Hello, readers! I’m back! Welcome to Year 4!
“Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant said. “Would you like to move up to first class?”
I looked around to see who this privileged flier was to whom this opportunity was being offered; I saw no one else nearby. “Me?” I asked.
“Yes,” the flight attendant replied. “The flight is really empty, so we’re letting people move up if they want. There’s plenty of room.”
“Sure,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and following the flight attendant to the front of the plane. We had been in the air for about ten minutes, and the first thing I had noticed was how empty the flight was. I understand why normal people would not want to wake up early on a Sunday morning to catch a six-o’clock flight, but if the airplane was this empty, why not just use a smaller plane, or not offer a flight at this time at all? The plane had around a hundred and fifty coach seats and twelve first-class seats, and with only nine passengers on the flight, we all fit in the first-class section.
I stretched my legs out, since I had more room to do so in first class, and began to nod off again, since I had only slept for four and a half hours. My first (and, to this day, only) first-class flight lasted around an hour and a half, and the announcement that we were descending into Portland woke me from my nodding-off for good.
The Portland airport appeared to be undergoing some sort of expansion or renovation; evidence of recent ongoing construction was everywhere. I managed to follow the signs to baggage claim with no trouble, however. After I got my bag, I found a comfortable seat and began reading, since my bus would not leave for another hour. I had just begun reading Needful Things by Stephen King; it was a fairly long book that should get me through a good portion of this summer.
About fifteen minutes before my bus was scheduled to leave, I followed the signs to ground transportation. A small bus that looked like it would hold about twenty passengers was parked among several others; the side of this bus said TONY’S AIRPORT SHUTTLE – GRANDVALE – PDX. I walked up to the Tony’s bus, and the driver asked me, “Name?”
“Gregory Dennison,” I replied.
The driver looked at his clipboard and said, “I’ve got you here. Go on in.”
Tony’s Airport Shuttle was a private company running buses several times daily between Portland International Airport, the largest in Oregon, and the university town of Grandvale ninety miles away. When I had been accepted into the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program for mathematics at Grandvale State, I was sent a packet that included travel information, including the telephone number for Tony’s Airport Shuttle. I had made a reservation for this bus trip over the phone while I was at my parents’ house in Plumdale last week.
I watched rolling hills pass by out of the bus window. Three other passengers were on this bus, and the ride lasted almost as long as the airplane trip did. This part of Oregon was much more green than the world I was used to. Back home in Plumdale, the green hillsides of spring were already starting to dry out, and in the hot inland summer of Jeromeville, where I went to school the rest of the year, the hills in the distance had been brown for a month already. It made sense that Oregon would be more green, since much of the Pacific Northwest was known for being rainy. One time several years earlier, I was playing a game on the Super Nintendo, stuck on a level where it was raining. The game played rain sound effects continuously in the background, occasionally punctuated by thunder, and my mother, who was within earshot but not paying close attention to me, said, “What is this level you’re on? Oregon?”
Today was a beautiful day, however, sunny with a few puffy white clouds sprinkled across the sky, and the temperature was just right when I got off the bus at the Grandvale bus depot. I had told Dr. Garrison, the professor in charge of the REU program, which bus I would be on, and he said that a mathematics graduate student named Karen would be picking up students from the bus station as we arrived. Dr. Garrison had emailed a photograph of Karen, so I would know who to look for, and I had a printed copy of this email with me. The photo was black and white, but I remembered enough of what the actual color photograph looked like to identify an oddly-shaped woman sitting in the waiting area as Karen.
“Are you Gregory?” Karen asked me as I approached her.
“Yes,” I replied. “You can call me Greg.”
“Hi! I’m Karen. It’s nice to meet you. Are you ready? You have all of your things?”
“Yes,” I said, following her to her car and putting my bags in the trunk.
Karen made small talk as we drove toward the campus. “Which school are you from?” she asked me.
“University of Jeromeville,” I replied.
“I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard it’s nice. That’s the school where everyone rides bikes, right?”
“Yeah. Jeromeville is a great place to go for a bike ride.”
“You might be able to find a used bike here. Grandvale is a college town with a lot of bikes too, but probably not as many as Jeromeville.”
“I’ll look into that.”
“You’re studying math? Do you know what you want to do when you’re done with your degree?”
“Not really,” I explained. “That’s kind of why I’m here, to figure that out, and see if math research is an option.”
“Well, I hope you have a great experience! This is my second year working with the program, and I really enjoyed it last year. Of course, I won’t be able to be part of it for the whole eight weeks, because this little guy will be coming sometime in July.” Karen patted her rounded belly, and I realized then why I had found her to be oddly-shaped earlier: she was pregnant. It was obvious now; I did not know why this did not occur to me when I first saw her.
Apparently, motor vehicles were allowed on more parts of the Grandvale State campus than on the Jeromeville campus, because Karen drove me through part of campus right up to a dorm called Howard Hall. “This is it,” Karen said. “The RAs are here handing out keys. They should be expecting you.”
