Every college town is known for little hole-in-the-wall restaurants popular with students. Jeromeville had one called Redrum, but during the time I was there, it was called Murder Burger. The sign said their burgers were “so good, they’re to die for.” Murder Burger was just off Cornell Boulevard and Highway 100, across the train tracks from downtown. It was a greasy little nondescript building without enough seating, which meant the food had to be really good. Toward the end of the time I lived in Jeromeville, around 2001 or so, someone complained about the violent connotation of the name, and after taking suggestions from customers, the owners changed the name to “Redrum,” the nonsense word popularized in the book and movie The Shining which is actually “murder” spelled backward.
The last great adventure of my freshman year at the University of Jeromeville took place at Murder Burger. But before that happened, I had to get through the worst finals schedule ever. Finals week at UJ required six days, so there would always be one Saturday at the end of every quarter when some finals were held. And because of a quirk in the calendar, there was no dead time this quarter, no day to study without classes. My last class for Physics 9A was Friday at 11:00, and the final was less than 24 hours later, Saturday at 8:00.
On the last day of physics class, the instructor, Dr. Collins, was about a day behind where he had wanted to be. It seemed like he was going quickly through everything he had not had time for earlier in the quarter. I kept thinking, what if the entire final is about this stuff that he had not adequately prepared us for? But I kept reminding myself that I had 20 hours to do nothing but study physics. Hopefully I would sleep for part of that time, though; I was going to study my butt off for this final, but I was not planning to pull an all-nighter.
“Remember, the final is tomorrow at 8:00,” Dr. Collins said as his time ran out. Then, gesturing toward the back of the lecture hall where two graduate students stood with stacks of paper, he said, “The TAs here will be passing out instructor evaluations. Please leave them in the box in the lobby as you leave.”
Dr. Collins walked through the door behind the front of the lecture hall as I received my evaluation form. This had been a new concept to me when I started at UJ, giving instructors feedback at the end of the quarter. I gave Dr. Collins mostly positive ratings, but I did mention the section from early in the year when he did not follow the book. He asked a question about this on the midterm that I did poorly on, and since his teaching did not follow the book, I had no idea what to do.
As I had planned to, I spent the entire afternoon studying physics. I went through every problem set at the end of every chapter, making sure I knew how to do all the important things. I reread all the formulas and made sure I knew them from memory, including what all the letters stood for. I reread vocabulary, making sure I knew the definition of force and torque and momentum and energy. I did every problem from both midterms again.
Later that night, as I was attempting to reread my notes, I discovered that they took a long time to reread, mostly because of my messy handwriting. I turned on the computer and, after a quick break to check email, I began retyping my notes. This took longer than simply rereading, even with the messy handwriting, but it seemed to help since I had to think more about what I was reading and typing. Then, if I had time to reread it all again, it would be easier to read since it would no longer be in my messy handwriting.
When Saturday morning came, I still felt uneasy about the exam. I rode my bike from Building C to Ross Hall, already wearing shorts at 7:45 in the morning because it was warm and would probably only get hotter. I sat near the aisle on the left side of the lecture hall (my left, the instructor’s right). As the rest of the class arrived, I nervously reread the notes I had retyped and printed the night before, trying to glean one last bit of information in the few minutes that remained.
When the time came, Dr. Collins and his teacher assistants passed out the exam paper. I looked over it and read all of the questions first. As I read each successive question, my state of mind went from worried to calm to excited. This was easy. I had studied in detail every single thing that was being asked on this test, and I knew how to do every problem. I began working, writing, typing on my calculator, sketching diagrams of forces acting on objects. When I finished, I double-checked all the answers. I redid all of my calculator work. And I turned in my paper and walked out of 66 Ross with almost half of the allotted two hours remaining.
The finals for Chemistry 2B and Psychology and the Law were both on Monday. My next two days looked much as the previous one had. I spent most of my time studying. I reread and retyped notes, just as I had done for physics. I redid chemistry problems, calculating theoretical yields of chemical reactions and molarity of solutions. For Psych-Law, the test would include both a multiple choice section and an essay. Dr. Kemp had given us a choice of three topics so that we could prepare in advance, but the essay itself had to be handwritten on the day of the final. I made outlines for my chosen topic, so that I would be able to remember what I wanted to write about.
Dr. Kemp was the instructor for Psychology and the Law, or as the class was formally called, Integrated Honors Program 8B. It was a class open only to students in the IHP, one of three that we had to choose from each quarter which counted as general education requirements. Dr. Kemp was a gray-haired man in his 50s who wore a dress shirt and tie most days, not exactly someone I expected to have much of a sense of humor. He proved me wrong on the day of the final, when he announced, “I put some funny choices on the multiple choice part of the test.”
