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December 13, 2016
The ardor of wanderlust swells in my breast!
Can’t talk! Can’t wait!
I’m heading west!
Those are the first three lines of a poem I’m thinking of writing called “Heading West,” which I’ve only just discovered is also the name of a single by 1980s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. I think I’m going to use the title anyway; I don’t think she’ll mind too much. She’s probably too busy having fun somewhere.
Anyway, the nascent string of verses I’ve been thinking of are inspired by the trip I took over Thanksgiving Break with my SSIR—that’s Sophomore Scholars in Residence. I wrote about the program, and the harrowing (okay, not really) interview I had to become apart of it, on this blog last year. Fellow diarist Ellie also typed up a nifty post detailing it which you can read here.
Every SSIR gets to go on a trip and are given money to spend while they’re off campus—all on the University of Richmond’s dime. Some have have gone to the Dominican Republic, New Orleans, the UK, and New York. The one my SSIR, Reading to Live, went on was something a bit different, I think. It was something I’d never done: a cross-continental railroad trip where the two main stops were Chicago and San Francisco. Two of the books Dr. Delers had us read this semester, Volkswagen Blues and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, featured character traversing the American continent, so the trip was timely to our curriculum.
My classmates and I awoke in the wee hours of a Saturday morning to catch an early flight out of Richmond International Airport. In a few hours, we arrived in Chicago, Illinois, which was actually tenfold windier and colder than I’d anticipated. We stayed in Chi-town for two days and hit up the Fine Arts Institute, which has a plethora of famous paintings that I’d never thought would be on American soil. American Gothic, that famous one with people relaxing on an island, and that iconic self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh that’s featured on his Wikipedia page? I saw them all, in person. (I would’ve touched them, too, but I didn’t want to get booted from the museum altogether.)
On Sunday, we went on a walking tour around the city, during which we hit Chicago’s hippest hotspots like the Bean and a great pierogi place that served—get this—fruit-filled pierogis for dessert. I couldn’t not mention that.
Later that afternoon, we went to Chicago’s Grand Central Station so we could board the California Zephyr, the train that would carry us all the way to California. It was a huge train, bigger than any I’ve ever seen, but that made sense since we had to sleep and take our meals aboard it for about the next three days.
Honestly, the approximately 52 hours we spent on the train was spectacular. We made stops in Lincoln, Denver, and Salt Lake City, just some of the places I’d always wanted to visit. I’d really anticipated getting bored with it at some point, but I loved just about every minute of it. Sitting back, watching the smooth plains of the Midwest give way to the roaring Rockies of the far west—it’s really something. I’d make the whole trip again, just for that.
Another great part of it was talking to the other passengers on the train; that’s what my project was about. I ate most of my meals with strangers, and during those meals I’d try to talk to them and get some sense of who they are as a person. Then I’d write stories about them based on who I think they are. Kind of weird, I know. But I had a good deal of fun with it.
On Tuesday, we finally detrained in Emeryville, California, and then crossed a bridge over to San Francisco. I ate dinner with some of my friends at this Thai restaurant in Little Saigon and got the tofu. Then a few of us wandered around the city for a bit and rode the cable car, which made all the walking worthwhile.
The next day, Dr. Delers had us look for a coffee shop in San Francisco where we could hunker down, read, or do our homework. I accompanied my friend Sam Schwartzkopf to this joint down near Fisherman’s Wharf, but all of the coffee came with whiskey in it, so we couldn’t stay long. So we headed to this other joint where we ran into my roommate, Chris. The three of us just hung out for a few hours (hit a few thrift shops) until we had to meet the rest of our class at a museum dedicated to the Beat Generation.
After a guided tour of some of the beats’ favorite places to hang out and write, some of us went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the movie theater next to our hotel. Tickets were expensive—right then and there I was happier than ever that the university had literally given us cash for things like this.
