Matt Kelley: Flight's delayed?
Toby Ziegler: Yeah.
Matt: Me too. I'm going to St. Louis.
Matt: I'm with my daughter. She's upstairs in the room but we were out here looking at Notre Dame.
Matt: You got kids?
Matt: Wait'll you take your oldest to look at colleges. It's an incredible feeling. You wish they'd go to college across the street from your house, but you know…
—The West Wing, "20 Hours in America" (9/25/02)
A couple of weeks ago, Daughter told me that she'd decided that she didn't want to go to Towson but rather to the State University of New York at New Paltz. I wasn't thrilled with the idea but I do realize that both schools have excellent reputations in her chosen major. However, I did think (still do) that there were some advantages to Towson that weren't necessarily going to happen at New Paltz. So when I was up on Long Island to see Daughter's last high school production, I took the time to visit with her mother and spell out my concerns. It was one of those good news/bad news situations in that her mother seemed to have some of the same concerns, however when she raised them with Daughter, it was a conversation that apparently began with "I talked to your father last night…" so you know that the heels dug immediately into the floor.
The other thing that her mother didn't share with me was that Daughter was pretty much set on New Paltz by this time. I learned this later on when she invited me up for the "Accepted Students Open House" a short while back. This was going to be a whirlwind tour for me. After work on Friday I headed up to Long Island. I was going to spend the night on my ex's sofa, and we would get an early start to the school. Let the clock start ticking at 7:00 PM, then.
Traffic, for a change, was fairly light all the way up (with a slowdown in Brooklyn for an accident, of course), and I kept the stops brief because I was getting the late start. I got to West Hempstead, NY at about 11:30. Daughter presented me with a late birthday gift, because when I'd seen her last (at the play), she wasn't exactly toting it around in anticipation of my arrival. Among the items in the gift bag was a "SUNY New Paltz" keychain.
Sandbagged, I'd been. All right.
The next morning, after sleeping rather poorly (in Daughter's bed, since she was worried that her stepfather, who gets up very early to go to work, would awaken me), I got up and had to wake her up. We got our respective acts together and were on the road shortly before 8:00, stopping in at 7-Eleven to get some hot beverage and a microwaved sandwich (now, them's good eatin'). By 9:30 we were in the town of New Paltz and looking for the entrance to the Open House, as there was more than one event going on at the school that day.
Now, I knew that this event was still a recruiting tactic, and that the people I spoke to were mostly going to say what they thought I wanted to hear, and tell me I was pretty and whatever else, but I let Daughter know that it was her job as well to sell me on the school. First we went to a central location in the gymnasium, where we got maps of the campus and some information about the First Year Initiative and a list of the wheres and whens with regard to tours and the receptions that the various departments would be holding. Daughter had already seen the campus and the Theater Department, but hadn't seen the dorms. I hadn't seen anything at all, so we elected to see the dormitories first.
New Paltz has two styles of dormitory: the traditional "corridor" dorm, which is what you probably think about when you think of a college dorm; and the "suite" style dormitory, which is a group of three or four bedrooms which have a common area to them. So you'd open the door from the hallway to this sitting area, then go through another door to the bedroom. It's not a new idea but it's not an especially common one. I know that when I was in college, most schools only had this setup for upperclassmen. Our first stop was a corridor dormitory. Later, we got to see the suite style. I don't think there were any parents in my group who liked the suites; the general feeling was that they tended to cloister students away from each other. And, unless the suite was on a corner of the building, the common room had no windows. It was quite cave-like, even though you knew intellectually you were aboveground.
There are some things about dorm life that have not changed since the early 1980s, when I was in school and Dinosaurs Were Walking The Earth. The doors still have all kinds of oddball decorations on them, along with the requisite whiteboard for messages (which, I imagine, were policed for the benefit of the tours). The rooms are still cramped affairs for two people (and many of the students wind up tripled now). And I'm sure that when it's not a Parents Touring the Campus kind of weekend, the individual room doors tend to remain open to permit passage of people in and out of the rooms. (In fact, we were told that this was often the case.)
There are some other things that definitely have changed about the dorm life. Scamming change for the washing machines/dryers is no longer a problem, because it's part of your dorm fee. So the laundry room is free. The rooms are already wired for internet and cable (all we had was a phone line–remember, the Internet was maybe ten years in the future for us). SUNY is working on making the campus a Wi-Fi kind of place, but in the meantime students are issued an Ethernet cable to work in their rooms, or they can go to a computer lab in the basement. The dorm labs don't have a printer, but there are several labs all over campus which do. Students are given an allotment of 500 pages' worth of printout each semester; after that you have to pay for another 500, and so on. Since you use your Student ID to log into the computer system in the first place, this is how they keep count.
Actually, your Student ID is your life, now. It's your library card; it's your computer pass, it gets you into your dorm at night (the building, that is–you still need a key to get into the room itself), or into other buildings at other times; it's your Meal Plan card, and it also maintains a record of how much you have in your "Hawk Dollars" account. "Hawk Dollars" can be used in any dining hall on campus (the Freshman dining plan allows for only one hall to be used; if you eat elsewhere it's either cash or Hawk Dollars), in the bookstore, in the library or in about thirty of the stores in town. "Town", incidentally, is pretty much any part of New Paltz that isn't the school, and is immediately outside the campus, literally a five-minute walk away. It's not like Penn State, where it's tough to tell where the school ends and the town begins, but it's close.
Later, we got to do a tour of the campus itself and then we went to the Theater Department's reception, which turned out to be not so much a reception as a prelude to auditions to be held for students who hadn't yet auditioned for the program. However, the department chair was gracious and agreed to give a tour to anyone who wanted it. This turned out to be a bigger group than he expected, but he took it with good humor and gave a pretty comprehensive tour. He was also able to give some substantive answers to rather pointed questions that parents had.
By the time we finished it was about 1:30, so we headed into town for a bite to eat. We went to a place called P&G's Restaurant, which is one of those places that rides the line between casual restaurant and bar, and which I'm sure will see-saw between one and the other depending on both the time of day and /or the day of the week. If you go there, check out the urinal in the men's room. It's pretty interesting.
We also took a stroll through some of the blocks adjacent to the restaurant and then headed back to Long Island. On the way down we stopped for awhile at Stew Leonard's, which is kind of like a mashup of Wegman's and Disneyland. We finally got back to West Hempstead around 7:00 and I took my leave shortly thereafter, popping into a diner for some supper, and back on the road to Baltimore. It was not meant to be, however, as I was too sleepy to make it all the way, and I wound up stopping at an EconoLodge in Delaware around midnight.
Yes indeed, I spent the night in a hotel only an hour from home. It was pretty peaceful.