Neither Greg nor I had decided to drive to our respective homelands over Memorial Day weekend 1999. We weren't invited to any Pittsburgh parties, and we weren't going to host our own. So we painted our cars. We'd already discussed our racing stripe fantasies: he wanted one thin and one thicker yellow stripe down the passenger side of his 1986 red and black-primered Mustang; I wanted a fat blue stripe framed by two thin ones smack down the middle of the Volvo.

On Friday, we went out to purchase the paint and masking tape. After hitting the local Walmart and a few hardware stores, we finally found the thin (eighth-inch across) tape we required for the spaces between the stripes at an art supply store.

The next morning, I smeared sunscreen over all my exposed skin before we went to work. The lot behind our building, usually overcrowded with our fellow students' cars, was nearly empty because of the holiday. We set up the materials: newspaper, paint, tape, and thermoses filled with summery mixed drinks.

Greg removed the unsightly bike rack from the Volvo's roof. Then we wiped acetone over all to-be-painted surfaces to clean them.

We did our hoods first and worked our way back over our vehicles. (I just wanted to say 'vehicles.') We drew lines, laid down the skinny tape where we wanted spaces between stripes, used newspaper to cover all the parts we didn't want painted, and started spraying. That takes longer than I made it sound. Keeping the tape straight was the most difficult part of striping. For the Volvo's roof, I tried to measure and calculate, but in the end, Greg stood at one end of the roof, I sat on my hood, and we moved the roll of skinny tape up and down until it appeared to travel across the expanse of my roof without curving.

next: a sense of mission