I began working on the test, wondering exactly what he meant by this. The fifth question said this:
5) The McNaughton Rule applies to criminal cases featuring which of the following:
A. Expert witnesses
B. A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity
C. Repressed memories
D. A hung jury
I tried not to chuckle too loudly when I read “Aliens.” This was a test, after all.
A few minutes later, Dan Woodward quietly asked Dr. Kemp a question. Dr. Kemp looked at the test again, appeared to think for a minute, and then announced to the class, “Don’t mark the funny choice for your answer.” People softly laughed. I assumed that one of the questions had been worded in a misleading way so as to make the funny choice a possibly correct answer. I found the item in question at the bottom of the page I was on:
14) Which of the following IS NOT one of the Miranda rights?
A. Right to remain silent
B. Right to consult a lawyer
C. Right to bear arms
D. Right to a lawyer present during questioning
E. Right to eat donuts during the trial
I was right. Technically, according to the question, both choices C and E were correct. Dr. Kemp had probably needed another option, and had just made up something funny without realizing that it did not fit the wording of the question.
The rest of the multiple choice test was fairly straightforward. I thought I did okay on the essay section as well, even though I hated essay tests, but this time I had time to prepare. I remembered all the main points I had written on my outline the night before. I submitted my test at 9:50, toward the end of the two hour time slot.
The chemistry final was at 4:00 that afternoon, so I spent the rest of the afternoon studying for that. I felt confident about that one, though, and it seemed easy while I was taking it. I got back to the South Residential Area just in time for dinner, relieved that this nightmare of three challenging finals at the beginning of finals week was over. It was a good feeling, and I was just going to relax for the rest of the night, chatting on IRC, reading my usual Usenet groups, and playing Tetris and SimCity 2000.
Tuesday and Wednesday were among the best days I had all quarter. I went on long bike rides both days, through the Greenbelts in north Jeromeville on Tuesday and through the Arboretum and the rural part of campus across from Highway 117 on Wednesday. I spent several hours chatting on IRC and made a new friend, a 19-year-old girl from Missouri named Stacey with blue eyes and a nice butt (at least that’s what she said about herself). I took naps. I organized my desk drawers and my clothes, so that packing on Friday would be easier. And, since I still had a math final coming up, I spent a few hours Wednesday evening studying.
I also spent most of Thursday morning studying for math, with a break in between to email Stacey. I probably had not needed to study that much, though, because I had no trouble with the math final. But as with all exams, there was a lingering feeling in the back of my mind that I did poorly and did not realize it. This feeling had been stronger in my mind for every exam since I failed the first physics midterm in April, although that time I knew I had done poorly before the exam was even over.
I spent most of Friday cleaning and packing. My things were organized enough that packing did not take long. The problem was that I did not have many boxes. I still had the two boxes my computer and monitor came in; I had been using them as a makeshift table. Instead of putting the computer and monitor back in the boxes, though, I put clothes in the boxes. I carried the boxes of clothes out to the car.
Next, I walked down to the Help Window and asked to borrow a socket wrench and screwdriver, so I could disassemble the bed loft and return the extra pieces. I checked my email one last time (Stacey had not written back yet; for that matter, we only stayed in touch for about a week total), then I disconnected all the cables and took the computer and monitor to the car, in two separate trips, leaving them without boxes since I was using the boxes for clothes. I wrapped the computer and monitor in the blanket and sheets from my bed; students purchased these from the Department of Student Housing and kept them at the end of the year. I used these sheets and blanket for the rest of the time I lived in Jeromeville, and today they are on the guest bed at my house.
When I got back to the room, it was finally beginning to sink in that this was my last day in Building C, and my last day in Jeromeville for this school year. Everyone had to be out of the dorms by noon tomorrow, but I was finished with finals and had no reason to stay. I had called Mom yesterday and said I would be home sometime tonight, although I did not say when because I did not know.
By late afternoon, I had finished carrying everything out to the car. I was sweeping the room with a borrowed broom, with the door open, when Liz walked by. “Hey, Greg?” she said, peeking her head in the door.
I stopped sweeping for a minute. “Yeah?” I replied.
“A bunch of us are going to Murder Burger tonight, and then bowling. Wanna come?”
“Definitely!” I said. “Sounds like a great way to celebrate the last day of school.”
“Meet in the common room at 6. We’re gonna walk. It’s not that far.”
