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Reflecting on freshman mysteries

BY DEAN TREFTZ | JUNE 22, 2009 7:21 AM

There was a time when walking between Van Allen and Seashore Halls at night was exciting. As sad as it may sound, the way the indifferent yellow-orange light hung on the walls and pavement — more like the lit-for-security-only catacombs of the nighttime medical campus than the cheerfully illuminated downtown — suggested to the wide-eyed freshman that this place was only an accidental thoroughfare and that those people who nonchalantly breezed through and disappeared down Jefferson Street must be on their way somewhere really cool.

It was right on the edge of Iowa City as I knew it, so the steely hoodie guy, chatting couple, and laughing group of upper classmen had to be going back to the college life of casual sex, classy alcoholism, and unconscious confidence that I couldn’t quite picture but was still fervently imitating in the dorms.

Of course, these explicit thoughts didn’t run through my 19-year-old head. The combination of living away from home and only venturing beyond campus in order to drink and play collegiate (and watch older kids actually pull it off) simply created a deep-seated feeling that Iowa City was bursting at the seams with cool that I just couldn’t quite find.

I remember one night wandering out past downtown with a friend and stumbling into an empty College Green Park. We gleefully scaled the little jungle gym and swung with gusto under the naïve assumption we had found our way deep into townie territory and our trespass was taboo enough to be enjoyed.

There was a frontier that encircled campus and downtown and even enveloped the 21-and-up bars, where 20-somethings smoked and drank slowly on Tuesday evenings. For some reason, I desperately needed to try smoking and drinking in public on a Tuesday evening.

Down every alley and behind every door there was that something I knew I wanted to see. Every time I went out, I was on an unconscious mission to catch my elusive je ne sais quoi by the tail.

But just as the Pentacrest had slowly transformed from the brochure-like Shangri-La of Frisbee and tanning into the mundane hill I had to climb in order to get to history class, raw experience slowly revealed the neighborhoods and bars.

I have since walked past Van Allen Hall and disappeared down Jefferson Street enough to know that on most days, the coolest thing waiting for me is a good episode of “The Daily Show.” Drinking and smoking at the Deadwood (on the patio anyway) is an all right way to spend an evening as long as you don’t have work on Wednesday.

Every now and then, when performing some routine college cliché like playing Frisbee golf, meeting a friend at a coffee shop, or drinking on my porch, I’ll prosaically realize that I’ve finally “made it.” At that point, I usually want to both chuckle and look around for what it is that I’m still missing.

If I try hard enough and can conjure up the musky smell of Quad in my head, I’m able to slip back into my freshman eyes. It’s almost off-putting how different the same streets can look when you’re able to forget the surrounding neighborhood. Bars, restaurants, and even campus buildings gleam with the possibility of what could be going on behind those doors and shades.

But I can’t hold on for long, and the shadows are filled back in with the memories of this drink or that study session and part of me starts screaming that I’m too young to know all the streets in my town.


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