Recently, on a relative whim, I decided to fly out to Ohio and visit where I attended college. I had noticed about halfway through March that the Bruins were playing in Pittsburgh on a Saturday afternoon (April 1) and I figured that might be fun to attend, so why not take a couple of days off from work and hit Kent for old times sake while I was at it? So the plan came together quickly. A few visits to JetBlue.com and Budget.com and I was all set. The itinerary was pretty basic:
- Thursday: fly to Cleveland, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the afternoon, drive to Kent afterwards (35 min drive)
- Friday, walk around campus in the morning, have lunch, explore downtown in the afternoon
- Saturday, get up, eat breakfast, drive to Pittsburgh for the 3pm game between the Penguins and Bruins (1 hr, 45 min drive)
- Sunday, get up, fly home
Simple. I’ll break down the itinerary further here:
A completely uneventful flight had me touching down in Cleveland right around noon. Completely uneventful flights are my favorite kind of flights, by the way. I collected my rental car and proceeded directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sidenote – I had been there once before, and believe it or not, it was actually before it even opened. In another one of those weird stories in my life where I end up somehow being involved in iconic moments, I had lucked out and snagged a freelance video production job with VH-1, who was covering the opening of the Hall of Fame and, specifically, the concert celebration as part of the grand opening. The concert was being held at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, so I was there for a few days at the end of August, 1995, before the grand opening on September 2. The concert was held on September 1st. Prior to the concert, all the VH-1 people got to tour the museum before it opened, myself included. Crazy! There are a lot of other stories and memorable experiences to talk about during that week, so I will save those for another blog post.
Anyway, it had been 28 years since I’d been to the rock hall. My expectations were low. I’m not totally a fan of the whole idea of a rock hall of fame, with new inductees every year. Save that for sports, I suppose. That whole part of it feels like an overly commercial, political money-grab to me. But upon visiting the hall last week, I had forgotten how much cool stuff they actually have in there, and not just from multi-gazillion selling bands and performers. But still, it was super-cool to see a guitar of Joe Strummer’s, an actual suit that Hank Williams wore, John Lennon’s rooftop concert guitar, an Elvis suit, Michael Jackson’s jacket from the Thriller video, Michael Anthony’s Jack Daniels bass, and one of Angus Young’s schoolboy outfits. All good. But I really loved seeing stuff from unheralded legends like a guitar from Robert Lockwood Jr, coats from Fats Domino, Cheap Trick’s Dream Police era tour costumes, a lot of other stuff from “deeper” blues legends, and some really cool handwritten lyrics from legendary songs. So while I’m still dubious about what a portion of the rock hall represents, I was still very glad to have dropped by.
Friday’s plan to get up early, walk the campus, and then check out downtown got off to a late start because of rain. Universities across the country are, of course, different sizes. Some campuses can be walked in less than hour. Kent is not one of them. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of around 22,000, spread out across 953 acres. Without being biased, it’s a beautiful campus. While I was a little bummed that it was a grey day, the rain did stop and I set out to explore the changes made to campus since I attended (1990-1994).
I won’t bore my reader(s) to tears with the details of this building or that building because most of you have no familiarity with the campus itself. But what I found most interesting about walking the campus was the unexpected emotions that it dredged up. Walking around the Radio/TV building, where I spent the most time in 93/94, was harder than I thought. Just peeking into the old college radio station, the old TV production studio, and some of my old classrooms just got me nostalgic and sad for a simpler time. Walking by my now torn-down freshman dorm was harder than I thought, as some incredible, specific and clear memories happened there. Just being around the Ice Arena again, where I did play-by-play for the Div 1 hockey team, walking around my first off-campus apartment building, exploring the student center…all harder than I thought.
What was so hard about this? I didn’t go there to be sad. It took me a while to figure it all out, but it comes back to a common theme for me. Sometimes when I’m trapped in my own head, I get sad about time passing. College, in particular, was a real novelty. It was my first exposure to freedom and liberation from living under my parent’s roof. It was all these new friends, being able to budget my own time, and make my own decisions. It was all intoxicating, and it’s all out of reach now. The whole era was like a beautiful comet on a clear night – there and gone. In walking around the campus, I found myself wanting more “there” and less “gone.” But it’s not coming back. And I know that. On top of that, the campus has undergone some pretty phenomenal changes which, for a fleeting second, had me a little bitter. Like why couldn’t I have had this when I was here? This emotion was all exacerbated by two things – I was alone and it was during spring break, so nobody was on campus. I resorted to sharing my feelings via text with my friends Dave and Leo. They helped me zoom out a little on it all.