On Thursday—Thanksgiving—we all had a family-style meal at a restaurant in Chinatown. It really made me feel better about missing Thanksgiving with my family to eat with a bunch of people whom I’ve come to like more and more as the semester went on. Afterwards, I did some exploring and snapped some pretty nice shots of famous Lombard Street and infamous Alcatraz Island:
That evening, we took a redeye flight out of San Fran and back to Chicago, and from there back to Richmond. By then the jet lag had really gotten to me, and I spent most of the next day in bed.
So, what can I say? This trip was amazing. I really haven’t the space to document everything I saw, heard, and thought about while I was on it. I’m thankful for the program, and the fact that UR is able and willing to provide it. No doubt, I’ll be remembering this trip fondly for years to come.
—Hunter, University of Richmond Class of 2019
And yes, it has occurred to me that this is an About Me and I've neglected to tell you much about me. So I'm from Chesapeake, Virginia, a place just south of Norfolk that's large enough to be a county but isn't because reasons. There's not much to do in Chesapeake other than going for a dip in the Great Dismal Swamp (ill-advised) or head to a neigboring town to hit the beach, and I think that's part of the reason I spent most of my earlier childhood holed up in my room reading books or playing Playstation.
I branched out in my high school years, though, and I've developed affinites for genealogy, running, film, and photography. I am not a man of many talents, though among them include the remarkable power to turn my thumb all the way backwards, the ablility to tell you almost everything you'd ever want to know about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (which unfortunately has been declared non-canon, thanks to J.J. Abrams), and the astonishing skill to cook Minute Rice in 58 seconds. My playlist includes mostly oldies, and my favorite movies all came out before I was born. So you might say I'm a bit of a hipster. I've even got my own snazzy red Polaroid camera, which is practically a license to hipster in this day and age, right?
So, yeah, that's me. In conclusion, read on! Hope you enjoy my blog posts!
Why UR?I'm not a very decisive person. During my senior year of high school, I envied the kids who were certain straight from the get-go where they wanted to go to college. I had applied to several great schools that I thought could offer me a great education, but I had trouble picking which one was the best fit for me. I constantly held debates against myself, weighing the pros and the cons of each school in my head and occasionally and occasionally audibly voicing my concerns a la Gollum: "How about this one?" "No, no, too big. And too far away. Going back and forth to home could prove to be a real bummer." "Good point, but look at their alumni network! They could hook you up with a job fresh out of graduation!" "Ah, true, but check out these student reviews online. You really want to go to a place with this reputation?" "Do you believe everything you read in those reviews?" "Of course I do. They can't put anything on the internet that isn't true." And so on and so on. I still hadn't made a decision by mid-April, so the jury was still out on where I was going just two weeks before the deadline. Pressure from my parents and peers to choose just kept piling on heavier and heavier. Around this time I went to a Richmond Scholars visit, which afforded prospective students who'd been offered scholarships from the University the chance to get a glimpse of life as a student here. The visit was really what sealed the deal for me. The beautiful campus was a joy to explore even in the surprisingly sweltering spring heat. I had the opportunity to sit in on a class, which wasn't very big. Richmond's small class sizes allow for intimate discussions as opposed to drawling lectures and make it rather easy to develop close relationships with professors. I've found that most of them encourage you to meet with them in their spare time, something that might be more difficult to do at a larger institution. While at the Scholars visit, I talked with my host for hours. He gave me a bare bones, down-to-earth explanation of what he thought of Richmond. And I know it's a total cliche, but there's one thing he told me that I really think rings true here at Richmond and life in general: It can be a great and rewarding experience, but only if you put in the effort to make it one. Bottom line, I think Richmond gives students the resources needed to make their college years more than worthwhile, moreso than any other school I checked out. We've got top-notch academics to satisfy any hungry mind, we've got a plethora of extracurriculars to enjoy, tons of chances to broaden our horizons (literally and figuratively), and of course, we've got the chow at D-Hall. All that's really what made me want to spend the next four years of my life here.