5 Things About College Towns That Change Once You Leave
College towns are stereotyped as places where high school graduates go to expand their outlook on slacklining and alcohol poisoning. They're wonderlands to visit, combining the best in nostalgia with the worst in remembering that time that you should've passed a class but didn't know how to balance studying with learning how to create a gravity bong.
For a few years after I graduated, every time that I visited my college town, it was a bittersweet reminder that I fell out of contact with a lot of people I'd once been great friends with. It also served as a reminder that my current life was more complicated than the life that surrounded trying to jump from the second floor of a parking deck to the first floor aided by nothing but sandals and a willful distrust of gravity. But, since I live in the same mountain range as my college town, I've managed to visit it a couple of times over the past two years. And, for a few reasons, I've been able to experience it as something better than a haunted mansion of hacky sack ghosts.
There's Nothing Wrong With Staying There
For years, I made fun of the people who had stayed in my hometown or saw the possibilities for something good in their college town and not in one a thousand miles away. I liked to think that I had a more expanded worldview than they did. "Look at those grinning assholes. If only they knew real happiness and not the homespun apple pie festival that their simple minds have concocted."
I now have friends who run their own businesses in that town, and they're all pretty content. And it's not because they were too stupid to realize that a bigger/different city would have more fancy Indian restaurants. They've just nailed down what they enjoy. Only having short encounters with happiness does not make your happiness more "special" than someone else's. Believing that consistent bliss is some byproduct of a dysfunctional brain is signing yourself up for frustration.
"Keep your 'happiness.' I'm happy being a miserable, spiteful prick!"
I'm not saying that you should all move to your college towns because it's actually what you needed all along. But seeing that some people threw their caps in the air and decided that they wanted to give their future a shot in their college town helps to solidify that it's an actual working place and not a Brigadoon for liberal arts students.
It Puts Everything In Perspective
For a long time, I really enjoyed sweaty, dim dance clubs. If it had a drink special and remixes of Top 40 songs, I had my wristband arm ready. Now, not so much. Because the dudes that enjoyed them when I started enjoying them have grown up too, and it's weird to watch them stand with their backs against the wall, arms crossed and scowling, hoping that some vagina will orbit around them long enough for them to text it. But whenever I hear the strains of Waka Flocka Flame's "No Hands," it takes me back to the haze of my college town's one dance club and being so thrilled by the idea that I was finally a pair of slim fit jeans that was worthy of messy affection.
"Do you think these jeans are tight enough to accentuate
my blase attitude toward life?"
I went with a buddy in late 2013, just to check it out, and when 1:45 a.m. rolled around and the lights came on, every erotic caveman that had been trying to start a fire with their hips alone looked up and shuffled out. They walked off into the darkness, back to their dorms and apartments, or to the bars that closed at 2:30, and it was then that I realized that there was no secret transition to adulthood that was happening. I had not crossed into the threshold of desirability because I'd put my wiener on some butts. I had gone to a club, and then gone home.
I walked through campus and I realized that, for the most part, everyone was dressed the same. When I was a freshman, it felt like I had stepped into this swirling carnival of flannels (I don't own any flannel! I must go buy some!), beards (I don't have one! I must try to grow one!), and personalities (A room full of people that don't agree with George W. Bush? How interesting). Part of that came from the fact that I'd never moved anywhere before, and any time you move it's going to feel like the Mos Eisley Cantina for a bit. But part of that was also due to the fact that I figured that I was having some unique series of moments that no one except for me could grasp the importance of. Now, I comprehend that that's a lot of what college is: getting lost in the myth of college.
It's like being home.
Visiting your college town a few years after you left can be disappointing, because you're no longer swept up in the grand surge of it. All of the major moments of your life aren't coming one after the other in increasingly rapid fashion like they were during your time as a student, and now you view it as a whole. And the whole is going to be much colder than when you were breathlessly rushed through its machinations.
You Learn How To Get Over Your College Bar
The myth of college extends to getting lost in the excitement of college bars. My favorite one was the second place that I visited when I turned 21. After ordering three pitchers of Killian's at a restaurant with my roommate and dooming ourselves to the demands of urine flow for 75 percent of the evening, I stumbled over to get my first hand stamp. No other bar was ever going to take its spot, because it fulfilled the two requirements that I had for it: It needed to give me an escape from all responsibility, and it had shots. And it fulfilled those two requirements beautifully.
"Do you have a place for me to puke all this out? Even better!"
