Early March, 2011. I’m a college junior in the midst of spring semester at Stockton College in southern New Jersey. My girlfriend’s birthday is coming up very soon, and I’ve finally decided on a good present: Rock Band 3, bundled with the brand-new keyboard controller. It’ll be perfect! But getting it doesn’t promise to be easy.
Admittedly, though, I kind of shot myself in the foot where that was concerned. Because I decided on it once and for all as her gift so close to the day, any kind of online ordering was no longer feasible. Thus, after strapping myself for options, there was only one real way that Rock Band 3 would be there on time, guaranteed.
I would have to pick it up myself from a store nearby. Which meant I would need to drive there, and then drive back to school.
And that was an absolutely terrifying prospect. One of the biggest differences between the 20-year-old undergraduate student Justin of 2011 and the 27-year-old employed adult Justin of today? Young(er) Justin had laughably little driving experience up to that point—he had only finally gotten his license a year earlier at that—and utterly hated what little he had done, thanks to always getting a heinous case of the nerves anytime he got behind the wheel. Even just recollecting how it felt while writing this very paragraph is giving me anxiety, for God’s sake!
But when there are neat things that you want to do that can only truly be done when you have a vehicle of your own to drive, you suck it up and try to deal. Right away, though, I ran into a hurdle: I didn’t own a car, Thankfully, my family lived about an easy fifteen minutes away from school, and they had a second vehicle, their midnight blue Dodge Caravan, which they were willing to let me borrow. First obstacle clear!
However, that came with a huge obstacle in the way: In order for me to have the minivan for myself, I needed to drive it from home to Stockton completely on my own. This was a bitter pill for Justin-who-hated-driving to swallow, and to make things even worse, the way to school involved a few miles on the 65 MPH speed limit Garden State Parkway. But hey, at least school would be right off of Exit 44!
So during the evening (because it wasn’t hard enough on myself already) after paying my family a visit, I embarked on my drive. Right away, while I was still in town, I promptly got pulled the fuck over. Why? Because I was driving so slowly and not keeping straight enough, the cop thought I might have been drunk. I then explained that no, I’m just a very new driver, and I’ve got nerves like a common Mrs. Bennet. Thankfully, he understood well enough; I got off with a written warning.
I made it all the way back to Stockton somehow afterwards. So that was one major task done!
Why the hell would I put myself through all of this bullshit in the first place, anyway? Well, in the simplest terms, when it comes to Sandra and I, stretching back to the very first moments of our friendship, Rock Band has been unquestionably, and profoundly, OUR game.
We first met because of a mutual love of the first Rock Band. She was then my conduit to our eventual circle of friends—first Katie W. and Jamie, then Danielle, then Jimmy, then Katie L., and so on and so forth—and during freshman year, a bunch of us would frequently pack into my single-person dorm room to do some full-band Rock Band on my PS2.
And that took some real dedication in hindsight! A single-person dorm was basically a hallway with a bed and a fat CRT television mounted on the dresser. There was so little space, everyone else was literally an arm’s length from the TV, assuming they didn’t just stand on the bed instead. I’m pretty sure the drummer actually had to straight-up use the bed as their seat. But we made it work, goddamnit, and through our perseverance had endless good times.
Cut to sophomore year and beyond, and Katies W. and L., Jamie, and Sandra got a proper campus apartment together, with proper living room and everything. Using Sandra’s Xbox 360 copy of Rock Band (joined shortly by Rock Band 2) and her TV, we had a far more ideal spot for our sessions where the joyous times could continue. Many of them accompanied by food from the hybrid Lakeside Lounge convenience store/Papa John’s a short walk from their place.
My closest compadre on the plastic instruments, however, was always Sandra. We had that White Stripes dynamic going on—no “The” involved—where she was White Stripe-chan and I was Red Stripe-kun. On one fateful day of the weekend, we did an endless blitz through the entire Rock Band 2 songlist without pausing for the sole purpose of getting her the Bladder of Steel achievement. It took the whole afternoon and much of the evening. We made it; the achievement was hers.
All of us have some real history with this game series. It was inevitable that we would eventually have Rock Band 3 within our ranks. It was just a matter of when...and how. Even putting my sanity on the line was totally within the realm of possibility.
The next obstacle was getting the keyboard bundle itself. My plan was to get it from a GameStop about ten to fifteen minutes away. Which would involve driving to said GameStop, then driving back with the goods. Not only would I have to drive, which I hated, but it was in service of a trip that I had never taken before.
This really warrants some more year-2011 context. Today, if I’m set to drive anywhere new or even just unfamiliar enough to make me uncomfortable, I have an easy solution for that. Pull up Google Maps on my phone, plop in the location, and have that serve as my guide! Back then, however, I had this super early and super slow HTC Android phone with a little trackball on it, in the olden era while Android was new and not good.
Phone GPS, in other words, was not an option. I don’t think I even thought of it as a potential course of action!
So this is what I actually did instead. I went onto MapQuest—fucking MapQuest—and printed out directions to and from the store. They were my sole guide as I took the lonesome journey in pursuit of plastic instrument and video game. The saving grace was that at least most of the trip was a single straight shot down Wrangleboro Road.
I’m not entirely sure how, but I definitely must not have gotten (completely) lost either which way, because Rock Band 3 was successfully acquired. I got to then give it to Sandra as her birthday present later that week.
And so another plethora of songs—“Space Oddity”, “Combat Baby”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, etc.—was added to the White Stripes and Stockton crew repertoire. Well worth the mind-melting vehicular struggle!