by Wesley Baucom
The parking lot by the Millenium Student Center was surprisingly vacant. My beat up Eagle Talon squealed as I pulled into an empty space close to the building. It’s funny, just a few months ago, finding a spot like that would be hard to come by unless you were there before dawn. Now with everything that’s happened in our pandemic world, even though there’s more open space, I couldn’t help but feel like it was hollow.
I grabbed my things and exited my car. There was no one in the lot. Just a few cars scattered around in close proximity to me. The sound of the Metrolink behind me echoed across the concrete field of the lot, as I approached the glass doors. The glass on the doors seemed cleaner somehow, and after seeing the sign for masks, I begrudgingly pulled it over my face and ears. The door opened smoothly. My glasses fogged. I couldn’t see anything at first, but I swear my squeaking shoes echoed through the hall next to the Cashier’s Office.
First stop, the famous Triton store. I needed some index cards that I’d probably never really use, and there was only one place for it. Outside of the bookstore workers, there was only one other person in there moseying around. This place used to be packed. I remember the long lines as people grabbed their books, beverages, or other UMSL themed merchandise. There was one cashier working the register. I talked with Jordan the cashier, and she seemed open to any conversation. “There’s a lot less people here. It feels like there’s a lot more standing around than there used to be. It’s a lot quieter.” Jordan said.
Quiet indeed. Not even any music being played from The U radio station. I meandered a bit, taking a look at the solemn-looking Einstein bagel bros as they talked amongst themselves. As I looked over across the hall by the escalator, the colorful flashing lights of the radio station swirled around in vacancy. Still no students to be found on the second floor. That’s where I talked to the front desk attendant, Donyelle, about how the once busy building used to be. As I approached the desk, she was surprised to see me. “It’s changed dramatically.” She said. We weren’t able to start working for the first few weeks of the semester. There’s not very many people as there used to be. Interactions and my tours have been pretty limited.”
I thanked her for her time and walked on. As I peered over the ledge to look at the food court, some students sat at solitary tables eating and doing homework at the former social center of The Nosh. Hoards of students would come here and talk. The noise of chatter used to sing and reverberate against the walls. Now though, it was quieter than a vigil.
The glass tunnel connecting the MSC to the quad was no better. It was a freeway at one point in time, with two lanes of bustling traffic as students hurried to classes and speed-walked home. I didn’t see another person in there that day.
Once I was in the quad, I could see small groups of people sitting in the outdoor tables. It was a cool, crisp, sunny day---perfect for outdoor studying. The flowers planted on the elevated beds bloomed in full color. The boisterous gnats danced in the air, while they reflected the sun’s brightness like little flecks of flurrying light.
Most of the things on campus were open. Many of the computer labs, safe havens for working, were still open with attendants ready to help. To my dismay, virtually none of the newspapers were available. Occasionally as I perused the different things open to students, I’d catch the eyes of a fellow face-covered traveler, and I couldn’t help but wonder if our interactions might’ve been different if things were more open.
The library was a treat too, again, more quiet than usual. The rows of books called to me as I perused them for a paper I was writing. The first level had a new installation---that being moving shelves. Literal mechanical shelves you could press a button for and the entire ancient bibliography would part ways with another.
After getting my books, I took a seat near the parking garage. An empty-looking Triton bus took off as I sat, I think they were waiting for me. The Hogwarts-like Benton hall loomed in the distance, I remember being lost in those halls. Still, hardly anyone maybe except for a few people could be seen. Then it hit me, the sudden realization was both joyful and sad---I didn’t see a single goose either, and the walkways seemed clear of their waste.
With all of that being said, Campus life seemed to go on despite the lack of activity. There’s still places to go but not many people to see. Every possible resource for students is still available, albeit in a more limited capacity. I recommend still coming to campus if you haven’t already. What better place is there to study except for a quiet place dedicated to the act of schoolwork? I will say though, that at some points I felt like a fish missing his school, as I swam through an emptiness of a bleached coral reef, it made me recall the liveliness that used to be here, and all the good times that’ve passed.