Going there after I'd graduated was an exercise in crippling self-awareness. This place was not meant for me anymore. The drink specials were great, but I still needed to pay rent in a few days. I wanted to pour Fireball down my chest and proclaim myself King Liquorman III, but how would cops feel when I was caught speeding out of my castle? It's hard to have a lot of fun when you walk into a bar and realize that, no matter how much fun you have, the people surrounding you are going to be having an exponentially greater time.
Nothing will ever compare to the perfect storm of that bar, but I appreciate drinking too much to leave it on its pedestal, gazing down at my other choices and sneering, "Sure, they have trivia on Wednesdays, but did you ever uncomfortably taste belly button tequila there in the middle of December off of that girl with all of the tattoos?" Visiting the bar as a non-preferred member of its clientele instilled in me an urge to move on. I never got to say it to your face, bar, but I'm finally ready to get some closure with you. We just want different things. You want to fill people up with Bud Light until they can't stand, and I want to drink Bud Light in a place that has adequate seating. We can stay friends, though. I understand if you need some more time.
You Realize That A Place Is Going To Move On Without You
The first few times I traveled back to town, I felt disappointed by the fact that it wasn't the same. I attached a lot of emotions to a handful of hotspots, unaware they, too, were not impervious to change. My favorite dance club was turned into a restaurant that presumably didn't offer body shots and the crushed hopes of sexual desire. The restaurant that had served my favorite sandwich and had also served as the location of my first awful breakup was under new management. The professor that had told me, "You write average broadcast copy, but you're funny as hell," had recently retired. Taco Tuesday wasn't as fun without my friends. I ate my tacos with a side of grumbling, dissatisfied annoyance.
Meat and cheese wrapped in a shell of fading memories of a simpler time.
I was the petulant firstborn son of the town. I hadn't given myself enough time to become Non-College Daniel. I needed to create an identity for myself that wasn't linked to any sort of college gratification before I could go back and expect to have a decent time. When I was College Daniel, in a town that was built around college students, I had all of my whims catered to. The bars were geared toward me and what I liked, and so were the restaurants and the school and the way that the local Walmart was laid out. All of it was appeasing to my demographic, and once I "aged out," I initially felt a little smaller. A lot of it reminded me of why I'd enjoyed it for four years, but I was unable to hold on to that same bumpy rhythm that had enamored me earlier. With every place that I went, I felt like a dad asking his son what Tumblr was.
I was not going to be able to "pick up where I left off," in a sense. The college town had moved on and so had I, and I was being foolish to expect that I could relive parts of it simply by being there. Life doesn't work that way. It wasn't a case of proximity. It was a case of not being College Daniel anymore.
I had become a tourist in the town that I'd formerly proclaimed for myself, but it didn't suck, because ...
You Learn To Enjoy Being A Tourist
We're all eventually going to look like tourists. We're going to forget the directions to some place and ask a person, and as we drive away, that person is going to say, "Fucking tourists." We're going to pride ourselves on the fact that we're using a friend's HBO GO subscription and that we have better taste than the generation that came before us and that our bourbon goes best with listening to a band that's "just about to hit it big," and someone is going to call us a "fucking tourist" and undo all of the cool that we've managed to build up over our lives.
Not that there was much to begin with.
In a college town, if you don't appear to be within a certain spectrum of ages and jacket brands, someone has probably called you a "fucking tourist," even if you knew where you were going. And that's totally fine. The time that you spent in a place is not invalidated because you now gaze, wide-eyed, at all of the shops and sights that it holds. You don't have to constantly be Grand College Town Master, responding to every questionable remark with the hiss, "Oh, I went to school here." Being a tourist in your college town is not that bad.
It allows you to enjoy things while remaining free from the restraints of realizing that it won't be the exact kind of enjoyment that you had when you were 20. A tourist isn't constantly playing a compare-and-contrast game in their heads, wondering why all of their enthusiasm was replaced by vegan-friendly menus. A tourist is there to drive badly and leech positivity until it's time for them to make it back to their house before dark.
On my last visit, I tried to be a tourist that was aware of the names of roads. I didn't hinge my pleasure specifically on who would still be there or the explicit presence of the activities that had once captivated me. The dance club had closed for the night, and I knew my way home.
Daniel has a blog.
Some look back on college with fond memories. Others, however, have no fond memories to look back on because their college went bankrupt and their degree suddenly went void, as seen in 6 Insane Things You Learn When Your College Goes Bankrupt. They're not alone, though, as millions of poor kids get screwed out of college every year. See why in 5 Ways College Screws Over Poor Kids.
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