Nothing beats a trip to your old college town with your old college roommates to make you feel really, well, old.
I couldn’t stop grinning as we pulled into Happy Valley. My family ends up returning to State College at least once a year for football games, but this was one of those rare visits since my 2001 graduation with the sole purpose of living it up. In other words, the kids were at Grandma’s.
Traffic, as always, slowed to a crawl as we drove downtown toward our hotel. “I need a hoodie,” I told Jon. Literally every person I saw was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. It was like going past a hospital at lunchtime and seeing nothing but scrubs. Nothing but hoodies. I self-consciously smoothed my once-thought-to-be-cool sweater shawl.
Everyone also had bump-its, tons of eyeliner and skinny jeans. I couldn’t bring myself to criticize those unfortunate trends, though. Doing so would be a little like readjusting a pill box hat while complaining about all those dang hippies in their bell bottoms.
Finally we pulled into our hotel parking lot. The room was very, hmm, dorm-room-esque. As in, cinderblock walls and cave-like coziness. “I can’t stay here,” Jon announced.
But, in the end, we had no choice. No other rooms available in nearby hotels. “Come on, it’s not any worse than our college apartments,” I reminded him. He shuddered and said something about not touching the bedspread unless absolutely necessarily.
We took a quick walk downtown before meeting our friends. The stores were different — a bank where there had once been a bagel shop; a sports bar redone as a club; a market where there once had been yet another clothing store.
The smell — of trees, stale beer and cigarettes — was the same. Old Main was just as impressive and the line for the Waffle House still snaked around the block. But everything was tainted with something new. Nostalgia.
“If I start singing, ‘This Used to Be My Playground,’ feel free to smack me,” I told Jon.
Our friends were already waiting for us when we walked into the café. Squeals and hugs all around lasted for a few minutes and then, before the drinks could arrive, we whipped out cell phones to show off pictures of our children and talked about our jobs and our pets.
Our party was one short when a former roommate realized she wasn’t ready to cut the ties and leave her toddler for the weekend. I had nothing to worry about. My in-laws worry enough for the both of us. In fact, my mother-in-law soon texted me a photo of Emma, age 6, and Benny, 3, riding a toy Jeep. They both had helmets on.
The college students around us kept their distance while we scrutinized our menus and wondered aloud if the bathrooms had always been so graffiti-ed.
We finished our first round by 1:30 p.m. “It’s so quiet today,” someone said. “I wonder where everyone is?” Then we realized, they’re all still in bed.
We listed our must-see stops, ending with our old hangout, The Shandygaff, for dancing. “How late do you think we’ll make it?” someone asked. Everyone else tisked. All night, of course!
High hopes. After about three stops — which included meeting a group of students dressed like “Mario Kart” characters for no apparent reason; an economics major who was given much advice on wise credit card use; and a posse of high-heeled, bare-legged girls who really should’ve worn a coat or, for goodness sake, some tights — we were dragging.
“Pizza and bed?” asked Jon, glancing at our full glasses of beer and waging an internal battle of tiredness versus appearances.
“Pizza and bed,” I confirmed. Glasses left behind, we left the young ones (including the rest of my former roommates, each of whom graduated a year after me and so were technically still in their 20s) and headed back to our hotel.
As we fell into our beds (minus the bedspread, of course), I glanced at the time. 10:47. That was close to the time when I would start getting ready to go out when I was a wee college student.
My husband and I sometimes play this game. If you could go back to anytime in your life and relive it, when would it be? I usually answer college, remembering only those heady days of irresponsibility and what I thought was stress but now know was nothing.
But now, I’ve reconsidered. And not just because I like to go to bed at a reasonable time and wear comfortable pants.
I get to go home to my house, to my children, to my husband, to my life. And my life is good.