I surveyed the parking lot. I wandered through the layers of questions my mind had created as I sat patiently for my new friend to arrive. I wondered what type of car this Duke bound student would be driving? Would she be talkative over the course of our two hour excursion? Would I find a location that she'd like? Would I find a location that I'd like? Had I put on deodorant? I wondered if she was waiting at a different Best Buy parking lot, having similar contemplations. Moments pass and she arrived. She stepped out of an elongated Cadillac and we exchanged greetings. Holy crap she's tall. Is this Yao Ming's sister? She threw her belongings in my car and she and her friend jumped in.
I appreciate long car rides, especially when I'm accompanied by those I know little about. It allows me to ask an array of questions --the less attention on me the better. I relish in knowing what young people are thinking about, what they think their future looks like, and what they hope to do in this life. It's a reminder to me of the amazing gift of free agency that we all have. Phoenica, who put up with a few hours of name mispronunciation, was a joy to spend an afternoon with. She is wicked intelligent -- #2 GPA in her graduating class, she is a musical maverick who learns to play new musical instruments whenever she desires -- when we had spoke she had just picked up the guitar and ukelele, and she's equipped with athletic prowess. I imagine her 6 foot frame was quite the inside presence on the basketball court when she played for three years at Ironwood High School. Underneath the surface achievements I got to know the weirder, more candid, comical side of Miss Zhang. Laugh out loud moments were had when she whipped up one of her bizarre "scary faces". I know the right environment is being created when an 18 year old is willingly embarrassing herself in front of me. I appreciate the shameless conduct, because usually it's I who is dabbling in such behavior, just to muster a pair of genuine laughs. It also helps to shatter the barrier that separates stranger and friend. Consider those boundaries crossed. This is Phoenica Zhang, and she's been liberated.