College educations

The boy is better than halfway through college now, which is, for me, simply stupefying. Not so much because of the “I remember when we were walking him to the bus stop,” thing. Although, if I could remember that, I’m sure that would be part of it.

No, Luke has wound his way past the midway point of college and I am only now, and only reluctantly, beginning to realize that all my hopes of living vicariously through his college experience have been foolish and misplaced. It turns out, dammit, that college is different these days.

I mean, I guess I knew that. The Georgia Institute of Technology, after all, is not Arizona State UniversityComputer engineering is not journalism.

Still, I expected that Luke’s outside-school college life, at least, would be similar to what I went through. I was hoping I could offer some tips. We could swap stories. Bond, you know? I should’ve known better.

Kids still drink and party, of course — it is college — though I have to imagine it was a lot easier in my day, when the drinking age was 18. (On that small but vital point, Luke assures me — if that’s the word for it — that no one has any trouble chasing down a beer or 10 now.) Weirdly, kegs — a party must-have when I was at ASU — aren’t a thing at GT, he tells me. So he doesn’t even need me to show him how to tap a keg.

Luke’s situation is different because this is 2019, too, and not the 19waybacks. Some things simply don’t exist any more.

The scheduled call home, a staple of my time in Tempe? We text Luke or call him any time we want. He ignores us any time he wants. Which, mostly, is most of the time.

The trips home? Because of distance and finances, I went home only at Christmas and over the summer. (And some summers I stayed in Tempe to work.) Luke stops home — we’re 25 miles from GT’s midtown Atlanta campus — any time he needs something from his room. We’re basically free storage up here.

Books? I had to schlep them all over campus and, in my later college career, walk them back and forth, a mile or more, from my off-campus apartment every day. Most — but not all — of Luke’s textbooks are e-books. They still cost as much.

Going to the library? You needed it back then, if for no other reason than to snag a midday nap with the apartment being so far away. With so much online these days, Luke doesn’t have to go the library … or at least not as much. (Plus, he lives about a five-minute walk off the edge of campus. If he needs a snooze between classes, he can grab one in his bed.)

Girls? It was one of the main reasons I went to ASU. (That, and it’s where I got accepted.) At Tech, the gender ratio is getting better, but dudes still outnumber women 2-to-1. (You may have heard the by-now classic line, supposedly uttered by GT women, about a campus filled with techy nerd boys: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”)


The settings are vastly different, too, between his school and mine. When I went to school, Tempe was, for the most part, a relatively quiet suburb. It featured the university, a bohemian kind of street west of campus with a few bars, and a bunch of middle-class neighborhoods. Little but desert lay between there and downtown Phoenix. (It’s a lot different now. There’s even a lake in the desert which has turned into the state’s second most-visited tourist attraction.)

Luke’s in the middle of a thumping city of almost 6 million people known for its hip-hop scene, its diversity and its always disappointing professional sports teams.

In Tempe, I lived, first, in a 40-year-old men’s dormitory with an open courtyard and a communal bathroom that you had to walk outside to get to. Luke lived, first, in a 40-year-old dorm across the street from the football stadium, walking through inside corridors to a communal bathroom (with separate shower stalls) past towel-clad co-eds heading to their communal bathroom.

(If I’d have seen a towel-clad co-ed in my dorm, I would’ve simply turned to stone. Right there. And I’d have been content.)

Later, I moved to an area east of campus known as Sin City to live with three other guys in rundown apartments where we skipped classes to play Frisbee and where, once, we woke up to a bullet hole in our living room wall. The bullet, from some apartment across the courtyard, had passed through the front door first.


Luke, because he was a good student in high school (whereas I barely could have been called a student in high school), gets his tuition paid for by the state and his room and board paid for by us. He now lives with three buddies on the 16th floor of a new apartment building overlooking downtown Atlanta. He has his own bathroom. His place  has a pool deck with a Jumbotron-looking screen, outdoor fire pits and a putt-putt course. A Starbucks is coming to the ground floor.


We had coffee, too. You made it in the apartment. Or you bought a cup at a long-shuttered restaurant chain with a gloriously socially unconscious name: Hobo Joe’s.

I learned some life lessons in Tempe. Always take the showerhead farthest from the entrance to the dorm’s communal bathroom.  Stay away from the front door of the apartment at night. Make sure you have everything you need before you walk to campus (especially useful on 95-degree spring days).

None of that does Luke any good. Times are different. College has changed.

I’m not going to say it’s for the better. But, dang, that Jumbotron by the pool would have been a huge hit in Sin City.

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