All this to say it wasn’t all sadness and mild jealousy! And revisionist history was also very much in play, as I referred to in those texts. Yes, looking back on college 30 years out, one tends to remember the big fun stuff. Which is absolutely the way it should be. But there were plenty of times when finances were a real struggle. I had to have a job all four years I was there. Not every class was awesome. Not every moment was big fun. Remembering that end of it brought me back down to Earth. And I had to remember that I was walking the campus and the downtown as a far different person in terms of maturity and what I could afford. I realized I was placing my 2023 self into my 1992 self. My 1992 self could not enjoy Kent, Ohio in the same way as my 2023 self.
Anyway, these all were just emotions that I wasn’t expecting to pop-up and be in the mix. As I walked around, there were also plenty of things that brought big smiles and lovely memories to mind. The campus remains beautiful. The memories are intact, and they are great. Exploring downtown Kent was similar, but by the time I got there, my text exchange above had helped me to embrace the now and to appreciate the past for what it was – an immensely positive and pivotal time, but not all rainbows and unicorns.
The day got sunnier as it went on, both literally and metaphorically. By later afternoon, the sun was casting its brightest light of the day and I was marveling at the downtown and all the major improvements that have been done. Kent’s downtown is very similar to a town like Northampton, MA, for those of you that are familiar with Northampton. It is not infected by national chains for the most part, and it has retained its funk from when I was there, mixed in with some new life. It remains very much the liberal college town it has always been. The momentum increased for me when I met up with Jen, an old classmate (and her husband) at Ray’s for a beer. We were both in the same area of study, so we had some warm conversations about life today and life back then. I got a real kick out of Jen commenting on all the CD’s and long hair I had back then. True true! I was so happy to have caught up with her after so long.
And that was that. I’ve made a vow to get back there more often, and I will. I think I need to weave that area into my life more, as it was foundational for me and it’s just a picturesque, neat little corner of the Earth.
I woke up in Kent on Saturday morning feeling very good about the prior day, after my initial, albeit minor spiral. My cup was full. My next step was overflow that cup with a drive to Pittsburgh, about an hour and 45 minutes east, for a Bruins-Penguins game with my old roommate and friend John Horton. Another person I hadn’t seen in forever. We first met in the autumn of 1990 in the now-demolished Terrace Hall during my first year at Kent, and we became roommates in my second year in an off-campus
hole apartment with two other friends. We had so many hilarious moments and fun times during those two years and I was really looking forward to seeing John and having the Bruins beat the Penguins (which they did). John was the editor of the Daily Kent Stater – we had a daily college newspaper, yes – and I was the Technical Director of the TV2 news – we had a nightly newscast, yes – so we also frequented a lot of the same school buildings, though now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever had a single class together. Memory might be failing me though.
Memory failed me in a few other ways, too, as John reminded me of a few things I did (and said) back then that really made me laugh and really made me realize that I am now a very different person, but in some ways exactly the same person. But spending the day with him brought me right back to all of our old hangouts and laughs. He had never been to an NHL game before, so I was really happy to be the wingman for that. Unfortunately for him, we had 3rd row seats behind the net, so he’s spoiled for life. If he goes to any more NHL games, those seats will be the standard to compare against, and it’ll be hard to beat! After the game, we drove around a bit and I got to see some real beautiful views of Pittsburgh, a city I’ve always liked quite a bit, and we ended up at a brewery for a cold craft beverage and more talk of glory days – past and current. They’re all glory days.
Anyway, we both share very similar interests – ridiculous sports stories, weird or funny news events and pretty much anything else that can make us laugh out loud. I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with him, meet one of his kids and just chat about life with him and his wife Debbie for a bit. They graciously let me stay in their nice new house just outside of Pittsburgh. It was too short a stay and we both agree that we need to find ways to hang more often.
No more waiting for someone or something to show me the way.