I took a trip to Riverdale last week, that point in the Bronx just West of where 242 Street and Broadway intersect. It was the first time in more than a decade that I had been back to Manhattan College, my alma mater.
It was a bit surreal, really. It seems like it has been forever since my college days, yet once I set foot back on campus, it was almost as if it was just yesterday.
Sure, plenty has changed since the Class of 1997 mingled on the Quad for the last time on graduation day. A new state-of-the art library encompasses the old building where my classmates and I studied for exams and wandered the stacks searching for reference texts. A new parking garage bridges to campus, easing the commuting woes of those commuter students who make the daily trek to attend class and events. A new East Hill residence hall sits next to the old East Hill, now called Horan Hall, where I spent three of my four years at good old MC.
Even the area around the campus has changed. All of our favorite Broadway watering holes (Characters, the Terminal, Pinewood and Dorney Malone’s) are gone. Three Boys Pizza, which was conveniently located just across the street from Overlook (the slightly off campus apartment-style residence hall where I lived my sophomore year), is now called Goodfella’s. An Beal Bacht, the little Irish coffee house my friends and I frequented, has gone upscale.
Some things, though, haven’t changed. Broadway Joe’s Pizza is still serving up the best slices in the neighborhood. And the bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll from The Short Stop I used to enjoy at 4 a.m. after a night out with my friends, still tastes just as good. Even though someone other than Tina, everyone’s favorite waitress, was working the counter.
It isn’t just the place, but the people, we remember. As at any institution, there has been a steady ebb and flow of faculty and staff at Manhattan over the years. But I discovered during my brief time on campus that there were still plenty of familiar names and faces to reassure me that not everything has changed.
I met up with two of my friends that night. Mike, who lives in Berkeley, was in town for the week teaching a graduate class at Manhattan. John, now an A.D.A. in the Bronx, hopped a couple of trains to come up to join us. I honestly can’t remember the last time the three of us were in the same city.
We caught up on one another’s lives over dinner at an Indian place on Johnson Avenue. Well, actually, we spent most of the time telling embarrassing stories about one another. It was just like old times.
After dinner we strolled back to campus, still swapping stories. Half way down Waldo Avenue, though, we came to a halt. From our location we could see the cupola on top of Smith, which has irreverently been called “the Nipple of Knowledge” by generations of Jaspers. Illuminated against the dark night sky, the sight took my breath away. If I had to pick one symbol of Manhattan College, that would be it.
After pausing to check out my overnight accommodations in (the new) East Hill and cajoling a security guard into taking some pictures of the three of us, Mike and John headed out.
It wasn’t until I laid my head down that I realized I could see the Nipple from my room. And as I drifted off to sleep, my mind wandered back to my time at Manhattan College and all those memories shaped my dreams.
In the morning, I met Mike again for a quick breakfast (at the Short Stop, of course), hiked up to Riverdale Ave to pick up some bagels to bring home and packed up. But I wasn’t ready to go just yet. I wasn’t ready to part ways with all my memories.
So, camera in hand, I skirted around Draddy Gymnasium and made may down the steps by Chrysostum Hall to the Quad, which for me was always the beating heart of Manhattan College.
During the first 3 1/2 of my years at Manhattan, the Quad was lined with beautiful old trees. But not long before I graduated, the college was forced to cut them down. Some disease, if I remember correctly. I’m happy to say that the saplings they planted in their stead all those years ago, while still significantly smaller than their predecessors, have since grown strong and tall.
I made myself comfortable on a bench in the shade of one of those trees, listening to the leaves rustling with the breeze. There were a smattering of students sitting on the grass, enjoying the beautiful summer day. An admission’s officer lead a tour of prospective students and their parents in and out of De La Salle. A few faculty and staff members strolled by. And I just soaked it all in.
I stayed on campus each summer while I went to Manhattan, working as a Conference Assistant and an Orientation Leader. Those summer months, when you practically had the whole campus to yourself, were some of my favorite times. When everyone else came back in late August, it felt like an invasion.
As I sat on that bench, watching the world go by, I realized that I still feel that same level of connection to that place and to each brick and each stone, as I did as a student. I felt, not sadness or longing for days gone by, but rather I took comfort in knowing that even after all of this time, on that core level it still belongs to me, and I, to it.