the Northeast as they could in the Southeast, without wasting four days of travel time.
Wilson, who recently took an art history course, opted for an intellectual experience, as he and Hughes embarked on a "museum spree."
After a day in Philadelphia, which included a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the couple departed for the nation's culturally-rich capital where they traversed the many halls of the Smithsonian.
"It was a lot of fun and an intellectual experience going to the museums in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.," Wilson says.
The same problem with the trip's first day again haunted the couple on Monday while traveling to visit a friend at the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island. For the second time in four days, they found themselves "lost in the worst part of Queens--for two hours," Hughes says.
"When we finally stopped and called our friend to come find us, even he was a bit frightened to drive out where we were because he had never been in that area," Wilson says.
Wilson and Hughes returned to Harvard on Friday after a few days of leisurely travel through Rhode Island's beaches. But the road-warriors still had one day left on their itinerary.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of their week turned out to be the only planned segment--attendance at Saturday's Commencement proceedings of the Rhode Island School of Design, where Wilson's mother was graduating.
"I'm sure my graduation on Thursday will be quite different," Wilson says. "While we'll be wearing the traditional robes here, students at that ceremony created their own decorative gowns."
Wilson says that while one of the more interesting outfits consisted of a student's parking tickets from the past four years stuck all over his body, another student's costume, or lack thereof, will stick in his mind for years to come.
"Some guy approached the stage, took off his robe and accepted his degree while he was stark naked," Wilson says. "He shook hands with the dean and walked passed Liz Claiborne and Senator [Claiborne] Pell [(D-R.I.)] without wearing anything--and no one even blinked an eyelid at the whole thing. I thought it was hilarious."
The couple says that while the week's accommodations at a number of Days Inns were more than adequate, as "it's very hard to find cheap motels when you don't plan a trip," they saved their money by dining exclusively at Taco Bells--whose Yankee "Mexican" food did the trick for the Southerners.
"How can you beat 69-cent tacos, 50-cent frozen yogurt and Diet Coke? We lived off it," Wilson says. "That way we could buy more beer or more expensive beer."
And the couple's spur-of-the-moment approach, Wilson says, didn't prevent them from enjoying their vacation--even with a few wrong turns along the way.
"It was perfect. We never would have planned something like this," Wilson says. "And, best of all, we didn't even get into any fights during all those hours on the road."
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