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October 8, 2012

Things’ll be great when you’re downtown

Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and discover some novelty in neighborhoods across the city.

Early last December, my computer died.

It didn’t crash, it didn’t stall, it didn’t freeze. It just died—and I had absolutely no idea what to do. Neither, apparently, did the University’s Solution Center, whose most helpful suggestion was a forty-something-dollar, this-will-take-five-to-ten-business-days service to run my computer through tests that may or may not have determined what was wrong with it.

Mac-versus-PC jokes aside, it was 5:30 p.m. and I had a paper due the next day. I had to take it to the Apple Store. Which, you know, meant I had to get to the Apple Store. Downtown. On Michigan Avenue. How the hell do I get to Michigan Avenue?

Pretty easily, as it turned out. But as a clueless first-year, I didn’t know that getting downtown would be as simple as a $2.25 bus ride. I had no idea how monotonous and predictable my day-to-day activities had become until a computer crash had forced a disruption to my regime.

Having been cooped up in Hyde Park for the past three increasingly freezing months, I hadn’t even begun to imagine all the life, joy, creativity, and wonder that I would encounter. From the shopping bag-toting tourists to the bright buildings and refreshingly enthusiastic interactions, it was an obvious contrast to our maroon-on-gray campus landscape.

More importantly, it was something new. Though I had been downtown a handful of times before I had come to college, I had never become so intensely and simultaneously aware of the bright lights, buildings, and people that the Mag Mile had to offer, and the counterpoint it presented to the campus experience. So much so that some detours were in order: I tried out the then-new iPad. I finally got to use my Panera Bread gift card to buy my first non-Med/non-Noodles off-campus meal in months (it was delicious). I visited an art store—an art store! For art supplies! How long since I’d set foot in one of those!

Because I’m sure you’re dying to know, yes, my computer was finally fixed, and yes, I did get that paper in on time. By the time I had gotten back to Blackstone, I had seen so many new sights and (re)discovered so many new buildings that creative words, arguments, and structures came to me with ease.

It wasn’t so much about the details as it was about the new environment—not its quality as much as the novelty of its presence. It certainly wasn’t that the sight of Macy’s had taught me more about the differences between Marx and Durkheim than my professor. But the brief trip did get my brain thinking about the world just a little bit differently. Beyond the surface-level dissimilarities—in the bus numbers, street names, and building locations—there was a marked difference in the feel and atmosphere. It gave me that last jolt of creative energy I needed to write a great paper, and to continue exploring and learning about the city I claim to live in.

In retrospect, my silly first-world computer problem became my crucial introduction to the importance of exploring. Though tens of inches of snow did prevent me from making many more trips that winter, my three days of post-exams freedom during finals week—coupled with unseasonably warm March weather—gave me an uninterrupted opportunity to explore 1.5% more of Chicago’s 200+ neighborhoods.

Hyde Park is not boring or depressing by any means. But like anything, it can grow old. The streets, buildings, and day-to-day experiences start to become fairly predictable. They mesh too comfortably with one another, into a routine distinguished only by the difference between Monday–Wednesday and Tuesday–Thursday class schedules. It’s so easy to descend into the comfortably predictable cycle of dorm-class-Reg-repeat.

I’m sure that when you first saw it, you found our campus architecture beautiful— perhaps even Instagram-worthy. But, as time goes by and buildings become more familiar, their designs seem less and less memorable. In March, Harper may have seemed like the dream study space. Now—or maybe two weeks from now, once classes really take off—it’ll seem like nothing more than a quiet room.

Keep yourself from getting too used to Hyde Park by exposing yourself to fresh stimuli now. It doesn’t matter if you come from out of the country, out of the state, or the suburbs. Even if you hail from the city itself, it’s likely that even you haven’t experienced its neighborhoods independently—that is, as a college student.

Don’t let the novelty of the University keep you from broadening your horizons even further. Sure, Second City will probably have a performance on our campus sometime this year, and yes, some bands you’ve heard of (or even better, haven’t heard of) will probably be at Summer Breeze. But don’t let the expectation that novelty will come to you keep you from seeking out new experiences for yourself, elsewhere. It’s just a bus ride away.

Anastasia Golovashkina is a second-year in the College majoring in economics. 

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