college towns

I’m sitting with Amrys in an Espresso Royale in Madison. She’s reading a book before class and I’m trying to clean up a writeup on for my research. Espresso Royale was one of my favorite hangouts in high school, and I was distressed to learn, upon moving to Boston, that it was in fact a chain. But there’s something familiar about the place here beyond the Generic College Coffeehouse thing.

Maybe it’s the glassware or ther furniture, the branding of the place (which only became so coordinated and overt in the late 90’s, I think). It’s a manifestation of a greater sense of “home” that I get here. Maybe all midwest college towns are somehow the same. The snow is falling thick and wet outside, we’re warm in here with our coffees, and 90% of the people in here are working. It’s comforting like my recent sojourn in 1369, but this nostalgia runs farther back, to the days of my purple spiral notebook, Ritz crackers, and Coca-Cola.

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6 thoughts on “college towns

  1. So, I’ve spent my fair share of time in Madison, WI and Dinkytown, MN (which is really a part of Minneapolis, but it feels separate enough), spent one afternoon in Urbana, and (obviously) quite a bit of time in Ann Arbor.

    They all have their quirks (Madison is also a capital, Ann Arbor tries to be a little more upscale), but basically… yeah, they all have a pretty similar feel. And we have Espresso Royales here, too.

    Did you try to wander around the capital building yet? My favorite Madison story is the time in high school when a friend of mine and I accidently walked into a senate session through some unofficial back door. (In the post-9/11 world, you probably can’t do that anymore.)

  2. Maybe all midwest college towns are somehow the same.

    As far as I can tell, this is true not just of the midwest. Ann Arbor looks a hell of a lot like not just Columbia, MO and Lawrence, KS, but also Chapel Hill, NC and Boulder, CO.

    I’m sure growing up in one, you know the quirks of your better than most, but yeah… They’re all pretty similar.

  3. I’d qualify that by saying that big public college towns have a fundamental sameness about them. The schools in Ann Arbor, Madison, Urbana, Colombia, Lawrence, Chapel Hill and Boulder are very large public universities, which have similar facilities and amenities. Towns that house smaller private institutions may lack the same feel. Princeton, for example, does not really feel like Urbana.

    And some sameness is inevitable because the businesses catering to a college student’s needs and wants are largely going to be the same at all schools. And most of those are chains now.

  4. Towns that house smaller private institutions may lack the same feel.

    This is true. Williamsburg, VA, is not a college town (though William & Mary is public, it’s still an order of magnitude smaller than the others I listed). It’s a small town that happens to have a college in it. Which drove me crazy when I lived there, b/c it’s very small-townish. And there are people grocery shopping in colonial garb. So it’s not really a great comparison to anywhere, actually.

  5. Which Espresso Royale? Upper State Street or Lower State Street? I prefer Lower. If I’m all the way up State Street, I tend to go to Michaelangelo’s since that’s where my friends who actually went to college went.

    My sister once said that Austin is so similar to Madison that sometimes in Austin you think you’re just in a neighborhood in Madison that you’ve never been to before. And I agree. Those two towns have a similar german settler original population, and the public university pumped money into the economy at about the same time, so there are a lot of nice 50s-style retail and housing, though Austin had oil money then, too.

  6. Memories, memories. ERC was a nice place. I experienced interesting life transitions there. I actually worked there for a while, but… that ended poorly :P. I lived in the apartment on top of ERC for a year, too.

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