“Thank you for the ride,” I replied.
“I’ll see you tomorrow in class. Nine in the morning.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”
I carried my bag and backpack into the lobby of Howard Hall, where a guy with long hair and stubble on his face sat at a table. “Are you moving in here?” he asked me. “What’s your name?”
“Greg Dennison. Room 312. I’m with the mathematics REU program.”
“I’m Mike,” he said, looking at a paper on a clipboard. “You’re in the right place. Let me get you your key.”
“Thank you,” I said as Mike handed me an envelope. I walked toward the elevator. The dorm I had lived in freshman year at Jeromeville, Building C, was three stories high and had no elevator. Howard Hall was five stories high, making an elevator more necessary. I pressed the button for the third floor, and when the elevator arrived, I walked down the hall to find my room.
Howard Hall was a brick building, and the outer wall of my room was brick, interrupted by a window in the middle. On the left wall were two large wardrobe-size cabinets, with drawers underneath, and in between them was a desk with a bulletin board above it. On the right side of the room were a bed and a small refrigerator and microwave. Howard Hall housed graduate students during the year, and this room looked like it was meant for one, but it was more spacious than my single room from Building C freshman year.
After I unpacked my clothes into the left wardrobe cabinet, I plugged in the telephone and called my mother, so she would know that I had arrived. She asked me all sorts of questions about the other students and professors in the problem, and what exactly I would be researching; I told her repeatedly that I did not know any of this information yet. Next, I decided to take a walk and get to know this campus better, since I had nothing to do the rest of the day. I brought a campus map with me on my walk and began walking east on Pine Street. The streets in Grandvale running east-west were named after trees, the north-south streets were numbered, and it appeared that most streets that crossed from the city into campus kept their names. I turned left on 27th Street and passed a building called the Memorial Union, with a grassy area called the Quad just past it. I thought this was curious, since Jeromeville also had a Memorial Union adjacent to a Quad. I walked diagonally across the Quad to Keller Hall, the building that housed the mathematics department, so that I would know how to find my class in the morning. It seemed easy to find.
Grandvale State was an older campus than Jeromeville, with more stately brick buildings, but with numerous other architectural styles represented. As I walked east past a few more buildings, I saw Maple Street, the northern boundary of campus, across a field to the left. I walked east along Maple Street, past campus buildings on the right and a mix of fraternity houses, businesses, and apartments on the left. As I headed farther east, approaching the end of campus and start of downtown, I noticed a Baptist church across the street with a sign showing the service times. They had a Sunday evening service at six o’clock; maybe I would have to try that tonight. I would only be in Grandvale for eight weeks, I would not have time to search exhaustively for a church, but I wanted to go to church somewhere. I attended an Evangelical Covenant church in Jeromeville, but there was not one in Grandvale; I had checked.
The blue sky that I had seen leaving Howard Hall had become cloudy, and just seconds after this thought registered in my mind, it began to rain. The rain came down hard, I was at the point of my walk farthest from the dorm, and I wore nothing but a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts. Go figure. There had been no sign of rain twenty minutes ago, and while I knew that this part of Oregon was rainy, I expected late June to be the dry season. Apparently I was wrong. I started walking back toward the dorm, first south until I hit Pine Street, then west toward Howard Hall, past the large brick library and numerous other buildings. By the time I got back to the Memorial Union, about ten minutes after it had started raining, the rain stopped just as suddenly. The sky was blue again by the time I got back to Howard Hall, with no sign anywhere of the massive downpour I had just experienced.
I reached the elevator at the same time as a tall, thin Asian guy with glasses. “Looks like you got caught outside at the wrong time,” he said, observing my wet clothes.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m not used to this weather. I’m not from here.”
When he saw me press the button for the third floor, he asked, “Are you one of the math REU students, by any chance?”
“Yes. I’m Greg.”
“Me too. I’m Marcus. Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” I said. I recognized the name from the program information that I was sent in the mail, which included a list of the students and the schools we represented.
“You’re from Jeromeville, is that right?” Marcus asked, obviously also recalling information from this same list.
“Yeah! And you’re from somewhere in Minnesota?”
“Yes, Lakeview College, I’ll be a senior this fall, but I’m not from there originally. I grew in Los Montes, not far from you.”
“Oh! Yeah, I know where that is.” Los Montes was about an hour car trip down the Valley from Jeromeville, on highway 9 between Stockdale and Ralstonville.
“Jeromeville was actually my second choice, if I didn’t get into Lakeview. There’s an abstract algebra professor at Lakeview that studies exactly what I want to do in grad school eventually.”
“I see,” I replied. “I guess I chose Jeromeville because it was far enough from home to feel like I was on my own, but still close enough to go home on weekends. And they offered me a scholarship for my grades.”
“Where is home?”
“Plumdale. Santa Lucia County.”
