I recently rode the bus to campus. The Brown Route is quirky in that it goes around in a loop, unlike most other routes. Riding the MTD is a wonderfully humbling experience that I highly recommend, no matter what social status you believe you have. There are numerous regular riders on the bus who have clearly found “a community” on their daily commute that’s quite endearing. I avoid driving around campus on weekdays; admittedly, lack of free parking is a deterrent.
As the bus entered campus, I started feeling nostalgic. When I was an undergraduate here, nobody had cars; we all rode the Illi-bus. You could get from the Florida Avenue Residence Hall to Urbana and find anything your dorm room possibly needed at Carson Pirie Scott or at the Five and Dime Store where Sew Sassy sits now. This was about three years before Market Place Mall was completed.
Mom and Dad would visit periodically, perhaps to see if I was being properly fed, and we’d always end up at The Round Barn Restaurant near Mattis and Springfield avenues. It was about the only place to impress visiting parents for dining, except for one of the three Red Wheel Restaurants around town.
Green Street isn’t at all like the Green Street that I bicycled to in the 1970s. Gone are Follett’s Bookstore and numerous familiar sites, and instead are fast-food establishments galore.
I exited the bus at Krannert Center on Goodwin. That building had just been completed when I came to the university in 1970. Aunt Judy, who attended the UI in the 1960s, came to visit a few years ago and pointed out where she’d lived. She was stunned that her old house was gone, and Krannert now stood there. I vividly remember my first experience at Krannert. Soulina Stravinsky, son of well-known composer, Igor Stravinsky, was on the faculty here and performed a piano concert.
I sat in the front and was mesmerized watching his fingers hit the keys.
Assembly Hall was new then also. I still can’t wrap my brain around its name change, State Farm Center. To those of us who have been around for a while, it’ll always be Assembly Hall. When flying on American Airlines from Chicago to Champaign, the sight of that distinct building from the sky is always a great welcome home. My first trip to the Assembly Hall was just before I started my freshman year. I visited one of my older friends who was already studying here, and we went there to enjoy the Harlem Globetrotters.
The IMPE (Intra Mural Physical Education) building was new then, too. Around 2006, it underwent a major makeover, including acquiring a new name, the ARC.
As a new freshman, I’d heard that the UI possessed one of the world’s largest libraries. My first vision of the library was the two little “buildings” sticking out of the ground. I was baffled, until I realized they were only entrances to the library, located totally underground. I set foot in the building and frankly was underwhelmed and disappointed; it just didn’t look that big. I later discovered that “largest library” included the graduate library, as well as all the smaller libraries located inside many of the academic buildings. Duh! Egg on my face for not figuring that out by myself.
The Quad looks just about the same; the Foreign Language Building was just being built when I was an undergrad. But that Wright Street sometime in the past decade or so was rerouted into a two-way street just seems counterintuitive to me. And that students can legally walk diagonally across busy intersections simply seems unsafe.
It’s an understatement to notice that many of the students aren’t really paying attention while sauntering around campus. Some of them are plugged into their electronic devices and can’t really hear what’s going on around them. Was I distracted like that when I was a student?
Walking through the Illinois Union was an adventure. There’s still a hotel, north and south lounges, an art gallery and bowling in the basement, but not much else is recognizable. No surprise that there’s now a Starbucks located near the south entrance.
My New Trier High School classmates in north suburban Chicago still ask, “When are you coming home?”
I never planned to spend my entire life in my college town. But the months and years went by, I earned my college degrees and this is the only place I feel I will ever call home.