Aaron R. Davis
A college town is a noisy place to live for nine months of the year. You settle into a routine that is predictable, but not exactly comforting. It’s something I brace myself for every year, and all the years are so depressingly the same that it’s kind of no wonder that the last five or six of them have all been one giant blur for me.
See, in mid-to-late August, the move-ins begin. I’m in an apartment building just off-campus, too close for my liking to the residence towers and just across the street from the football field, so besides the noise of people moving in all over the complex, I also get some of the noise (and traffic) overflow of people moving into the dorms. It’s a loud few weeks. Some of it is inevitable and can’t really be helped, like the bangs that come with negotiating a secondhand couch and a crumbling end table up three flights of stairs. Some of it is obnoxious and irritating, like the nights of kids, giddy with the excitement of pretending that this is the same thing as moving out of the house, experimenting with how loud they can get their stereos before you start knocking on the walls.
After that, classes begin. This is the town at its most full, positively glutted with new students who have yet to find the quickest route to their classes, see how many classes they can get away with not going to, or get kicked out for guessing wrong. It’s hard to drive because there are pockets of jaywalkers trying desperately to get over to Subway and Caribou Coffee and Panda Express, every group more entitled to assumed traffic will stop for them than the last. It’s a whirlwind of annoyances, and I find it’s easier to stay indoors lest you be interminably delayed by campus buses, walls of humanity at crosswalks and what always seems to be an entire fleet of Jimmy John’s delivery cars.
The first few weeks are the party weeks. The It’s the Start of a New Year and We Don’t Have to Live in the Dorms This Time Party. The We Survived the First, Lightest Week of School Party. The Holy Crap, We Also Survived the Second Week of School Party. The God I Hope This Is the Year a Girl Gets Drunk Enough to Sleep with Me Party. And so on and so on. Every week, until it’s time to really do some studying and pass those classes, which is a brief settling into relative peace and quiet until the Holy Shit, Finals Are Over and It’s Christmas Break Now Party (or, for the truly ambitious/asinine, the I Can’t Believe Finals Are Almost Over Party).
Then there’s a month of quiet. Not true quiet, as there are a lot of people who only go home for the one week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but the dorms are cleared out for a month, so the majority are gone back to their homes and I get to enjoy the holidays (which, as you remember, are times I consider best spent in solitude, enjoying the warmth and love of knowing you could be with your family right now, but blessedly aren’t).
Then there’s the return, but fewer parties this time because of the crappy, snowy weather. This leads right into spring break with the town emptied out again, and by then people are too tired for parties because they’re hung over and ramping right into finals. Of course, the parties do return both after and during Finals Week, but they’re not quite as boisterous as the parties in the fall. They’re sort of survivor gatherings, blowing off steam and tension. Everyone’s tired and just wants to go home and have their summer.
There’s a couple of days of graduation (lots of different ceremonies for different schools, departments and colleges within the university) tying up traffic for a weekend, and then the move-outs begin in earnest. Some people take the opportunity of slowing down to move out gradually, a little bit every weekend, and then reserve a Saturday to rent a truck or bring a van and take out the furniture so they’re all ready by the time they graduate. Others take a day and their families come and help them clean up and vacate.
Weirdly, I’ve always noticed that moving out is never as loud as moving in. Maybe the moving in is all excitement and the moving out is just a little bittersweet. I remember my first apartment, back when I was 20 and needed to get away from home. I hated the entire experience — fraught with poverty, malnourishment, terrible illness and the world’s shittiest roommate — but I still felt regretful when the year was over and I had to move back in with my mother and sister. Even at its most dire, living out on your own (such as it is for a college student) is infinitely preferable to having to be “on” at home all the time (which is another reason why I don’t do holidays anymore).
In the late summer, the process begins again.
But right now, it’s early summer.
And in early summer, I feel energetic and relaxed, all at the same time. Instead of a thousand little annoyances, I see a thousand possibilities. I see shorter lines at the movies and less traffic around lunchtime. Being immediately seated at diners and just being able to sit and listen, cup of coffee in hand, to the sounds of the morning and the birds chirping and no college kids with their incessant coughing and puking and shitty music. This is the time when I most enjoy life and feel the least outraged.
I know the summer can’t last forever. I know that the outrage will return. There will always be commercials that piss me off or politicians who anger me or celebrities who say really stupid things that should be ignored but won’t be or, you know, people. Fucking people.
But for this week, satisfied that there are fewer of them, I’m just letting that all wash over me. Because the best time of the college year is right now, when the kids are all gone.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org