Shortly after I accepted Syracuse University’s offer to attend the school, they sent me a small booklet about what life would be like there. I remember nothing about what was in it except they had a lexicon of terms that were unique to the University. A “Wimpy Wagon” was a food truck that was found outside dorms in the evenings. “The Mount “was a Mount Olympus which was the tallest point on campus and where two large dormitories, Day and Flint Hall were located. However the thing I remember most about that lexicon was this phrase: “Syracuse is ten inches of partly cloudy on the ground.” I thought it was funny. I did not realize they were serious.
The joke in the lexicon morphed into another joke when you had been on Campus for a while. “When your parents said they were going to send you to a place where the sun don’t shine, they meant Syracuse.” The generally accepted truth being that Syracuse was the “2nd darkest city” in the United States. Only Portland, Oregon has more cloudy days. (BTW this is not true. I looked it up. Syracuse is not even the cloudiest city in the New York State. Binghamton is with 212, followed by Buffalo with 208. Syracuse manages only 185) Regardless, of rank, part of the SU experience is weather. Rainy, snowy, generally cold salt stains on your jeans cold.
Which is why I was so disappointed driving into Syracuse. Here in March where we should be experiencing a late season snow squall that dropped a foot of snow, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees. How was I going to explain to Elaine what life on campus was really like when Syracuse decided to put on its best face. I need not have worried. I had forgotten another truism about Central New York. If you do not like the weather, wait fifteen minutes, it will change. When we woke in the morning Syracuse was in full foul weather mode with steady rain and chilly if not freezing weather.
It was into this weather that Rosie and I launched ourselves on our morning constitutional. The hotel we were staying at, the Sheraton Hotel is on campus, so we were immediately met by students on their way to the main campus. It was then that I realized I had made a serious mistake at Syracuse. I had not owned a dog. Had I owned one, my social life which was pretty pathetic would have been far better because virtually, every co ed I encountered either remarked on Rosie’s adorableness or asked if they could pet her. When we went to get coffee, both of the barista’s insisted on coming out from behind the counter to give Rosie a hug.
Sadly, I could not offer my wife a THB (toasted honey bun a specialty of the University while I was there) so we settled for a breakfast of blueberry muffins the size of large asteroids. Sufficiently fueled we headed out for the dime tour of campus. And were immediately driven by pelting to the Shine Student Center by the pelting rain. $75 later we were the owners of two Syracuse University golf umbrellas and re-embarked on our tour. There were a number of reasons I was excited to share the University with Elaine. Not the least of which was that in the nine years that I have known Elaine I have told her many stories of the misadventures I had here. I hoped that showing her the campus would provide a little context to my fables. Additionally, Elaine had never really been on the campus of big American University. Her school, The Federal University of Rio De Janiero were buildings located all over the city including her law school which resided in the old senate building.
Ridiculously, it filled me with joy to be able to point out to her the Hall of Languages, the oldest building on campus and is a symbol of the University. The mosaic of Sacco and Vanzetti on the wall of HSBC where I usually had a bagel and coffee every morning, Hendricks Chapel, Carnegie Library, The Mount, Carrier Dome, The Maxwell School, Law School, Crouse College, and the 104 steps I climbed each morning from my dorm Brewster Hall. And it filled me with amazement how much the University had grown since I attended. No wonder the tuitions for the University are 12x what they were when I was there because literally at every corner their were new building or modern additions to the old.
None of this was particularly surprising to me. It, even the rain, was what I expected.
What did surprise me were the ghosts.
There was my father who finished his freshman and sophomore years in a little over 14 months before going off to war then returning and finishing his last two years as fast. Or the lecture he gave my senior year which was attended by all my friends. Being here, it was easy to remember the young man he was when he attended the University, the father he was to me, and how I miss him every day.
There was my friend Tom Walker who passed away from a brain aneurysm a couple of years ago. He was a young man of many opinions which he could articulate brilliantly especially after we smoke a joint or two. I never saw him after college, but Facebook had allowed us to catch up. His passing had struck all of his friends, The Family Strange, hard but I was particularly sorry that I had never taken a drive to Ohio to visit it with him.
Then there were the ghosts of my memories.. The friends I had made who are still my friends now, like the Tribe, and those who had slipped away and whom I wonder what became of them. The coming-of-age time where angst, fear, and loneliness all conspire against your self confidence and the other times where the innocence of youth gave you the confidence to do things that you could not imagine doing now.
In other words, as Elaine was getting one tour of Syracuse, I was providing myself with another. Perhaps Elaine enjoyed hers more as there were no ghosts on her visit. But then again, she wasn’t used to the rain which is why we pulled up short of a full tour. She was getting wet and Rosie, poor pup, was beginning to look like I had just given her a bath. We retreated back to the hotel and packed up the car for the final leg of our journey. However, before we left town there were two stops that had to be made.
First, I had to buy Elaine Syracuse Law wear. While she looks good in anything, I thought that it would look far better than the Harvard Law school stuff she had been wearing. And then on to Danzer’s, a German style restaurant which had been a popular eatery back when Pops attended school here and was the site of my first dinner at Syracuse and had a sandwich found no where else: The Red Reuben. This is a footlong sandwich based on the classic but substituting Red Cabbage for sauerkraut.
It was a delicious ending to our trip to Syracuse.