“I’ll see you then! Sounds good!”
By the time we left for Murder Burger, I had turned in my keys. I had no way back into Room 221, although I could still get into the building with the magnetic stripe on my registration card. This was not just a small group of friends heading out to dinner; this was a massive caravan of almost half of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. Liz and Ramon, Taylor, Pete, Charlie, and Jason. Sarah, Krista, Caroline, Danielle, and Theresa. Pat and Karen, and Pat’s twin brother who lived in the North Residential Area. Mike Adams and his roommate Ian. Gina Stalteri, Derek Olvera, Stephanie, and Schuyler. David, Keith, Mike Potts, Yu Cheng. Jonathan, Spencer, Jenn from the first floor, Cathy, and Phuong. Skeeter and Bok. Rebekah and Tracey. And I probably forgot a few others.
We walked the same route I usually took to get to chemistry class in 199 Stone. From there, we continued walking east on Davis Drive to the edge of campus at Old Jeromeville Road. We turned left and took the next right, First Street, walking four blocks along a vacant lot lined with old olive trees, across the street from a few fraternity houses and small hotels. We turned right on Cornell Boulevard and walked under the railroad tracks; Murder Burger was just on the other side, about a mile and a quarter from Building C.
“How’d you do on finals?” Taylor asked me as we were approaching Murder Burger.
“I think I did pretty well, actually,” I replied. “What about you?”
“Uhh… I took finals. I showed up.”
I chuckled. “That bad, huh?”
“It wasn’t great. Have you ever been to Murder Burger?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve driven past it many times, though.”
“I’ve been here once. The burgers are really good.”
We did not all fit inside the building. We made a long line extending out the door. I started thinking about what I wanted as soon as I got close enough to see the menu. I pointed to the part of the menu saying that they could add flavors to drinks for a small additional charge.
“Vanilla Coke? Chocolate Coke? Orange Coke?” I asked rhetorically. “What is that?”
“Flavored Coke is so good!” Sarah said from behind me in line. “There’s a place back home that has vanilla Coke. I love it!”
When it was finally my turn to order, I asked for a double cheeseburger with just ketchup, mayonnaise, lettuce, and cheese; a large French fry; and a vanilla Coke. I wanted to see if this was really as good as Sarah said it was. (Of course, now most grocery stores around here sell Vanilla Coke pre-made in cans, but this option did not exist in 1995.) The cashier gave me a stub with a number printed on it. I looked around for a place to sit. The kitchen was behind the cash registers, with the dining room to the right.
“We’ll be outside with Liz and Ramon,” Sarah told me as I started to walk away. “Come sit with us.”
“Okay,” I said. I walked out the back of the dining room, opening to a parking lot, and then back around to the opposite side of the building. Liz and Ramon were sitting on a picnic bench, along with Taylor and Pete.
“Come sit with us,” Liz said. “We saved you a seat.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “This is so cool. One last time hanging out together.”
“Looking forward to summer?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah. A friend of my mom’s works in a bookstore, and she got me a job there, so I’ll have a little bit of money coming in.”
“Are you going to see your high school friends this summer?” Sarah asked, arriving as I was talking to Ramon.
“I’m not sure. I didn’t usually see my friends when I wasn’t in school. And some of them haven’t stayed in touch.”
“Really. That’s kinda sad.”
“I hope I get to see some of them, though.”
About fifteen minutes later, someone called my number over a speaker next to the outdoor seating area. I got up and returned a minute later with my food, taking my first ever sip of vanilla Coke.
“You were right, Sarah,” I said as I swallowed. “Vanilla Coke is good.”
“I know! Isn’t it?”
After we finished eating, around eight o’clock, we cleaned up and walked back across the railroad track. About half of the group walked back toward Building C while the others walked toward the bowling alley; I told them goodbye and said that I would see them next year.
The bowling alley is on campus, in a secluded room called the Memorial Union Games Area. The part of the Memorial Union where the campus bookstore is located has a basement, with coin-operated video games, pinball machines, a pool table, and sixteen lanes of bowling. From Redrum, we walked back down First Street, turned right on A Street, and then left across from Second Street through the path that had been the main entrance to campus when it was built 90 years ago. I had been bowling once here earlier this year, with Liz and Ramon and Jason and Taylor and Danielle, all of whom were here tonight.
I bowled a strike on my first frame, and everyone on my lane (tonight it was Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Krista, and Charlie) cheered for me. I smiled. But that would be the only strike I would bowl that game. I finished with a score of 96, third place out of the six of us.
