Learning to love Charlottesville — without students

Enjoying a spring break in the city

After six and a half weeks of winter classes, students of the University are graced with “Spring Recess” — a nine-day period popularly designated for getting the hell away from U.Va.

One of my roommates hopped a flight to a timeshare in Costa Rica, while two others dipped town for a tanning-intensive week in Florida. Hundreds of U.Va. students this March headed to any of the 32 service-learning trips put on by Alternative Spring Break. Still, plenty of my pals decided to drive or fly back home for break and let their souls happily rest in an environment of mind-numbing reality TV and stomach-stuffing home-cooked meals.

Unlike a large portion of the student population, I decided to stay in Charlottesville over spring break. Here I am, walking an eerily empty 14th Street and enjoying Roots without the 20-minute wait in line. It’s tight.

Even students born and bred here have scooted. A Charlottesvillian I know from class peaced out to celebrate our respite from classes with a casual several-day visit to the new MGM casino in Maryland. From what I last heard of her adventures, one night she played Go Fish in a strip club.

Of course, I’m not the only student left in town. If I walk into any coffee shop I’m sure to bump into a fourth-year hastily finishing up his or her thesis. This both warms my heart and frightens it. Given my proclivity for all things procrastination, I realize I will probably spend my fourth and final spring break next year finishing up my thesis as well. No matter.

Sitting in one Downtown Mall establishment with my laptop open to a screen full of content having nothing to do with my research proposal, I overheard an interaction between two such fourth-year students.

“Yeah, I wanted to stay in Charlottesville for break — a little ‘staycation.’ I needed to chill,” one student said.

“Needed to chill” — these words jabbed me with their truth. They are exactly why I’m here too. And what’s more, for how much I love Charlottesville, I’ve never devoted the time to exploring it as a place distinct from its function as my University’s location.

Here was my chance.

Being out-of-state and sans-car, I’ve approached my week alone with this city as a flaneur. That is to say, I walk. I walk east down Grady, waving to the residents who have seen scores of different U.Va. inhabitants move in and out of the houses bordering their own backyards. I walk on West Main, getting passed by middle-aged women jogging in pairs. I walk through Lee Park, that contested space, attempting to experience it as an objective observer rather than a participant in the culture it represents.

A week in Charlottesville without many of the students offers two primary benefits — an opportunity to experience the city as its own entity apart from U.Va. and the chance to bask in solitude.

Before break, caught up in who knows what, I was taking another spin through the classic cycle of not sleeping enough, not cleaning my filthy room and not finishing my homework. You could say I was dangling in confusion as hopelessly as the dead bat that used to hang by one wing on an out-of-reach window pane at my house. Let me repeat — there was a dead bat hanging by one wing from a window in my living room until someone reached it with a broom. With no classes or social obligations, I’ve found my feet back on the ground, walking wherever I pleased.

Besides, this week is a test run of sorts. I accepted an internship here in town for the summer. It’s official — I sent the email confirming the withdrawal of my application to work a third summer at a beautiful camp in the California mountains. It’s hard consciously trading this facepaint-everyday, rollerblade-in-a-wedding-dress kind of place for anywhere else. But it’s for real. I’m doing what I’ve always had trouble doing: becoming immersed in University life.

It’s been a Charlottesville spring break. It’s going to be a Charlottesville summer as well.

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