I spent the past two days working in the bay area. I used to look forward to such trips because I'd visit my brother and his family, which was always a treat. They moved this summer though and no longer live there, so my level of interest in the trip was lower than usual.
For dinner last night one of the team leads suggested Macarthur Park. He was surprised that I knew exactly where it was. I mentioned that I had been taken there for dessert on my 19th birthday by friends in my dorm and that a former roommate's girlfriend had worked there. It is a bit of a curious location as it is at the very end of University Ave in Palo Alto, right between the Cal Train tracks and El Camino Real. After you cross El Camino you're onto campus and the road becomes Palm Drive.
Dinner was excellent, but that isn't what I want to dwell on here. After dinner I decided that as long as I was there at the edge of campus I'd take a stroll. I drove up Palm Drive and felt a flood of memories. I can remember approaching campus as a prospective freshman and driving up that same street and being impressed with the beauty of the place. But it was more than the fact that it is an attractive bit of road. At least it was last night, and I like to think there was a premonition of that in the spring of 1992 as well. Perhaps my memory is failing me. In any case, driving up Palm Drive was an oddly emotional and familiar experience last night.
I parked the car at the Oval and walked towards the main quad. I stopped to visit the Burgers of Calais. They had just taken up residence in their current location as I was graduating. I stopped in front of Mem Chu to admire the mosaic yet another time. I walked behind the church and then towards Meyer Library to see if the Thinker every resumed his post after getting vandalized yet again by Cal thugs. There was no sign of him. I wandered back past the Claw and the birdcage to Tressider, that architectural dung heap in the midst of an otherwise amazing campus. Ok, there are some other terrible edifices, the medical center for one.
I wandered back to the car and realized a few things. I was awash in a mixture of melancholy, gratitude, regret, and potential both lost and realized. The impact this place had on me came into sharp focus. Of course it wasn't the place but the people and the interactions, but for whatever reason the buildings of campus brought those experiences to mind and made them fresh in a way that I haven't experienced. I could recall particular classes, particular instants and interactions as I walked by buildings and classrooms.
I wanted my wife to be there with me. We met there, and that is where I began to fall in love with her, though she didn't reciprocate until a bit later. But we were great friends at the time and I felt that I wanted her to be there. I wanted to call her to share what I was feeling and try to articulate it, but it was late in CA and even later at home.
I also realized that I wanted my children to have the opportunity to have the same sort of experiences. To be surrounded by amazing peers, to be lifted up by them as well as to do their share of lifting. To have a world of possibilities open to them. I must admit that I'd love them to be able to go to Stanford, but what I want isn't for them to go to a particular place, but to have a university experience that is more than just classes and credits to graduate. There is a particular joy that my college experience brought me that I'm inclined to think doesn't happen without the right set of circumstances and that is something that I want my children to have.
I also decided that I needed to top off my visit with a trip to Yost. I got back the the car, drove around campus, parked illegally in Governor's Corner, and walked around the dorm. I'm guessing that I was an odd sight at 11:20 pm. If I had time I would have liked to visit all the dorms that I lived in, if only to drive by, but I figured that I'd get the most bang for my buck there. I peered in the window and saw bulletin boards that had been painted in either 96 or 97 to indicate that it was the Pop Culture Theme Dorm. I'm pretty sure that that is no longer the case, but the bulletin boards still advertise it, which made me smile.
So much happened there. Only parenthood has rivaled it when it comes to experiences that have taught me about myself. I cherish those bonds, those interactions, the critiques and the praises. I probably had the best series of four roommates possible.
Of course, as one of those roommates once reminded me, college life isn't the real world, and the real world is a much different place, one that I continue to enjoy. But it was fascinating to take a break from that world for a few moments to revisit an almost unreal time of life that is unique in so many dimensions.