We parked on Hamilton Street, close to the frat houses, and had lunch at Stuff Yer Face. This wasn't the first time I'd visited RU since graduating in 1991. I'd probably gone back a good dozen times or so but this was the first time I'd gone as a parent. It is WAY too early to think about where Jude will be going to school - although we do need to start saving money for his college tuition now - but I can't help from think about such things, this time of the year, as I see speak to my former students and current athletes who are seniors who are starting to receive acceptance (and rejection) letters.
Stuff Yer Face has a new outside dining area. The walls are less decorated than I remember they were but it's still the same place. The wood paneling hasn't changed and there are, naturally, the requisite Rutgers posters on some of the walls. In the corner, next to the fireplace, is something I think very collegial - a poster advertising Stuff Yer Face's 70 Beers Club. After you've tried their seventy beers you get something like a t-shirt and a free boli.
Thomas Sweets, the ice-cream parlour that my college girlfriend introduced me to and the first place I learnt about that blended ice-cream with 'fill-ins' like M&Ms®, Gummi Bears®, crushed Heath Bars®, nuts and other candy is still there. We didn't go there this time but it did bring back memories of Friday nights having dinner at Stuff Yer Face followed by dessert at Thomas Sweets.
We headed towards The Ferren Deck Mall where the Rutgers Bookstore is but, on the way, we made a pit stop into the New Jersey Books, an independent bookstore that specialises in RU textbooks, attire, paraphernalia and, even, 'regular' books you'd find in any other bookstore. It's a much bigger place on Easton Avenue, with two floors, which is a far cry from the small and often subway train-cramped location around the corner on Somerset. We bought my son a Lisa and Gaspard book and I managed to talk to one of the managers about carrying my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, on consignment.
As we headed for the college bookstore, we passed the new (well, they were already up in the mid 1990s) campus apartments next to the New Brunswick train station. Looking at the building, with apartments on the upper floors, and stores on the ground floor, the structure could've been pinched from New York's Fifth Avenue or Upper West.
Ferren Deck Mall, however, with Marita's Cantina next to the bookstore looked exactly the same as it did when I attended Rutgers. Inside, the bookstore, albeit with newer things -iPods instead of Sony Walkmen - and more stylish college apparel, was laid out the same too. We bought Jude his first pullover college hoodie and, in his straight jeans and adidas® Sambas, he did look like a mini-collegian.
From the bookstore, before our drive home, we stopped into the new Dunkin' Donuts-Baskin Robbins at the train station. The florist at the bottom of the steps and escalator is still there. The steps and the escalator are still long, steep and narrow and have the same brownish-green paint and tiles it had twenty years ago. Driving home, I noticed how there's a sushi spot at almost every block on Route 27 back to the Garden State Parkway and that the campus buses are much more space-agey.
Maybe it's my age and something that happens to those of us entering middle age that makes us reminisce. Maybe it's the lingering images of yesteryear - the train station, Stuff Yer Face, the familiar red brick of Ferren Deck Mall - juxtaposed with the new buildings and improved roadways that triggers fondness. Even though it had been years since I'd lasted visited my alma mater, I almost felt like I'd never left. It was like walking passed someone on the street and both of you doing a turn around, double take before recognising each other and, even though it had been ages since you last saw one another, you pick up right where you left off; hopefully it was a good experience the last time you saw each other.
I write about all of this not because it's what I did with my family and this blog is part living diary. No. It's because it's that time of year that promotes looking back for those of us who've been there and the time of year of hope and adventure for those of us who are about to step in. High school seniors are about to graduate and, two months later, they'll be college freshmen. College seniors are graduating, too, and they're full of hope and knowledge and ambition and dreams to start making their way - and name - in this crazy world of ours.
As quickly as the last four years have gone by, the next fourteen will eventually pass and Jude will be entering his freshman year. To him, in the future, and to all the high school seniors and college seniors, I wish you all good luck and happy adventures. Enjoy this time of your lives and make the most of it. Learn as much as you can, live life as fully as you can and, when the time comes, share all of that with you children.