This was it. After over two and a half hours in the car from Plumdale to Jeromeville, and getting a key and a packet of paperwork from a friendly RA named Amy, it was time to see my new room. We were fairly early, and many students seemed not to have arrived yet. Mom and Dad and I climbed the stairs and found room 221. We noticed someone else moving into room 206, a guy with glasses whose name was either Michael or Ian, according to the signs on the door. A woman, presumably his mother, was in the room with him. “Hi,” Michael or Ian said as he saw us walking up the stairs.
“Hi,” I said. We continued walking down the hall; I didn’t want to be unfriendly, but I was a little overwhelmed and nervous at everything going on too. Besides, I had another nine months in Building C, and I was sure I’d be seeing a lot of Michael or Ian around.
The building I was moving into was not the one I had toured in February. For some reason, the Interdisciplinary Honors Program had to move to a different building. We were now in the South Residential Area, in the cluster of dorms near the cow barn that we had driven past last year. The twelve identical buildings were named with letters from A through M, with no building I probably because I looked too much like the number 1. Buildings A through F were called Thomas Hall, and buildings G through M were called Pearson Hall. There were two other buildings in the area: Walsh Hall, shaped differently from the letter buildings, and the building that housed the dining hall. I was in building C. My address was “221 C-Thomas Hall,” but I would figure out quickly over the next few days that no one ever actually called it Thomas Hall except for when they were addressing mail. I started telling people I lived in Building C in the South Area. People knew what that meant.
Each building had three large rooms that held four people each, six small rooms that held one student, and the rest were double rooms. A total of around 70 students lived in each building. Of the six small rooms, two of them were reserved for the resident advisors, the older students whose jobs are to be in charge of us. And of the other four single rooms, somehow I was lucky enough to get one. I found this comforting. The idea of sleeping in the same room as a roommate was kind of terrifying to me. For that matter, a lot of things from this whole college experience were terrifying to me, so having one less thing to be terrified about was definitely a plus.
The door to room 221 had a sign on it that said “Gregory.” It appeared that the RAs, or someone, had made signs like this for all the new residents. I opened the door to room 221 and walked in. The three of us looked around, and I could tell instantly that Mom was disappointed. “It’s cozy,” she said after a ten-second pause. She clearly thought the room was too small. It was about eight feet wide and eleven feet long. There was a small closet immediately to the right of the entryway. A twin-size bed was against the right wall, and a dresser and small desk against the left wall, with less than two feet of room between them. Amy had explained something earlier about where and when to get the parts to make the bed into a loft, and now that I saw the room, I definitely wanted to do that, so I could put the desk and dresser under the bed and sleep up above, like a top bunk.
I didn’t think it was too small. I didn’t need a lot of room.
After we got everything unpacked and put away, it was time for Mom and Dad to leave. Mom fought back tears and said something sappy, and Dad grunted and said, “Love ya, son,” or something like that. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling at that point.
Next, I tried to take a nap, because I was physically tired, but my mind was racing from the new surroundings. The walls and ceiling of Room 221 were painted a bland off-white color. That was fine with me. A bulletin board hung on the wall across from the bed; it was currently bare. Behind my head was a window that took up the entire width of the room. It faced south, toward a grassy yard next to the building, a large oak tree, and a parking lot farther in the distance.
I eventually started fiddling with setting up my computer. The computer had been a high school graduation gift from Mom and Dad. It had a 66MHz 486 processor, a 512MB hard drive, and a 14.4k modem for connecting to other computers over telephone lines. This was a pretty good computer in 1994.
I received a letter from Dr. McGillicuddy over the summer explaining that all IHP students would have access to email, and that we would be communicating frequently by email. Email was not exactly a new technology, but the early 90s was when email became mainstream, used by people other than scientists and computer programmers, so it was new to me. It was probably new to some of the students here, but others probably had wealthy software engineer parents and had been using email for years. I went through the instructions for how to set up my email account, entering the phone number for student dialup access and listening to the dings and buzzes and hisses that were universally associated with connecting to the Internet in the 90s. When I finished, I heard people in the hallway, so I disconnected and poked my head out the door to see who was there. The door to room 219 next to me was open, so I looked in.
“Hi,” a tall, thin Asian boy with acne scars and bushy, slightly unkempt hair said. “I’m Aaron. Are you on this floor?”
“I’m Greg. Right next door.”
“Nice to meet you! So where are you from?”
“In the hills near Gabilan and Santa Lucia. On highway 11.”
“Oh, ok. I’m from Willow Grove.”
“Near San Tomas?”
“Yeah! You’ve been there?”
“Not really. I’ve just seen the signs from the freeway. We always used go up to Bay City for baseball games, and we’d go right past the Willow Grove exit.”
“You play baseball?”
“Oh. No. Just watch,” I explained. “But not anymore. Major League Baseball is on strike. They cancelled the World Series. And now hockey is on strike too.”
“Oh yeah, I heard something about that.”
“Are a lot of other people here yet? I was in my room for the last hour and didn’t notice. We moved in early.”
“I’ve seen people trickle in,” Aaron said. “I haven’t really talked to a lot of people yet.”
