No matter the reasons – we just finished writing a paper, or we are putting off
writing one – we always seem to find time to relax, to unwind, to recreate. Here is the keg party, the trip to Briarwood, the midnight movie at the State Theater. Soon our social options will be limited: we will ramp onto I-94 and drive home for Thanksgiving, and return on Monday to hurtle head-first into those socially constricting weeks leaden with finals and final papers.
Maybe that sense is why the week of homecoming, we had an abundance of social options – many reasons to not write that paper. Sports nuts could watch up to 12 hours of playoff baseball, the opening night of the Red Wings and the Wolverines ice hockey team, the battle for the Little Brown Jug (of course), and up to eight more hours of college football on ESPN. Never mind the games among the games found in the epicenters of competitive energy at places like Scorekeepers and Buffalo Wild Wings and the Arena – places where the televisions seem to spawn and reproduce, places where you can play foosball, darts, pool and Megatouch games like Photo Hunt.
The bookish could gather and be social also, as the week was peppered with author appearances. On just one day, Thursday, one could meet and greet with scholar Alisse Portnoy at Shaman Drum at 4:30 p.m., buy a signed copy of her book and have some wine and cheese before, at 5 p.m., bouncing over to Rackham Auditorium and listening to the poet Larry Goldstein and then, at 7 p.m., skip on over to Borders and have a Q&A with social critic Barbara Ehernrich.
So many social options we often have in this Ann Arbor, and we still complain. Maybe you’re not the type to go to Scorekeepers on Thursdays and immerse yourself in the throb and pulse of perfumed bodies, and maybe you think the movies at the Michigan and the State are too indie-intellectual, but do you realize how lucky we have it here?
“I’m done with this town,” a writer friend tells me on the way to the airport, before he boards a plane to Ireland to begin the rest of his life. He lived in Ann Arbor for only two years. “This place is shrinking,” he says. But he is wrong.
His perspective, like so many of ours, has shrunk. And I’m not agreeing with the intellectual snoots who believe Ann Arbor is a cultural Mecca (it may be, but remember sometimes people need to feel significant by living somewhere they insist is significant), but I also believe, as my column title suggests, that the town is taken for granted.
A town that seems to shrink against Ann Arbor, Michigan, is Oberlin, Ohio. Drive through downtown Oberlin, as I did recently, and you’ll see how sprawling Ann Arbor seems. If you are upset that our football team is 3-3, consider being a fan of the Oberlin Yeomans (A “yeoman,” by the way, is a “hardworker” but has several subordinate definitions, including, “a petty officer performing chiefly clerical duties in the U.S. Navy”). Their football team has had losing streaks of 40 games (1992-1996) and 44 games (1997-2001).
If you are tired of choosing among Necto, Scorekeepers, Ricks, Charley’s and the Blind Pig for dancing, consider that for most Oberlin students there is one formal dance floor: the “sco” or campus disco located in their student union. If you are tired of buying overpriced fifths of Jagermeister at the Main Street party store, consider trying to find liquor on Main Street in Oberlin (You can’t on a Sunday. The town is in a dryish county, and when a friend of mine attended undergrad there a few years ago, liquor wasn’t sold in town, so he and friends had to drive out of town to a liquor store “stocked with weird diluted versions of vodka and gin and whiskey that in my startling innocence I at first took for the real thing,” he said).
Which is not to complain about the educational value of Oberlin, or its arts community. It’s a fine academic institution, with a rich musical tradition, with dorm parties that rival any party in Ann Arbor (Oberlin alumni assured me of this). But it is not a town where on one night (Oct. 7th) you could have been part of a jazz triple-header of Pat Metheny (8 p.m. at Hill) Odessa Harris (9:30 p.m. at Goodnite Gracie) and Buster Williams (10 p.m. at the Firefly). It is a town many Michigan students from the Northeast (including myself) will drive past on I-80 as we head home for Thanksgiving break, and it is a town they will ignore as they drive back, thinking of all the studying they could have done over the holiday weekend, all the papers left to write when they return to Ann Arbor.
Joe still thinks Oberlin, Ohio is overrated. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.