By Christopher Bremicker, Army
Writing Type: Array
By Christopher Bremicker
The train rounded a bend and approached Stadium Village station. I was in the last car and could see the lights of the front car as we turned and passed the Twin Cities Federal stadium that loomed dark in the morning night. The train stopped, the doors opened and shut, then we turned again and rolled slowly toward campus.
We passed a pizza parlor, Bank of America, Brugger's Bagels, Walgreens, then Caribou Coffee Shop, all lit up in the dark. The train clickety clacked along the rails, its wheels hammering the steel, and the couplings screeching when the train buckled or turned. The conductor stopped the train at the East Bank station and I got off, pulling on my backpack and walking to Starbucks, checking for traffic then crossing the street to the coffee shop that had no seating due to Covid19.
Starbucks was takeout only. I ordered a cold press then took it to the Graduate Hotel next door, where I plugged my laptop into an outlet on a shiny oak table that stretched 40 feet in the lobby under little reading lamps that tilted for more or less light.
There was no one in the hotel except the concierge, the girl at the front desk, and the cleaning lady, who dusted the table around me. One girl worked on her laptop at a table near a burning fireplace, and a few people walked by me as I worked on my paper for school.
The paper was not a disaster, although I did not write academic papers well, and I fine-tuned it and tried to get it to make sense. I used the restroom, noticed the restaurant was closed and that half the seating in the lobby was closed, too. I checked my watch, saw it was almost 7 a.m., and packed up my stuff to walk to Coffman Memorial Union.
It was still dark outside. A single student crossed the street ahead of me, and three girls crossed the street by the medical building, but they were the only people I saw on either side of the street. The union was empty, too, but I grabbed a seat in the lobby, plugged in my laptop, and began to work on the paper again. I had reading to do -- the book on black power -- but preferred to write for a while. The university had redone the lobby for the virus, and instead of four big reading chairs for every table with outlets, there were two chairs, and they were spaced diagonally at least six feet apart. The escalator hummed mechanically, but no one was on it and no one passed by me, or even came in one of the five, heavy, bronze doors. The technology office was open, but the two students who manned it looked like they were doing their homework.
I got hungry and decided to see if the food court downstairs was open. I packed up my stuff, careful not to leave anything, took the escalator downstairs, and found Einstein Bros. Bagels was open, where I ordered a bagel with cream cheese. I took it to a big chair by a window near a plant in the food court, where I collapsed into the plushness of the chair. It was messy eating the bagel while reclining, and I moved to a table where I finished the bagel that was liberally spread with cream cheese. It was not noon yet, and I was the only one in the food court. Then I went to Walter Library, over the bridge that crossed Washington Avenue, along the edge of the mowed lawn of the mall, past the monolithic chemistry building to the library, where I inserted my student ID card into a card reader that opened the big, scrolled, bronze door with a click. The ceiling of Walter, with lit chandeliers, was ornate and carved and painted in a style I did not know.
I walked up the marble steps, their balustrades thick marble, too, to the front desk, where the librarian told me the coffee shop downstairs was closed. I walked through the outer room, with one girl at her laptop at a desk among 10 other desks socially distanced, into the reading room, where I picked out a table in the back, next to the shelves of Ph.D. theses. I was the only one in the library. The reading room was the size of a football field and walled by volumes of the work of graduate students that went back 100 years. I noticed one girl studying at the corner of a huge table with reading lamps all along it. I began to read the book I brought and found it well written and interesting. The proponents of black power believed in self defense as well as political, economic, and social power for black people. They did not propose assimilation into White society but preferred being proud, educated, well housed, and fed. The black establishment existed with the permission of White men, and cities like Tuskegee offered deference to Whites who controlled the town politically. I did not like studying alone. There was not a soul in sight, and finally, after getting one chapter read in the book, I packed up and returned to Coffman, where Chick-fil-A was open, and I bought a sandwich. I took the sandwich and a bottle of milk to a table in the food court where the sun shined on its surface and a green coaster claimed the table was sterilized. Five maintenance men ate at a table near me, seeming interested why a man my age would be in college. I did not inform them I was back in school as a reaction to George Floyd's death.
I savored the Chick-fil-A sandwich, let the sun warm me, and enjoyed the milk, the taste of which I loved. Then I wandered into the bookstore, looked at the books that the students were showcasing, like self-awareness books, novels by black writers, and fantasy, which I did not read, finding Tolkien intolerable. I went back upstairs to the lobby, sat down in one of the big reading chairs and began to work on the paper again.
A piano player started in the corner but did not play to the crowd he was used to. A few pretty girls walked by who found my interest in them offensive, and I noticed I must be older than last year when I attended college and the girls seemed to invite my glances. Now, they thought my interest in them out of place. Then I walked to Wilson Library, which was located on the West Bank, on the other side of the river across a footbridge that ran above Washington Avenue and the route of the light rail. Three students were on the bridge, and I looked at the drop to the river below, remembered the poet John Berryman's suicidal leap to the ice in the 70s and enjoyed the walk, as I trundled along with my backpack making me lean forward. The weather was warm and there was a slight breeze. West Bank was a ghost town of a brick courtyard, locked classroom buildings and outdoor tables where two girls sat having lunch they brought with them. Wilson Library was locked, and I got in with my student ID by pulling the door open to coincide with the swipe of the card. The librarian was alone at the desk, doing nothing, it seemed, and I walked upstairs to the third floor, knowing where to go. My legs felt the weight of my laptop on the steps, and I was the only person on the third floor.
Each table had one chair at it, and there were little signs saying not to sit at the other places at the table. I used one of the library's computers, found the books I wanted in the catalogue, then searched for them myself, since I was a librarian's aide in an earlier life. I was out of practice; it took me a while, but I succeeded in finding two books that would do the trick, both about the Freedom Rides, the almost suicidal trips by students through the deep South to integrate public facilities in bus terminals in America. I checked out the books with a system that kept the librarian from touching them, and she said I could have them for two months and to "enjoy." I left the library, opened its heavy doors, and walked under big maple trees that cast shade on the brickwork to the steps that took me to the light rail station to take me home. The coffee shop in Wilson was closed, too, and there was nowhere to hang out at school except the lobby of Coffman.
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has one of the largest student bodies in the United States and there were no more than one hundred students on it right now. This was fall semester, all our courses were remote, and spring semester, according to the president of the university, promised more of the same. Covid19 was rampant and I had the campus to myself.