Originally posted on my second, public writing blog, Off the Farm.
I finish my solitary meal, and stand up from the two-person “date table” in the corner I managed to confiscate for myself. Piling both silverware and cup on top of my plastic dinner plate, I pick up the occupant of the second place at the table, my Sociology textbook. I haven’t read a word of it, and haven’t pretended to, just laid it open at the other seat so no one else would feel obliged to sit down. I give my reflection a wave in the tall, thin mirror on the wall opposite me and, taking a deep breath, plunge into the chaos that is the line to the dirty-dishes conveyor belt. The football team is just finishing their meal as well, and I hurry to get to the conveyor before them. Ducking behind a black-aproned dining hall worker, I slide my dishes onto the belt and hurry to step away before the crush of other like-minded students swallows me up and spits me out several feet deeper into the crowded dining hall I am trying to escape.
Tucking my book more securely under my arm, I make my way back to the entry hall, weaving between the students queued up before the creemie machine. I have yet to find another student who knows to call the soft-serve ice cream a creemie. No one else seems to understand that soft-serve really isn’t “ice cream” at all. Neither do they know that creemies are best when indulged in on a hot summer day, bought from Will’s Store in town, coated in rainbow jimmies, and devoured on the North Common on a bench beneath an oak tree. Not when dispensed from a college cafeteria and consumed on the short walk back to a humid dorm room. Bleck.
I smile at Rosemary as I exit the dining hall. She is the grandmotherly old woman who swipes students’ cards as they enter the cafeteria, and makes sure that no one smuggles any food out with them, tucked secretly under a sweatshirt or held just so behind a book that it can’t be seen. Though if you compliment her hair and stop a minute to talk about the weather outside, Rosemary will usually let you through without trouble, smuggled food or no. Today I have nothing to hide, however, and I dig my book bag out from beneath a pile of a hundred others, deposit my Sociology textbook within, and sling the purple straps up over my shoulder.
Leaving the dining hall, I absentmindedly pause a minute to button up my wool coat against the evening fall chill. Through the double glass doors of the hall I catch a glimpse of golden light. The sun is going down. I push my way out, into the clear air and the crinkle of fallen leaves beneath my shoes. I stand a moment on the sidewalk, eyes closed, head tilted back, searching for the smell of autumn. It’s there, just barely, buried beneath car fumes and old midday heat still rising from the asphalt. I savor it a second on the tip of my tongue, seeing the dirt roads and gold-red maple leaves of home behind my closed eyelids. If only the sound of downtown traffic and far-away police sirens could be drowned out, blocked by something still and quiet, I could almost pretend to be standing in my own woods again.
I shake my head and open my eyes. Not for another couple months, I tell myself. Not until December. I push my bag further onto my shoulder and step into the road, headed towards my temporary “home.” I don’t see the car coming towards me until I am in front of it. I jump back, almost tripping over the curb and narrowly avoiding becoming a strange type of roadkill. The driver, a girl who looks like a fellow college student, makes an angry, rude gesture in my direction. I take a moment to collect my wits again, rattled out of place as they have suddenly become. Shrugging and smiling apologetically at the frightened and still-fuming young lady, I step into the road again, making sure to look both ways twice this time before entering the traveled lanes. I’ll never get used to having to look before crossing a road. Vermont drivers are better, I think, smiling ironically. I’m not in Vermont anymore. Michigan streets are full of crosswalks and funny intersections and one-way roads, and no Vermont right-of-way for pedestrians.
When I finally make it alive back to my dorm room, I tell my roommate all about the superiority of Vermont driving laws. She listens patiently, smiling at me in an amused sort of way. When I finish, she shakes her head, laughing, and goes back to her studying. Apparently my backwoods refusal of crosswalks and Vermont-stubborn claim of nonexistent pedestrian rights is funny.