IT'S SUNDAY at 2 a.m. After shakin' your moneymaker for hours at a party, you find yourself standing outside the venue as abruptly as Cinderella at midnight. The haze around the festivity clears as you slowly take off your beer goggles. You notice the music is missing, the crowds are dissipating and the attractive new person you met on the dance floor isn't so attractive anymore. You also notice that your stomach is grumbling louder than an old man who can't find his dentures. You assemble your group of friends, which happens to be transportation-deficient since you realized it's a bad idea to drink and drive to parties. You set out to find a place to walk to get your grub on. Then suddenly, you realize that littlejohn's, with its line of patrons stretching back to your house, is the only place open at this hour. The University should offer a late-night dining service to its students.
From the Castle to the Pavilion, the Tree House to the dining halls, the already limited University dining services are closed by 1 a.m. at the latest. Some places, like the Castle, don't even open on Saturdays. For a University with 12,000 undergraduates -- of whom 6,700 live on Grounds -- it's ridiculous that there is only one convenient 24-hour eatery within walking distance of Grounds, and that it is not even affiliated with the University. Unlike many large state school's student unions, from Virginia Tech to Arizona State University, the University's Newcomb Hall is not a glittering round-the-clock food oasis. There is no fast food culture embedded on Grounds, nor are there even coffee shops or University-sponsored dining services that cater to ravenous party goers after their parties end.
"We've observed that by 10 p.m. the Pavilion is just dead," said James Lee, Newcomb Hall site manager. "We're open until 11:30 and on the weekends no one shows up that late anyway. We just don't see a demand for late night food service on the weekends."
While this may be true during the hours when people are at parties, by 2 a.m. there is definitely a demand for some convenient chow. Not only would it be lucrative for franchises to serve the late-night student market on Grounds, but it also would be safer than kids piling into cars with tipsy but confident drivers behind the wheel. Leaving students to cruise down Route 29 in search of a meal and an accident with an innocent local driver is dangerous and can be prevented by offering on-Grounds dining.
"We're happy that we're the only 24-hour eatery near Grounds, but I know that can be a bad thing too," said Jeremy Nelson, manager of littlejohn's delicatessen on the Corner. "We get swamped when all the parties shut down, but it's also understandable why Charlottesville doesn't have more 24-hour food services. The unemployment rate in this town is only about 1.4 percent, compared to the national average of 4 percent."
It's true that unemployment, as well as space and money constraints, may limit the University's ability to reach into its pockets and build a shimmering atrium of a food court right in the middle of Grounds. But it's still possible to use existing dining venues to cater to students. Mr. Lee seemed confidant that if students showed interest, the University could provide funding. Like more seating at the Stadium or more first-year housing, late-night food is service students really need. It doesn't have to be offered all night during the week, just from Thursday to Saturday nights. And it doesn't have to be served in a new, sparkling set-up, but a convenient place where students can sit down and eat.
The University has made valiant efforts to offer weekend recreation that doesn't involve kegs, guest lists or entrance charges. The University could further this goal by providing late-night food as another alcohol-free social opportunity. It wouldn't be dorky to go chill at the potential student union on a weekend night, since there would be activities going on there. It's not like students would be going to a dining hall to spend an exciting Saturday night, but instead like they're hanging out on Grounds. Besides the primary goal of feeding the pack of starving werewolves that students morph into after 2 a.m., a student union would solve other social problems here too. In addition to providing safe and convenient dining, 24-hour food services would be a great way to bring students together under a cohesive campus umbrella. And although waiters would not perform magic tricks like at the Max Restaurant on Saved by the Bell, it would still be a place to eat some cheeseburgers, listen to some music and have a good time when the noise of a weekend night has died down.