Friday, October 1, 2010

Into The Dorms: Iowa City 1977

When I graduated from high school I had no real interest in going to college. So, I didn't.
Instead I worked at a department store--full time--bought a van, got a dog, and planned to head out into the world thusly. I didn't.
Instead I worked and saved and took a long trip down into Florida, to Daytona Beach and then Key West. When I came back I got a job at the local UPS distribution center unloading trucks in the middle of the night. By then, I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew that I wanted to go to the University of Iowa.
I was a pretty insular person by then. Iowa was my realm from which all other places were judged. It wasn't that I loved Iowa or Des Moines/Urbandale (actually I had a great disdain for it all, especially Urbandale) but it was what I knew. It had--despite my growing up in South Dakota and Washington state and Tennessee--become home. My frame of reference. Most of my friends from high school had gone on to school and they'd gone on to Iowa State, in Ames. I'd been to Iowa City, where the U of Iowa was, and preferred that town, that campus, that school (I mean, if you knew anything about the two, who wouldn't?). My father had gone to Iowa. My two older brothers had gone there as well (as did my sister and younger brother and even my niece later), I also had a few friends of a friend (people who later became my friends) who were at Iowa--they were from the high school class who graduated the year before I did. So, Iowa it was.
I applied, got accepted, got a dorm room assigned to me.
But like I said, I'd become a rather insular young man.
So when I got to the university--my parents moving me in and leaving--I wasn't so sure of my decision. I was used to sharing a room, but my two roommates were, of course, complete strangers. Everyone on the floor was a stranger. Everything was strange . . . Yes yes, it's the usual normal experience, the strangeness is also part of the excitement, but I was ill prepared for it in many ways. I guess I hadn't considered it much and my parents had offered little guidance for the situation. So, my first thoughts after about a week were: This is too strange. I'm getting out of here!
Of course, I didn't. No, it took only one more week where I began to see the fun of it, accept it, to make friends and go to classes and be independent (sort of, at least feel independent) among others my same age. Again, yes yes, usual and normal. It all turned out to be very very good.
The dorm was Burge Hall. I had wanted to live in Daum, which was next door, because I'd known someone who'd lived there (Keith). Burge was much bigger, but I had been assigned to a floor that was a half-floor. It was essentially a semi-basement floor, a step below the main floor of the dorm, a small floor whose windows on one side looked out on the loading ramp. I had such a room and every morning the trash truck or the food truck or other delivery trucks would show up and come beeping backwards. Ah and oh well. I got used to it.
I stayed in the dorms for two and a half years. I liked it. I stayed in Burge and on the half-floor--the 2000 floor. Met most of my Iowa City friends through there. And then I stayed a summer and worked and never really went back to Des Moines. I lived in apartments around the town, always close enough to walk to classes or work or the bars.
The bars. That's a different part of the Iowa City equation.
But I still hold a great fondness for dorm life, for Burge Hall, for the University of Iowa and Iowa City. Now that I've been gone so long, I have a new respect and appreciation for Des Moines.
I'm still a little leery of Urbandale, though.

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