Of College, Cars, Cotton, and Construction

How does one describe something without a frame of reference? Hopefully, not badly. Last Sunday, I began my long and eventful journey as a “college student”. Now, considering that I’ve only had two full school days, and that I’ve only sat in three of my four classes, I feel I should suspend judgement of both my teachers and my ability to make friends. I will however, speak of my first few days on campus.

1. I suppose it doesn’t have much to do with college, but pursuant to my goal of living on campus I took the learner’s permit exam (really, on a whim because I wanted to know what driving felt like). I started by reading the driver’s manual “put your hands on the steering wheel at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions. Some car manufacturers recommend the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.” “Hmm. I didn’t know that. Perhaps I should take the online practice test….” Most of the questions on the practice test were repeated verbatim in the exam. There were some new ones, but everything was quite obvious. The only question I got wrong had to do with whether one should pause before turning left from a one-way street onto another one-way street. Clearly the writers of the exam have never been to Atlanta.

I received my temporary paper permit and returned home. “Oh, so now you can drive to and from Carrollton, right?” Dad responded, ever so confidentially. For those of you not familiar with the drive through Atlanta to Carrollton, where the University of West Georgia is located, the route is frequented by insane drivers speeding upwards of 75 mph, and filled with hair-pin turns, confusing exit ramps, and atrocious traffic jams. Needless to say, I was not enthusiastic. ” I thought I’d work up to that, actually.” “Nah,” my brother said helpfully, “once you’ve been on 20, you won’t be fazed by anything ever again.” Well, I had no doubts about that. It’s hard to be fazed when you’re dead.

However, despite my reluctance, when my wonderful father came to bring me back home this weekend, he tutored me in driving around parking lots (“Why are you holding the steering wheel at 4 and 8 o’clock? Put your hands up at 10 and 2.”), through abandoned back roads (“Crank the wheel. Crank it!”), and then suddenly, onto the main road.  “Cars behind me! Ahhhh!” “They can go your speed, although you really ought to pick it up to 50.” “Cars beside me, Ahhhh!” And so in turns, we drove out pick up my brother. And you know what? I still don’t know exactly how it feels to drive. No frame of reference. Yay! I received my permanent card through the mail today. Apparently the surrounding drivers weren’t the only ones aware learners permit antics. I received an ID card instead of a license. According to the DDS homepage, instructional permits  and ID cards are issued separately, possibly for the easy revocation and confiscation of permits.

2. Fortunately for me, classes didn’t even begin until Thursday. The beginning of the week was taken up with orientation and integration events designed to help the students meet people and ensure  that student organizations and off-campus businesses don’t disappear when the class of 2013 graduates. I moved in on Sunday. I explored the campus on Monday. I wandered around to see the only hand-painted replica of the Bayeux tapestry in the nation, tried to find a piano on campus, and discovered Baptist Collegiate Ministries and a piano in the same building. Woot! Wednesday was chock full phase two of orientation. One of the students who spoke at orientation kind of crystallized all the things I’d like to say to the guys who sat in front of me in classes and shopped for jeans. The president talked about the things we should do to make our transcripts pretty. A representative of the Monster job site  about the things we should do to make our job applications pretty. Then they hosted a big party with fireworks. The flaw in their plan was that although I like fireworks, I am very leery of staying out after dark on that campus. Nevertheless, aware of a bolstered police presence for the night, I ventured out for the fireworks, but mostly a free t-shirt.

3. This brings me to the third thing I noticed. Free t-shirts appeared like rabbits. “Come to this stage of orientation and get a free t-shirt!” “Come to the fireworks show and get a second free t-shirt.” I picked up four free t-shirts between Tuesday and Wednesday, and I’m promised another if I finish their student involvement catalog. Now, what the school gains from this interchange is obvious: student involvement, an opportunity to clear out left-over shirts, and free advertising. What I haven’t quite worked out is what I gain. Why do I have an irrational desire for a shirt I probably won’t wear past my college years, which I don’t need, and doesn’t really complement my coloring? Is this the result of some New England thrift gene? Why am I willing to work to get a free shirt–a paradox that contradicts the concept of the free shirt. This will remain a mystery. What do I gain? I gain a free shirt… And probably the satisfaction of some deep primal desire for a bright cotton-polyester blend.

4. Before I left for college my sister asked me about construction on campus. Her college is undergoing a massive overhaul, construction, and reconstruction, so that the shortest legal path between any two points on campus is as circuitous as the labyrinth of the minotaur. At least her college provides a map of construction projects. I said there was no construction that I knew of on my campus. The state just underwent massive budget cuts, and I did not think that the school would have any money with which to construct. I was wrong. An entire new wing of the library is under construction, and the old wing is under renovation–leading the library to invite people to write on the walls. The University Community Center is receiving a fresh coat of paint and just installed a new food court, the paths leading to the Callaway Building surround a questionable number of traffic cones–and a bulldozer, and there was a suspicious amount of drilling outside the Pafford building during my public speaking class. Now, by no means is this construction bad, nor does it (usually) block the paths through campus. The odd thing here is that no one ever speaks of it. It just happens, and we are left to hope that it will not happen near our class rooms. Just as there are buildings lost in time (I’m looking at you Martha Munro, and Health Services) that I can never find when I walk around campus, the construction projects seem to operate without the knowledge of even the administration.

I came home for the weekend. I did it in part because I don’t have a phone, and I wanted to talk to my family, in part because due to a bank malfunction, I have no access to any money to buy text books or wash laundry while out at college, and in part because, there was movie-watching, dog petting, and sister-hugging to be done.

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