I still have very distinct memories of the day I got dropped off at the college. After bringing all my belongings to my dorm room, we went out to lunch before I was returned to the university’s primary entrance point and left to my own devices — to head back, on my own, to my room and the start of my new life.

Little did I know that my newly acquired keys had fallen out of my shorts pocket and remained in the car. This I discovered after wandering around campus aimlessly trying to relocate my new dorm. Needless to say, there were a few people questioning my readiness for college at that point.

I was reminded of that semi-traumatic experience this past weekend when I joined my good friend Jim — who lives in a New Jersey community just outside of New York City — and his soon-to-be-college-bound son, Tommy, for a few hours in Madison, Wis. Tommy is considering attending the University of Wisconsin this coming fall; Ohio State University, the University of Michigan and Miami of Ohio are other places he and his dad had visited or were checking out on their trip. Where he goes at this point seems to depend more on financial aid and the potential receipt of a very generous scholarship rather than where he gets accepted, though he was disappointed to learn this week that he didn’t get into Northwestern.

I left for Madison Friday morning and got there about 1:30 or so, checking into my room at the not-exactly-luxurious-but-all-I-really-need Red Roof Inn. The small lobby — simply the front desk and a couch on which to sit and watch Ricki Lake’s talk show — paled in comparison to the large open space, sliding glass doors and nearby indoor pool of Jim’s hotel directly across the parking lot, plus my key card wouldn’t work right away. But my room was much cheaper, so there.

Jim and Tommy showed up soon afterward, and it wasn’t long before we were heading into central Madison to check out the campus scene. I found it humorous that Jim continued to plug in destinations as close as three blocks away on his GPS throughout the day, but I would eventually learn the wisdom of his ways. Before long, we were sitting at an establishment called Vintage Spirits and Grill, having tasty eats and some more-than-respectable beers that I’m quite confident were brewed locally.

While eating and watching “March Madness,” we couldn’t help but people-watch a bit, and it was a semi-eclectic crowd comprised of college folk and those who, well, seemed of a slightly different ilk. The bar area was quite crowded, but given it was mid-afternoon, no one was over in a separate area of at least a dozen booths, so we sat there by ourselves for a while until a couple of attractive college-age females came in and sat in the booth directly behind us. Tommy and I couldn’t help but notice — Jim must have been absorbed in college basketball — that at one point, the young ladies’ conversation centered on one of the two’s lament of too many one-night stands. Needless to say, if Tommy ends up choosing Wisconsin, I will have to ask how much that factored into the equation.

Later, upon leaving the premises, Jim encountered a multi-tattooed woman while paying the bill. Prominent in all the ink was a rendering of John Lennon, and Jim quite innocently, I’m sure — commented that he liked it. Moments later, she was lifting her shirt to show more ink, including lyrics to a Beatles song we never got the name of. (I’m guessing it wasn’t “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”) She didn’t go beyond the realm of decency, but it was still a little more than what we bargained for after simply looking for food and basketball.

We went on to tour the campus some, including a stop at the Wisconsin School of Business, which Tommy would enroll in should be become a Badger. We saw very few people inside — it was a late Friday afternoon, after all — but we did see a woman apparently having a long conversation with her self while staring directly at a large photo display. We weren’t sure if she was practicing some sort of demonstration or what, but I couldn’t help but caution Tommy to be mindful of what could happen if he studied too much while attending the University of Wisconsin.

We also saw the house where Tommy would live in if he gets the aforementioned scholarship, and since very few people seemed to be home, we just kind of walked around. It felt odd to seemingly have this big campus residence all to ourselves. Then, after just a bit more exploring, we went back to the hotel to watch more college basketball.

We went our separate ways early Saturday morning — Jim and Tommy off to Michigan and me into the city to have a cup of coffee at the downtown Fair Trade Coffee House (after which I proceeded to get all turned around thanks to multiple one-way streets. GPS, next time, please?). Then, it was home back home to Worthington. Thankfully, I had remembered my keys to get back into the house.