“Do you want to play another game?” Taylor asked.
“Sure. But I should go find a phone and call my mom to let her know when I’ll be home. She’s probably worried about me.”
“You’re driving home tonight? Doesn’t that mean you’ll get home really late?”
“Probably around midnight if we play one more game. I can do that.”
“Okay. Be safe.”
I found a pay phone and called home using my parents’ calling card number, so that they would be billed for the call. Calling outside of your local geographical area was expensive using 1995 technology, but with this PIN number that my parents told me to use, I could call them from any phone and it would go to their bill. “Hello?” Mom said, picking up on the third ring.
“Hi. It’s me.”
“Where are you?”
“Still in Jeromeville. A bunch of people went out to Murder Burger and then bowling.”
“Yummy! That sounds fun! So are you coming home in the morning instead?”
“I was still going to come tonight, after one more game of bowling.”
“So you won’t be home until really late.”
“Probably around midnight. Is that a problem?”
“No. Just call me again if anything changes.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Drive safe. And have fun.”
“I will. Thanks.”
I bowled much better the second game. At one point, I had two strikes in a row. When I went back up to the lane with my ball, Charlie said, “Come on, Greg! You can do it!”
“No pressure,” Taylor added, laughing.
I carefully moved my hand back, then swung it forward, releasing the ball. The ball appeared to be going right where it needed to for me to get a third strike, but one of the pins remained standing. I hit the pin on my second roll for a spare, and I finished the game with a score of 127, one of the best games I had ever bowled at the time, and higher than anyone else on my lane.
“All right, guys,” I said after the second game. “It’s time for me to go. I’m driving home tonight.”
“Drive safely!” Sarah said, giving me a hug.
“You too, Have a great summer, everyone.”
“Bye, dude,” Taylor said, shaking my hand.
I spent about five minutes saying goodbye to everyone, with handshakes and hugs for some of them. I walked back to Building C alone, because some people seemed to want to bowl one more game, and they were all going home in the morning. It was a little after nine o’clock. The sun sets late enough this time of year that there was still a slight dusky glow to the west. I had enjoyed tonight, I had enjoyed the entire year in Building C and the IHP, but there came a time for everything to end, and it was time for me to go home. I was done with my freshman year.
I went back into Building C only to use the bathroom; I did not see anyone while I was there. I walked across the street to the car, where my stuff was still packed, and began driving. I put on a tape I had made of Bush’s Sixteen Stone album as I headed south, smiling, thinking about the great night I had.
Murder Burger felt to me like a major landmark and institution in Jeromeville, but I really did not eat there that often. That night at the end of my freshman year was the first of maybe no more than five times that I ever ate there. Despite this, I felt sad when I read in 2019 that Murder Burger, which by then was called Redrum Burger, was closing. A college town like Jeromeville needs a greasy, locally-owned burger place, and because of changing demographics and a changing economy, Jeromevillians do not have such a place anymore. I thought about making the trip across the Drawbridge last summer when I heard that it would be Redrum’s last weekend in operation, but I had a lot to do at the time, and I had heard that long lines of customers who had heard the news were already wrapped around the building, so I ended up not making the trip. I am not a big fan of crowds.
Some of the new friends I made freshman year I did not really see again after that year, or I saw them only occasionally around campus. Others I stayed in touch with for a long time, and a few of them I have been in touch with continuously since 1994. I have been to six weddings of people I met during my freshman year at UJ, and two of those weddings were two people who were in the IHP with me marrying each other. I was going to miss having a built in social group next year, but I had met enough people this year that I would probably be okay.
My freshman year at the University of Jeromeville had been life-changing. I made so many new friends. I discovered the Internet. I discovered the joy of a good bike ride. I was still getting straight As; I even got an A in physics after doing so poorly on that first midterm. (Technically, I did get an A-minus in Rise and Fall of Empires fall quarter, and at UJ, an A-minus counted as a slightly lower grade than an A in terms of calculating grade point average, but I was still doing pretty well.)
Of course, not everything was perfect. I spent a lot of nights sad and alone. I still had no girlfriend, but hopefully that would come soon. I would not see these people for three months, but I had ways to stay in touch with the ones I wanted to stay in touch with, and in September I would be right back in Jeromeville to pick up where I left off. Freshman year was pretty good overall, so hopefully sophomore year would be even better.
And, of course, as the case often is when looking back on the past, I can say that on that final day of freshman year, I never would have guessed what major life changes were coming my way sophomore year.
The old Redrum/Murder Burger building, now deserted, photographed in September 2019 about a month after the last business day.