“You’re the first one I talked to, although I saw a guy down the hall earlier.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you at that meeting tonight?”
I walked down the hall to the bathroom. I thought that Aaron’s response about baseball was a little odd. It seems like everyone in my world back home was talking about Major League Baseball being on strike and the World Series being cancelled. It was strange to me that there existed people who did not know about this.
I met a few other people on the walk back to my room: a medium-height brown-haired girl named Kathleen in 212; a tall blonde girl named Rebekah, who lived on the third floor who had a question and had been looking for one of the RAs; and the RA I hadn’t met yet, Gurpreet, in 215. Gurpreet was tall, with dark skin, glasses, facial hair, and a turban covering his hair which appeared to be in a bun-like pattern. There were very few Punjabis or practicing Sikhs in Plumdale, so this style of dress and appearance were completely new to me.
“Hi,” Gurpreet said. “I’m Gurpreet, the RA. What’s your name?”
“Greg,” I said. “I’m in room 221.”
“Nice to meet you! You heard about the meeting at 7?”
“Yes, I did.”
Later that night, I ate dinner at the dining hall. I sat by myself and did a lot of people-watching. About five minutes after I got my food, a thin girl with straight brown hair and blue eyes sat next to me. “You live right down the hall from me, don’t you?” she said. “In C building?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Greg.”
“I’m Liz. Nice to meet you. My roommate and her parents are moving a lot of stuff in right now, so I came down here to get out of their way.”
“Probably a good idea.”
“Where are you from?”
“Briones,” she said.
“You know where that is?”
“Northeast of Bay City on 100, right?”
“Yeah! Have you been there?”
“No. I’ve just seen it on a map. I’ve always been fascinated with reading maps. I don’t know why.”
“And apparently I’m good at knowing where places are. Aaron in room 219 was surprised that I knew where Willow Grove was. You probably don’t know where Plumdale is.”
“No, I don’t. Is that where you’re from?”
“Yeah. Santa Lucia County, about an hour south of San Tomas.”
“Ok. I’ve been to Santa Lucia.”
“Have you met a lot of people in the building yet?”
“A few,” Liz said. “There’s one girl down the hall who is from Australia. She’s lived in the US for about five years, but she has a cool accent. Her father is some kind of big international businessman in Bay City.”
“Wow,” I said.
When we got back to the building, it was almost time for the meeting about the rules. It all seemed pretty straightforward. Quiet after 11pm. Don’t give anyone your access card. Evacuation policy. No alcohol or drugs. Where to get mail. Phone numbers to call if there was a problem. Stuff like that.
I was used to going to bed at ten o’clock, and I stayed up until almost 11 reading that night. But when I finally went to bed, it was not that simple. I spent an hour tossing and turning among the noises of others talking, laughing, and seemingly running up and down the hall. It was after 11, it was supposed to be quiet time, and I considered reporting all of this to Amy or Gurpreet in the morning. I got increasingly cranky and frustrated as the night dragged on, and a few minutes after midnight, still not able to go to sleep with all the noise, I quietly tiptoed out of the room, as I observed two guys down the hall throwing a ball back and forth and laughing boorishly. I went downstairs and outside.
I walked to the pay telephone outside of the dining hall. My long distance service had not been hooked up in the room yet, and in 1994 you couldn’t just call long distance from any phone. I knew that my parents had something called a calling card, where I could enter a PIN number and have the call billed to them. They told me to use that until the long distance was working.
Mom answered after the third ring; she had definitely been asleep. “I’m sorry to wake you up,” I said. “I can’t do this. Everyone is noisy, and I can’t sleep. It’s supposed to be quiet time after 11, and they aren’t enforcing it very well. I’m packing up and coming home.”
“Don’t do that,” Mom said.
“But I can’t sleep. I can’t survive an entire school year without sleeping.”
“You always have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar place,” Mom reminded me. “But you get used to it. And you’ll get used to this too.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Give it another week. If you hate it and still want to give up after a week, then we’ll talk about it.”
“That seems fair.”
“Can I go back to sleep now? Are you ok?”
“I think you’ll be fine.”
“Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone. I walked quietly back to Building C and went back to my room. I got back in bed and closed my eyes.
The building had definitely gotten quieter since I left a few minutes ago. Maybe the noise was finally dying down. Or maybe Amy or Gurpreet had put a stop to the noise. But Mom was right. I did always have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar settings, and this was definitely an unfamiliar setting. Not only were there unfamiliar sights and sounds, but there were unfamiliar people as well. I had never met a Sikh before, or the child of a wealthy Australian businessman, or someone who didn’t follow baseball. But that’s the great thing about a large university like Jeromeville: it brings people from all different backgrounds together to learn from each other. And I have my own unique background to share; for example, it was becoming apparent to me that many of the other students in Building C had never met someone before who reads maps for fun.
Room 221 certainly was not the most spacious or luxurious place I’ve ever lived. And most of my memories from that year happened outside of Room 221. Despite that, however, Room 221 it was still my first home away from home. And I got a little sad when I read in 2012 that the letter buildings of Thomas and Pearson halls did not meet current building codes and would be torn down. But I still have all my memories of reading, studying, sleeping, and sitting in front of the computer for hours at a time.