“Oh, ok. So was this a Regents’ Scholarship you were talking about?”
“Yeah. And I was invited to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. I got invited to a preview day for that, and I really liked what I saw.”
“I was there too. I would have been in the IHP if I hadn’t gotten into Lakeview.”
“Wow,” I said. “Funny.”
At this point, we were standing in front of Marcus’ door. “It was nice meeting you,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow in class?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “If not sooner.” I walked back to my room, thinking about this odd coincidence that Marcus and I were almost in the same dorm freshman year at Jeromeville, had he not gone to Lakeview, and yet we ended up crossing paths three years later in another state. Marcus had made it clear that he knew his future mathematics career path in great detail. I did not, and I wondered if that would make this program a poor fit for me. I tried to remember that I was here to explore career options, and that it was okay not to know at this point.
I walked outside again around 5:30, having changed into dry clothes and hoping it would not rain, in order to walk to Grandvale Baptist Church in time for the evening service. When I explained to the greeter who I was, that I was in town until mid-August for a research internship, she asked for my contact information and said that she would forward it to the pastor who ran the college and career group. I looked forward to getting involved with that. The music was a bit more traditional than what I was used to at Jeromeville Covenant, but I liked classic hymns as well as contemporary worship music. I liked this church well enough so far.
I had no food in the dorm room, and I had not purchased a meal plan, so I found a sandwich shop near the church that was still open, and ate the ham sandwich I bought from there on my walk back to my room. I would have to find a grocery store tomorrow, and I would only be able to buy enough that I could carry on foot back to the dorm.
A while after I returned to my room, at eight o’clock, I walked down to the end of the hall, where there was a common room with couches and a television. I was hoping to watch The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The X-Files in peace, but two people were already watching television: Mike, the resident advisor I had met earlier, and a guy with a shaved head. “What are you guys watching?” I asked nervously.
“Simpsons,” Mike replied.
“Good,” I said, relieved. “Can I join you?”
“Sure,” the guy with the shaved head said. “I’m Ivan.”
“Greg. Are you the Ivan in the math REU program?”
“Yeah! Nice to meet you.”
The Simpsons was a rerun, as were most shows in the middle of June. In the show, the recurring villain Sideshow Bob was released from prison and sent to live with his brother. “Sideshow Bob episodes are always so ridiculous,” Ivan commented.
“Yeah,” I replied. I mimed stepping on a rake and getting hit in the face, a reference to an earlier Simpsons episode in which this repeatedly happened to Bob. “Whack! Uhhhh,” I said, imitating the rake sound effect and Bob’s grunt.
“I love that rake scene,” Ivan commented.
“So, is Bob’s brother played by a famous guest star?” Mike asked.
“Bob is Kelsey Grammar, from Frasier,” Ivan explained. “And his brother is the actor who plays his brother on Frasier.”
“I don’t know if I knew that,” I said. I was impressed with Ivan’s Simpsons knowledge. He may even be more knowledgeable about the show than me.
When The Simpsons ended and King of the Hill started, Ivan and Mike got up and headed back to the hallway “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Greg?” Ivan said as he was leaving.
“Yeah,” I said. “Have a good night.”
I spent the next ninety minutes watching King of the Hill and The X-Files by myself; these were also reruns that I had seen once already. When the shows ended at ten o’clock, I went back to my room, where there was nothing to do but read. Mom had told me earlier to let her know if there was anything I needed her to send me. I could probably make do without a computer in my room, as long as I found a computer lab on campus, and a television was not necessary since there was one in the common room. But I definitely wanted my stereo and some CDs, if possible. I had no music here. I would call Mom again in the next couple days, after I thought of more things for her to send.
I read my Stephen King book for about another hour, then went to bed. As I lay on the bed falling asleep, I felt uncertain about the next eight weeks. I was definitely in an unfamiliar situation and place, and the thought of not seeing my friends in Jeromeville, or having the familiar comforts of home, made me uneasy. Hopefully I would be able to find a used bike for the next eight weeks. And I really hoped that today’s sudden downpour was not typical of the weather in Grandvale in the summer. Some people actually liked this rainy weather, and I would never understand those people. Gray skies made me sad, and water falling in my face getting things wet and dirty while I was just trying to get from one place to another made life more stressful and overwhelming than it already was.
On a positive note, I had already met two people in the math program, and Ivan and I shared The Simpsons as something in common. I also had a lead on a group at church to get involved with. Maybe the other math students, and any church friends I would make, would end up being lifelong friends, like the other students in the IHP my freshman year. Or, for that matter, maybe I would not end up liking these people; I did not know. The next eight weeks would be an adventure, and if the rainstorm this afternoon taught me anything, I would have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Author’s note: What are your thoughts about the story moving from Jeromeville to Grandvale for the next several episodes? What do you think will happen to Greg in Grandvale? Does anyone want to make any bold predictions for later in year 4?