August 23, 2012 was a date I anticipated and dreaded for years. When Andrew entered high school, the idea of him going far away to a university became less abstract but easily ignored. Then time got caught up in a whirlpool and gained momentum as it swirled towards the inevitable separation. Yes, before I knew it, the years were months, months were weeks and the weeks were days. As "move-in day" crept near, I was so torn between what was good for him and bad for me that it was a miracle that I kept my emotions in check...until the next to last day.
August 22nd was my mom's birthday, (she would have been 82). I became misty-eyed when I thought how great it would have been for her to witness and/or be a part of Andrew's momentous step into adulthood.
All summer, my wife Sue shopped for the tonnage that Andrew would need. Soon our family room, bedroom and garage were littered with piles of necessities. On the morning of the big day, I packed the van (jigsaw puzzle-style as the term boobie-trap lingering in my mind). When I victoriously slammed the hatch down for the last time, there was almost no room for Andrew. So even in the best of times, bringing Grandma would have been out of the question.
|WHERE WOULD THE "BEVERLY HILLBILLIES" HAVE BEEN WITHOUT THEIR GRANNY (IRENE DUNNE)?|
Of course I don't drive a 1921, four cylinder, Oldsmobile flatbed with a roped down hood and glass-less headlights. But our cars resembled each other by the time I crammed in the multitude of Andrew's
|DON'T BE ALARMED BY THIS ORIGAMI APE BEING LOST IN THE SHUFFLE. A "FOLDING GORILLA" WAS A MYTHICAL PLAYTHING AND ONE OF THE COUNTLESS INSIDE JOKES THAT ANDREW AND I SHARED.|
We did forget a bunch of real stuff but in any event, there wasn't enough space for it, (perhaps that was mom's ploy to guarantee a return trip to TCNJ the following day).
Our ninety-minute, north by northwest trip went smoothly. Then with the help of the google maps APP, we discovered a shortcut on Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown, to Route 130, to 295, to nirvana, a.k.a., TCNJ.
Despite the staggered move-in schedule, at 11:AM, it seemed all 1,300 freshmen were unloading at the same time. Even before I parked, we saw the chaos surrounding the earlier arrivals as they wandered around like zombies, trying to figure out their next (first) move.
We got out of our car and encountered the disorganization immediately. I soon realized that the recurring theme of the day would be; hurry up and wait. It seemed that people were so frustrated by the procedure to borrow the all-important rolling bin that rather than wait, they carried their belongings like worker ants building a nest.
|MY REQUEST FOR ANDREW TO POSE WITH OUR ROLLING BIN FELL ON DEAF EARS. INSTEAD, I WANTED TO USE A PHOTO OF COUSIN WENDY PUSHING HER BIN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI BUT I COULDN'T FIND IT. WE'LL HAVE TO SETTLE FOR THIS RANDOM SHOT FROM WHIPPY-TIPPY U.|
We were so stoked to get started but annoyance of being directed away from the cherished bins, through a labyrinth of dark, unair-conditioned hallways was overwhelming. These stuffy byways, cluttered with anxious people carrying, TV's, microwaves, fans, furniture, clothes, food and personal items, led us through the bowels of the next two buildings, (Wolfe and Travers Hall).
|WOLFE AND TRAVERS ARE TCNJ's TWIN, TEN-STORY FRESHMAN HOUSING CENTERS.|
Once we arrived at the getting-started registration booth, the three-step procedure was a simple. Kudos indeed to the friendly, helpful faces there. Too bad, this abundance of positive energy wasn't positioned in the parking garage, thus making the rolling bin station, a fourth step. DUH!
Next, we got sent back against the grain of the unhappy, refugee-like swarms waiting for their line to advance forward to the next line until they got to wait in the lobby for an elevator. Then we walked across the sky walk, to the garage and up that elevator, to apply for a rolling bin.
Six families were ahead of us on the rolling bin line. Even though we hadn't lifted anything yet, the next half hour, waiting in the shaded garage was uncomfortably hot. One of the ambassadors commented, "It's 80 degrees...just imagine doing this when it's 95." Then her cohort added, "Actually, the weather could've been a lot worse, last year's move-in day was during Hurricane Irene."
|TCNJ MOVE-IN DAY, AUGUST 27, 2011. HURRICANE IRENE DUMPED 3.91 INCHES OF RAIN ON ADJACENT TRENTON. THE STORM CAUSED FLOODING AND POWER OUTAGES AS WIND GUSTS HIT 55 MPH.|
When we finally stuffed ourselves into one of the three Wolfe elevators, the ambassador operating it implied that Andrew (we) were lucky that he was on the second floor. By the end of our stay, I understood that kid's wisdom.
Andrew's dorm was easy to find. We acquainted ourselves with his roommate (and parents) as we dropped off our stuff. We like waited like idiots at the elevator bank with the empty bin for about fifteen minutes. Mysteriously, none of the three stopped. Sue and Andrew thought I was crazy when I said, "It's only one flight, let's carry the bin down."
It was crazy, a rolling bin off its wheels is like a fish out of water. The stairs were filled with folks hauling their belongings up by hand. I ignored the dirty looks of these desperadoes who had no patience for waiting for bins or elevators. When there was a break in the traffic, Andrew and I were tortured as we lugged our cumbersome burden. At the first floor landing, an ambassador told me I went down, the "up staircase."
We pushed our empty bin to the sky walk that linked Wolfe to the garage. We were denied entry because even though there was nobody there and I could see the elevator fifty feet away, the sky walk was one way and that one way was, in!
