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Gettin' the band back together for one more road trip

Tammy Swift, columnist.

At first blush, I was a bit suspicious of her.

She seemed so young and tan in her white summer dress, so sharp and confident, so talented with her office decorated as creatively and tastefully as you'd expect from an HGTV decorator.

We started just a week apart in the same office, where our jobs would be to promote, distribute and train people on the use of educational materials from the Public Broadcasting Service. I'd never held a job like this in my life, and I felt out of my depth as my new co-workers bandied around names of grants, mysterious acronyms and educational terms.

Shaina Winning had just a week of seniority on me, but she already seemed so comfortable with the web of programs. As a child, she'd been raised on PBS, she confessed one day. She knew every public television program — down to the deeper pedagogical purpose of each PBS kids' show. And her previous job had been in teaching, so she knew all the educational lingo, every teaching trend.

Then, despite myself, I found that I really liked her. We bonded during a work trip, in which she talked about her plans to be a school counselor and the great promise brain science held in treating children with trauma. She told me how she had become a legal guardian for a young man with special needs, and how she was prepared to take care of him for the rest of her life.

And she railed against a regional puppy-mill operator whose greedy and indiscriminate breeding of dogs resulted in them passing along a serious eye affliction. She had rescued one of those dogs from an owner who impulsively purchased it as a cute puppy, then lost interest in it. That dog, now completely blind, lived like a king in her home.

I loved her compassion for the vulnerable and bullied, coupled with her optimism and determination to make the world better. She was 20 years younger than me, but the years evaporated whenever we talked about our values, our histories and our lives.

It's a good thing, too, because we became frequent travelers together, crossing the state countless times to provide teacher trainings or to bring educational materials to kids.

In that time, we became best friends. We counseled each other through difficulties in work, school or love. We cranked up the tunes and "van-danced" to stay awake. We talked of someday filming a video of the song, "Da** It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta," with the lyrics rewritten as "Da** It Feels Good to Be a Spinster." (Most of the verses would be about cats, teacup collections and Netflix.)

I ribbed her because she tried eating "Whole 30" even when our only food options came from convenience stores that sold expired vienna sausages. She lectured me for drinking Diet Coke.

Sometimes, we bickered like sisters, although we never stayed mad for long. Together, we were a team.

But all good things eventually end. She graduated and became a school counselor. I found a job more closely related to my communications background. We vowed to stay in touch, like people always do. But, without our day-to-day contact in the same office, we rarely saw each other.

Last weekend, I was hurriedly packing to travel to my hometown for my godchild's bridal shower. As I envisioned the long, four-hour drive ahead of me, I thought of how much I missed my friend and travel partner.

Impulsively, I texted her: "I know this is the longest of long shots, but ... any chance you'll drive to Glen Ullin with me this weekend?"

Amazingly, she could. And what a weekend. We laughed, ate junk food, caught up on each other's lives and sang — loudly, and oh-so-very-badly — to everything from Salt-N-Pepa to ABBA. It was "Thelma & Louise," without the tragic ending. Lucy and Ethel, without the chocolate factory. The band was back together. And it was grand.

Turns out you CAN go home again. Especially if you have a Shaina by your side.

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