a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, May 1, 2011

That old college anxiety

The dingy trailer I called home in 1977 during my junior year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
By Scott Beveridge

INDIANA, Pa. – Normally I return from a trip to the college of my youth feeling a bit sappy, remembering the many good times and friends lost to the passing decades.

That didn’t happen Thursday when I went back to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to speak about the challenges of  modern print journalism, and how the jobs held by reporters and editors are being reshaped by the social media revolution.

That day gave me anxiety as if I had swallowed a big pill of college anxiety while walking around the respected Indiana, Pa., campus, whose cramped dormitories have been replaced with hotel-quality rooms and suites.

It might have been a case of the jitters about speaking in public that made me feel a bit nervous. But the 34 yers that have passed since I attended IUP oddly left me feeling as if I was remembering the student life of someone else.

Sure much has changed since I left the school in the winter of 1977. Other new buildings have been construction, while some of the older halls have been remodeled. A glass atrium now connects the two old theater buildings at the south edge of the Oak Grove.

It lost a few old-growth trees to severe storms a year ago, but the small park hadn’t changed much in the center of the campus.

Except last week a small group of co-eds were fencing on a concrete patio while other students created colorful sidewalk chalk art under the mighty oaks. In my day, it was more common to pass professors there smoking marijuana with their students while campus security looked the other way.

I’ve always begun my journeys to IUP with a drive past Poets Village to revisit my first apartment there in a boring building with paper thin walls. The public housing with light, drab, olive green  vinyl siding was brand new when I moved there in the summer of 1975. Without a car, I would hitchhike to school some days or walk or travel there on my three-speed Huffy Red Baron bicycle.

Nowadays students enjoy the luxury of having shuttle buses to travel the five miles from the college to Poets Village or the hotels and shopping plazas that since have been developed in that area.

I then leave to see if the dingy trailer where I called home my junior year survived time on its concrete blocks behind the Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant on the outskirts of the small town. The white shack with ruby red trim hasn’t changed along a gravel road off Pine Street, but didn’t look this time as if it had current occupants.

A friend remarked in a comment under a photo I immediately posted of the place on Facebook that it “looks like maybe you had to go outside to change your mind.” It was so small that I could park in bed and touch all four walls of my bedroom with my arms and feet.

I was happy, though, to live so close to that fast-food restaurant where, for less than a buck, I often bought for dinner greasy cornmeal hush puppies with extra crisps that fell off the fish in the fryer.

We gave definition to poor college kids. Memories of the poverty and living in a trailer park might have helped to form the basis of my having felt anxious this trip rather than mixed sentiments of happiness and sadness.
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