Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Return to My Old Stomping Grounds, Part 1: College Park

You know you've lived in a place a really long time-- either that, or you're as old as your teenager claims you are-- when you give directions according to what the landmarks used to be. I grew up alongside the University of Maryland-- first because my parents dragged me along to their classes (taught or attended), then because we moved to the town next door, University Park. Today I meant to go to Ikea, but I got a little sidetracked along the way. By a gyro. I'll get to that.

Maryland Terpwear and Gifts. Previously: Terp Territory.

All I really wanted was a new "University of Maryland" sticker for the back of my car. For over a year now, ever since an ice storm peeled off part of the existing one, I've been driving around with this sticker that says "UNIVERSIT  OF MARYLAND." There's something very uncomfortable about an English major's expression of college pride being marred by a typo. But every time I tried to buy a replacement, something would crop up. Last time, I was literally half a mile from the store when the school nurse called and told me my daughter was throwing up in the health room. But now my quarry was almost within my reach.

Driving past the old Dollar Theater that is now an Applebee's-- I saw "Inner Space" there-- at the theater, I mean, not at the Applebee's-- and turning left at the old 'Vous bar that is now the "Cornerstone Grill" or some nonsense, I proceeded to make another left just before the old Pi Kappa Alpha house that burned down fifteen years ago and is now a high-rise apartment building, and parked in the strip mall. Oh College Park, how I miss your grungier days and your grungier ways. These students walking your streets will never know what it meant to own a pair of "Vous shoes" designated to walk in the spilled beer and vomit of that establishment. Nor will they see the embarrassing spectacle of the toilet-papered PIKA house, moldering and lacking large sections of paint, as they shop across the street; they will never know the alleged slogan of that fraternity is "PIKA Is The Shit." Instead they live in these glossy high-rises, drinking bubble tea and window-shopping at Game Stop.

The Cornerstone Grill: great-grandchild of The 'Vous.

Finding nothing at the first store I tried, I dashed across Route One toward the Maryland Book Exchange. But first-- sidetracked again!-- I walked past the Bagel Place where Laura and I used to often stop for breakfast on our way to high school. I couldn't resist going inside.

Oh, bless you, Bagel Place. You haven't changed one bit since 1992.

My order number even got a proper Beavis and Butt-head-era snicker out of me.

You see that? THAT is proper veggie cream cheese. None of this "tiny bits of diced vegetable" crap. This is a salad held together with cheese.

At the Book Exchange I found the window sticker that had managed to evade me for so long. It almost got away again; the lines were insanely long with students buying their new-semester textbooks, but I refused to be deterred. If it caused me to get a parking ticket, well, this is College Park, and I'm all about tradition.

While I waited in line, I pulled up my Words With Friends games on my phone. I'm playing against someone I'll refer to only as Famous Best-Selling Novelist. I managed to beat her last time, but this time...

You see my letters there? That's not a game board, it's a yodel. Or perhaps a primal scream. And the Triple Word Score is WIDE OPEN. Sighing, I completed my pathetic turn and paid for my sticker. SUCCESS.

I headed back to retrieve my car; my phone was reminding me that it would be time to meet my mother in an hour, and I still needed to go to Ikea. But food sidetracked me once again.

Curse you, Marathon Deli. Interfering with my desire for Swedish meatballs.

Confession: I had never eaten at Marathon Deli. It was only because I realized my fellow alumni were going to turn me in for this and my degree would be rescinded that I decided to drop in today. And they were right-- it was an amazing gyro. In case you're thinking, "But you JUST ATE a cream cheese bagel"-- I only ate half. And I didn't finish the fries. So there.

Although Marathon Deli has been there forever, I noticed they have a new neighbor.

Is that what all the cool kids are doing these days? Back in my day, we had this:

Okay, it looked a little better back then, but this WAS the Santa Fe Cafe, where everyone went on Saturday nights and had a grand old time. If you walk through College Park you will see there are picturesque low brick walls along the sidewalks; those are for keeping the drunken students from falling into the street. Full disclosure: I never partied at the Santa Fe Cafe. My undergrad career was socially pretty pathetic, which explains why all [ed note: yes, all] of my books include people attending college, teaching at college, wandering around on college campuses, or reflecting on college. Our sublimated desires show up in our fiction, and yes, I confess it, I want to go back to school.

After all that, I hurried off to meet my mother. The Ikea trip never happened; it's sad. But I'll go there next time; it's just past the concrete slab where the strip club used to be, up the road from the shell of the old Sizzler. Turn left.


  1. Thanks Rebecca for helping me to "Reflect Back" on my good ol' college days at the Univ. of Maryland - College Park. Oh Yes! The Vous clearly said it expressing 'the Vous Shoes' I'd say, there was just something Real College-like Unique about that place while in college. Actually, the same goes for the Santa Fe Bar. While with Delta Chi they would battle to get the Green, Red or Yellow worms in those Tequila Bottles. To this day, I do not like Tequila (period) Yet, I still miss the many very good times when I was at the University of Maryland - College Park. I was not going to post a comment, but I happen to notice that you wrote this in 2012 on my birthday. Speaking of dates, I was at UMCP from 1988 until 1990. You know, just about everything changes in time.

  2. I just came across your post and enjoyed reading and remembering. I clearly went to UMD well before you. I graduated in 1981 and was a member of the PIKA pledge class in the Fall 1978 (searching for PIKA led me to your post). That house was as close to Animal House as I've ever known on a college campus, and only by seeing that movie can the casual reader know what it was like. I also remember (it may have been long gone by your time) Hungry Hermans, a great place to get a sub and play Pac Man on the corner, behind the bike shop. I think it's a UPS store now? Anyway, it was great reading your post and remembering!

    1. HUNGRY HERMANS. That place was the bomb. In like 1982. My buddy Mark and I would go there, get Steak, Egg & Cheese subs and play video games. The ol days.

  3. Great trip down memory lane, really enjoyed your post. I pledged PIKA in 83' as awkward eager young man and came out the other end a consummate socialite with an appreciation for living for the moment and a new appreciation of others. If a movie of PIKE house was made of the 83-86 era it would have to be labeled fiction because most would not believe what took place there. It was an incredible bunch of guys and brave girls that knew how to live like there might not be a tomorrow. Was saddened when I saw PIKE has been tossed from campus again. Somehow our years really got it right, it was finely controlled chaos. But it aint over....Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?! Hell no!!