If you had told me last spring that I'd be going to Carolina Cup this year, I'd have thought it was some lame April Fools’ joke. As an independent junior who can count the number of college parties she’s been to on one hand, I can confidently say that this glamorized darty isn't my usual scene. But when my boyfriend asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to go, I hesitantly agreed. While I had judged the bougie-ness and drunken revelry through acquaintance Facebook friends over the past few years, how could I know it wouldn't be fun if I never attended?
As this year was the last year for hordes of college kids to take over the South Carolina race course's College Park before its closure, this weekend was my last chance to find out the answers to my questions. Here's what the experience was really like:
My alarm goes off, and I immediately regret my life decisions. I often go to bed at this time after a long night of studying, but I've never woken up before four in the morning. I stumble groggily into the bathroom and struggle to draw winged eyeliner onto my mostly closed eyes.
Once I have on a full face of makeup—I have to look put together in the photos, of course—I slip into my dress and shoes in the darkness of my room, trying not to wake up my roommate. Does my hat actually match my shoes? Will my dress work, even though it’s not Lilly Pulitzer? Unclear. But there's nothing I can do about it at this point.
We're waiting for the buses to pull up to the Chapel, and I'm starving and freezing my butt off. I'm losing morale by the second, but I notice the bright, almost-full moon over West Union. Never awake and out around campus this early, it's something I haven't seen before; I take it as I sign I shouldn't give up hope yet. I try to fall asleep as soon as we climb onto the bus 10 minutes later.
I wake up as the bus starts blasting music; the party has started. Even though I thought I’d be cranky at this point, it's a fun atmosphere. I find myself even jamming along with some of the country songs — a genre I swore I’d hate forever.
As we pass cute small towns and cows grazing in fields, I find myself feeling the emotion I least expected to feel during this whole experience: peacefulness. It’s nice to be away from the stresses of campus for a while, and having never been to South Carolina before, it's interesting to watch the scenery go by.
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We've been at the racetrack for a while now, and the College Park is in full swing. It's a sea of pastel as far as the eye can see — like the dudes all got together and collectively bought the inventory of a Vineyard Vines store. There's more beer than I've seen in one place in my entire life … and this is coming from someone who studied abroad in Germany last semester. While the atmosphere is chaotic, it doesn't seem particularly unruly.
A group of students line up along the chain fence surrounding the track to watch the horses go by. We're on the exact opposite end to the starting and finish line, so I never find out which horses won any of the races. It's nice to watch them anyways, though; it's a different form of entertainment we don't otherwise get to experience as college students.
A dude interrupts a conversation I'm having to tell me he likes how I look in my dress. Thanks, friend, but did I ask you?
As we board the bus, I think about how quickly the day flew by, and how many people I met that I wouldn't ever have known otherwise. I pass out into an ugly sleep as soon as I reach my seat, and my boyfriend takes an embarrassing picture of me napping with my mouth open.
I wake up from my dead sleep, only to fall in and out of sleep for the rest of the ride. Considering I got three hours of sleep the night before and I was on my feet all day, I cut myself a break for sleeping for hours before dinnertime.
We finally arrive back on campus, and our starving selves make our way down to Pitchforks. Grilled cheese never tasted so good.