Here’s a bit of advice for any college graduate over the age of, say, 30 who has any pride at all.
Stay away from your college hangouts. Don’t take the trip down memory lane. Do not, under any circumstances, be that graying older dude wandering around campus in the middle of the week as if you belong there.
You don’t. You did, maybe, once.
You don’t anymore.
I suppose a little time travel is OK if it’s a football game or a basketball game or something. I guess that’s accepted. Hell, on gameday, three-quarters of any given college football stadium — more — is filled with quickly aging alumni in too-tight school-color sweatshirts and polo shirts, all of them drinking too much and hollering like drunk 19- and 20-year-olds.
That’s fine. That’s Americana. But just going to campus on a regular weekday? Rolling into the student union? Checking out sweatshirts in the bookstore?
It’s a little weird and you know it. Almost creepy.
Earlier this month — holy schneike, it’s the end of April already — I was in Phoenix for the Final Four. Got there mid-week. The title game was on a Monday.
So there I was, Monday morning, tooling down to Tempe just to see the campus again. It’d been quite a few years. I thought I’d give it a little looksee.
Two notions battled in my sun-addled brain as I strolled around in shorts and flip-flops:
- Man, this place is great.
- Man, this was a long time ago.
The thing is, things change. This photo of Palm Walk was taken looking south, from the foot of the bridge that spans University Avenue. Pointing this way, ASU looks like it did back in the ’80s.
But turn around. Go to the top of the bridge. You used to be able to see right into Sun Devil Stadium from there. Me and my dorm buddies would walk from the south side of campus on gameday, through all the old bastards in their ASU wear that we couldn’t afford, climb the bridge and — boom! — there it was. The prettiest stadium I knew, situated right there between two buttes on the banks of the (what was then bone dry) Salt River.
Now, you look over that bridge in the other direction and you get this …
Who the heck put those buildings there? What happened to the stadium?
Yeah, progress is a bitch. The journalism school I graduated from, the Walter Cronkite School, is not even in Tempe anymore. It’s in downtown Phoenix, where all the TV stations and the one remaining newspaper are. A streetcar now will take you between the two campuses. Campusi. Whatever. From Tempe to Phoenix.
The center of campus — the Tempe campus, the real one — used to feature a fountain, just outside the Memorial Union. Now that fountain is covered by a big shade thingy with solar panels and such — kids nowadays can’t even take a little damn sun — and, worse yet, it’s not even a fountain any more. It’s a planter. Sheesh.
For sure, the gym where I used to play pickup in my freshman year is still standing, though it’s not looking any better for the years:
My old dorm, Irish C, is still standing, though you can’t get in there without some fancy key card now. I’ll tell you, when I was going to school, any damn body could waltz into the dorm. We made it out alive.
And, thank God, the best burger I ever had — at least that’s how I remember it — is still being broiled over an open flame at The Chuckbox, a lovably dingy dive just a block or two west of the bridge on University. Had a Great Big One (top of page) on that Monday that I was in town. Damn good. The place looks exactly as I remember it.
But the thing is, things change. If it’s not the Chuckbox, it’s Mill Avenue, once a semi-seedy part of a suburban college town, now a thriving thoroughfare filled with fern bars and chain restaurants. If it’s not Phys Ed West, it’s the Salt River, now with a man-made lake (Tempe Town Lake) and a practical city of new high-rise office buildings overlooking it.
The journalism school is downtown now, but the State Press, where I held my first newspaper job, is still down the steps of the administration building on the Tempe campus.
If it’s not the Valley Art Theatre, a place I worked so many years ago manning the concession stand, cramming into the tiny booth outside selling tickets to the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, climbing the ladder to change the letters on the marquee — all of that is still there on Mill Ave — it’s the entire vibe of the place.
But that, of course, is on me.
ASU is a wondrous place, and, I’d guess it’s that way for almost all of the graying Sun Devil alumni who make their way onto campus every once in a while. It’s a place where I first stood on my own and fell on my own, a place with a million memories and, for many thousands of kids every year, a place they’ll make a million of their own.
I love that place. But I doubt I’ll make that pilgrimage to campus an annual trip. It’s just too dang weird anymore. Because — smack lips, mutter “yep, yep, yep” — things change.
Mostly, we do.