We retraced our steps to the Wolfe elevators. Even with an empty bin, we were accused of cutting into the line. Therefore none of those impatient people were going to let us in, to go one flight down. So we went back into the "up only" staircase, carried that stupid bin to the ground floor, wheeled it outside, back to the garage elevator, took it back up to the third floor, got the rest of Andrew's stuff, returned to the garage elevator, got off at the second floor, crossed the sky walk legally, waited in all those lines again, got into the Wolfe elevator, went up to the second floor and unloaded.
Technically, only then, did our day start. I might have loaded the van at home, we all might have unloaded the van in the parking lot together but mom alone was in charge of organizing and decorating the room. At first, the job seemed so monumental that I thought we'd never leave.
During the process, two ambassadors poked their heads in offer help and answer questions. When they were leaving the taller one said, "I'm jealous (of Andrew), I'm a junior and I'm halfway done. I wish I was in your shoes. I love TCNJ so much, I wish I could start all over again."
An hour later,while struggling with the temporary complications of getting Andrew's printer online, another ambassador encouraged me to bring the rolling bin back. But we were accumulating a ton of empty boxes plus there were several items (see behind Andrew in the photo below) that we took home.
Mom did a great job. While she was putting the final touches on her masterpiece, I decided to bring the unwanted items back to the van and return the rolling bin. At the Wolfe elevators, it was uncanny, I waited another fifteen minutes without an elevator stopping. These elevators didn't have the little numbers to track the progress of the cars and as hard as I strained, I couldn't hear them in action. Rather than try to solve the mystery, I went back to Andrew's dorm and asked him to help me drag the bin down. This time, an ambassador stopped us from entering the "up staircase."
When he left, we bounced and crashed that bin down those steps anyway. Downstairs, I was covered in perspiration as we wheeled the bin down the still crowded hall, to the sky walk. At the sky walk, an ambassador reminded us that it was one way. I was tired and frustrated and didn't relish the idea of schlepping that baby all the way to the down staircase, bouncing down another flight, and walking back outside to the elevator that was already right in front of me. To the dismay of my son, I apologized to the ambassador for disregarding his authority and forged ahead, the wrong way, across the sky walk.
|THE DUST FINALLY SETTLED AT 4:PM WITH EVERYTHING IN ITS PROPER PLACE.|
For Sue and I, it was difficult to say good-bye. As for Andrew, it's safe to assume that he couldn't wait for us to leave. His classes wouldn't be starting for five days, so he was entitled to be anxious about exploring his new surroundings, socializing and starting to gather the great prizes that are in his anticipated Cracker Jack collegiate experience.
|CRACKER JACK, IS MOLASSES-FLAVORED, CANDY-COATED POPCORN AND PEANUTS. INTRODUCED AT THE 1893 CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR AND SUPPORTED BY THE GIMMICK OF A PRIZE IN EVERY BOX, IT'S UNOFFICIALLY, AMERICA'S FIRST JUNK FOOD.|
Interestingly, after we said our good-byes, Sue and I waited for the Wolfe elevator down as Andrew continued to the down staircase, at the far end of the corridor. If you believe that three times is the charm, you are wrong. After standing there like a couple of rubes for two minutes, an ambassador saw Sue and I and said, "If you're going down, please use the down stairwell, at the end of the hall."
At the door to those steps, we saw Andrew meeting other kids. I said, "We didn't feel like waiting for the elevator...again. Then some guy told us to use these stairs." Andrew said, "Of course, the elevators don't go down." I said, "The elevators don't go down?" He said, "On move-in day, they only go up." I wanted to say; you knew that and didn't tell me. But I appreciated how poised and polished he was while introducing himself to strangers. So against my instinct, I took the high road and didn't put him on the spot. Hopefully, that level of common sense will be one of the prizes TCNJ provides.
A few minutes later at the van, I reflected how awful it was to bring that bin down one flight of steps Then I thought; I would have thrown ours out the window if Andrew was on the tenth floor.
Sue and I were exhausted and mentally drained but we took the scenic route around campus before leaving. It gave us a good vibe to see the wooded areas, two lakes, fancy upper classmen housing and the enthusiasm for ongoing sports activities.
For a while, the whole process of dropping my only child off at college seemed so natural. Then about halfway home, I was hit with a general malaise. To soothe the melancholia, Sue and I ate in an Italian restaurant that advertised; the best spaghetti in the world. Like Andrew and I's inside joke about the folding gorilla, he would have found their sign funny. I sighed as the first pangs of depression hit me. It was obvious, I missed my best buddy. And the feeling was solidified by the absurdity of the spaghetti statement because it marked the first time, we couldn't share a mutual chuckle.
|FOR SUCH A HARROWING DAY, WE GOT THROUGH IT TOGETHER. EVEN BETTER, I AM CONFIDENT THAT SUE AND I HELPED ANDREW FIND AN EXCELLENT FIT FOR HIS TALENTS ON THE PATH TO SUCCESS.|
The next reality check was waking up the next morning and seeing a solemn Sue going through the cabinets and trashing Andrew's half-full cereal boxes and other kiddie treats. To brighten her spirits I said, "I'm not losing a son, I'm gaining his car till June." She said, "Not funny." Then I said, "You're not losing a son, you're gaining closet space." She ignored the joke and said, "I just texted him, we're going up on Friday."
To all of Andrew's friends and their families embarking on their own college careers, good luck, have fun but mostly take advantage of the opportunity to create your own bright future.
P. S. - In addition to the rolling bin or instead of it all together, if you have access to hand truck on move-in day...take advantage of that too!