For a large guy, Jake Schultz drives a tiny car.
His head barely brushes up against the roof of his dark blue van. He nods to the music I’m playing: “When You Were Young” by The Killers.
“Do you know this one?” I ask.
He glances over at me, flashing an apologetic smile. Yet another alternative rock song he doesn’t know. I sigh.
We drive on, only 20 minutes into a two-hour ride to Westerville, Ohio, in the north suburbs of Columbus.
All for a damn fish tank.
When Jake asked me to tag along, I unassumingly said yes, eager for what I presumed to be a short road trip — not being from Ohio, my geography skills are null. When I found out Westerville is practically a world away, I gave Jake the evil eye.
But we went. Because Jake loves his damn fish, and good friends don’t let other friends pick up fish tanks from strangers on Reddit alone.
A sophomore biology pre-med major, Jake is studious and average. He’s attractive, kind — maybe too kind — and naive. He plays broomball and volleyball. He’s an RA. He’s just like any other student on campus.
Except his room is SeaWorld.
A subterranean utopia, Jake’s room is home to three fish tanks and one large fish poster.
Fish tank No. 1 dominates the space on his desk and is held up by two books.
Fish tank No. 2 is currently leaking and will be offline for the remaining of the semester.
Fish tank No. 3 is the “Fish tank de Reddit,” home to one fishy friend.
Dozens of plastic water gallons litter the room and large buckets filled with Lord-knows-what are strewn about, along with pieces of homework, dirty dishes and socks.
But his fish tanks are pristine, fluorescent lights making each spectacle an underwater wonderland.
“This is a branching frogspawn. It lights up at night and retreats during the day,” Jake says. “And this one here is a neon green toadstool …”
He drones on and on about his coral reef, not realizing how boring this all sounds to the average plebeian. His eyes light up, a brighter blue than the water reflected in his tank.
He tells tales of that one time the power went out in his room and he hand-circulated his tank for almost four hours straight, how he came to love his fish — a reminder of home — and how he’s at peace when he’s taking care of his tank. His fish are one of the three most important things in his life
“Fish, the pursuit of scientific inquiry and my friends,” Jake says with a wiry smile.