The distance between my room and the classroom has, historically, been measured with swearing. I’m usually half-awake and late for class. It is not a pleasant time.
But this semester — my last here — I’m beginning to appreciate that distance more.
Not coincidentally, this column comes with the inauguration of spring in Chapel Hill, a town famous for springtime. The azaleas are beginning to percolate pink, bulbs poke up awkwardly and lying on the quad feels (is) more productive than making it to class.
My appreciation for walking began, however, not by choice. Last spring, the love of my life — my bike, named T-Pain — was stolen.
I started walking to class every day, an act most people already do, but one that requires a bit more mindfulness than busing or biking. The 30-minute hike wore an observing groove into my day that hadn’t been there before.
There’s no other time when I would keep season with the changing window displays, sync schedules with the dog walkers or stop to pet the bookstore cats on Franklin Street. (Side note: The cats couldn’t care less that I exist, but it’s still worth it.)
Walking became an obsession beyond the small cartography of home-to-campus. I began to understand better the baffling reason why suburban moms always seem to get up at 5 a.m., just to walk.
There’s a lot to forget in a college town. The markers of quintessential Chapel Hill come ready-made in glossy pamphlets. We began to reduce an understanding of place with that one token bar, that one pizza place.
And that is a part of Chapel Hill, yes — but it’s also a wide panorama, found not just on one street or ZIP code but in the ecosystem of Durham, the Triangle, North Carolina. We know this.
But the reaction to the DTH’s recent article about crime highlighted the inherent tension located in a sense of place, and how well we do or don’t know it.
As college students, we are pandered to by the phrase “best four years” that positions us more as tourists than locals. But going to a public university funded by the state requires some sense of ownership of that state — an ownership realized not in entitlement, but in getting-to-know.
A liberal arts degree isn’t something to be confined behind classroom doors, but it is also what we learn equally from: a landscape where buses keep running, shops open on schedule and streetscapes are filled with the well-lit windows of daily life. To be not just an observer of this, but a good participant: There’s the challenge.
It’s not a challenge met merely by walking to class. The people I look up to most are (appropriately) the kind of people who look up. And around.
By the divine intervention of the Bike Gods, I got T-Pain back. And in the end, the medium of transportation doesn’t matter as much as the mindset. But for now, I think I’ll try walking.
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