Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Got My Lunch Packed Up, My Boots Tied Tight

As promised, stories from my return to higher education. My schedule consists of a Monday night class on Massachusetts Ave in D.C. and a Tuesday night class on the main campus of Hopkins in Baltimore (read: an oasis of trees and brick in the middle of the ghetto). Monday. I left work about an hour and a half before the 6:00 start time, knowing that my destination was only 28 miles away, but that in the Washington Metro area, that means nothing. I was thrilled to arrive on New York Ave within 25 minutes. Seems like I would have been very early for my class then, n’est-çe pas? No. I drove around looking everywhere for N Street. Why does it get skipped? Where did Connecticut Avenue come from? How can a street be one way only during certain hours of the day? Does anyone in this city stop when oncoming traffic threatens them? These questions peppered my mind as I drove in the same circles at least five times. I was running out of time.

Finally, I found a parking garage on 17th and M that appeared to be open to the public AND open later than 8:30 (if you are not from the D.C. area, this must seem crazy to you, but it’s actually not uncommon). In my haste, I did not receive a ticket upon entry. I looked around for personnel to no avail. I even searched for those pre-pay machines they sometimes have in Metro garages, but saw nothing. And if I didn’t hurry, I would be late for class.

I walked up a mysterious stairwell that somehow landed me in the employees’ entrance hallway, then finally on a completely different street than where I entered. Dressed in my carefully chosen “first day of school outfit” of black pants, a black short-sleeved sweater and fake wing-tipped black Nine West pumps, I thought I’d fit in. And then I remembered that Massachusetts Avenue is not New York City. Therefore, everyone wears flats, at least on the street. I felt a little silly.

I arrived in my class with one minute to spare, and tried to force myself not to think about the unlikelihood that I would ever find my car again. The class itself is a survey, and, at this early stage, it’s probably too soon to tell, but I don’t feel like I’ll learn more about forms than I already know. I will, of course, learn from practicing, and maybe also from my peers in the class. I was surprised that they did not seem to come from the same background I have, but they looked like English majors, so I could be wrong. I deliberately left my phone on vibrate, just in case I got a message from The Boy or BigJohn indicating whether our offer was accepted. Instead, of course, Ryan and Tara called and left messages, resulting in a violent buzzing coming from the bowels of my bag. You can be assured, Miss Nine West Pumps and Jack Georges Cordovan Bag felt pretty silly with her phone ringing in class. My face flushed and I apologized. (A note on the flushing of the face: it’s amazing to me how often I flush. Without experiences like being called on in class or making presentations, I don’t really notice it, but now that I’ve had two classes where I had to address groups of strangers, I remember that I’m a flusher. Brilliant.)

At the break, as you already know, I learned that we won the house, but no one in that room seemed to care, so I didn’t tell. I had originally hoped I might find a person to commute with who was in a similar situation as mine, but these were all Washingtonians who talked funny and said “Baltimore” like it was a foreign country. They don’t know I live there.

Upon leaving the building, I called Tara so I would feel less alone on my walk to the garage (it wasn’t scary, by the way). My car was one of the few left, and as I departed (slaloming through pillars I’m pretty sure are meant to have a different function), I couldn’t find a soul to pay. So, I stole parking from the District of Columbia. Again. Please believe that I had money in hand both times, I just couldn’t figure out who to give it to. I called Tara back, to resume our conversation, and back on New York Ave some guy in a late model Beamer kept honking at me. I forgot that talking on a phone without a headset is illegal in D.C. My bad.

When I came home to a celebratory bottle of Brut with The Boy, he complained that he had forgotten it was Monday Night Football and that I didn’t have cable. I had to promise to dedicate Sunday to his whiny, football junkie self. But that’s pretty much how it always goes anyway. I’ve grown accustomed.

Tuesday, after a reckless and used day, I scrambled to determine the location of my class. A professor, and not my own, finally responded with the hall and room number, so I pored over a JHU map to figure out where I could park, since I have not yet registered my car as that of a student. On my way home from work, I realized I had enough extra time to swing by the apartment and grab a kudos, so I did, and, while talking to Amber, apparently I also turned right on red. I then proceeded to nearly hit the traffic cop standing in the middle of Light Street, waving me over. I do not feel that this is the most effective way to pull people over. I kind of feel like, if you’re going to stand in the middle of the road, it’s really your fault if you get hit. Anyway, so I got a $75 ticket and a stern warning for doing something I didn’t know was wrong. Now I’m paranoid every time I see a red light.

I drove through the ghetto and over the train tracks and arrived on campus with few problems. Except that there is hella construction on campus and it caused me confusion. I had no problem reading the map, but putting that knowledge into practice was more difficult, resulting in my circling the campus twice. I finally parked in a lot I had previously thought to be off limits, and walked across the street, this time having traded my stilettos for faux-snakeskin flip flops. Time to begin the attempt to navigate the quads. Surprisingly, I found a clear-cut route, but my plan was thwarted by more construction that apparently obstructs everything from that point on. So, I had to walk past my parking lot, past the medical center I passed on my way in, and past the actual building I needed in order to get going in the right direction. It was the equivalent of spinning a blindfolded child in circles before you allow her to hit a piñata.

Pressed for time, I followed a rollerblader’s lead and asked a couple of girls where my hall was. They pointed me in the opposite direction I had been heading, and when I reached it, the name of the building did indeed begin with a G, but aside from that and being constructed of bricks, it had nothing else in common with the one I needed. I asked another girl, who pointed me in the direction of the building I had originally aspired to. Which, at that point, was also right in front of me. (I also found time to glare at the original direction givers on my way over.)

Although the two classes I'm taking are very similar in content, structure and assignments, I liked this professor and felt more inspired. I guess that could be due to many factors, not the least of which being that I wasn’t distracted about losing my car in the city. This professor looks like any other mid-thirties female English professor, but if you close your eyes, she sounds like Julia Roberts. And she and I were the only ones in the room to have seen Napoleon Dynamite. “You know, Christina,” she said to the class, seemingly embarrassed, “Every person in my undergrad class knew what I was talking about.” I was by far the youngest in this class, which further proves that I am delusional and crazy for thinking that 24 was old to be going back for my Master’s.

The real excitement of this night came when I journeyed across the quad, opposite of the way I came, thinking that I had sufficiently studied the map. I zigzagged around the grass from walkway to walkway, probably appearing drunk to any who might have seen. I ended up at a fork of two roads (devoid of sidewalks) I vaguely remembered from my circumvention of the campus earlier, so I turned around and walked across a skywalk that took me to a parking garage. Unfortunately, it was not mine. I walked down the stairs to the lower level, cheeks burning, and managed to find a way out of it. I walked along a newly constructed sidewalk within the confines of a 4-foot-tall brick wall along the winding road that goes through campus. I had to make a turn, but I still vaguely felt I was headed in the right direction. Then the sidewalk ended (don’t buy the book or trust Shel Silverstein, I’ve seen it myself and can take you there). Surrounded by the aforementioned brick wall, I had to (look all around to make sure no one was watching) throw my chic and savvy leather bag over first, then hop over the wall. Muttering, I continued walking in the same direction, forced to walk on the road through the woods. I kept looking over my shoulder to try to catch any impending traffic. I felt like an idiot. One car eventually did pass me, and I had to stand up on a 6-inch slab of concrete to avoid being hit—me and my bag, just hanging out on the bridge. I got a funny look from that driver.

After I crossed the bridge, I finally found my car, and somehow made it home with only a couple of incidents where I had to turn around on the way back.

Welcome back to college. I felt more competent on my first day of undergrad. And I was wearing a name tag.

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