Monday, October 19, 2015

St John's College Dining Hall, Annapolis, MD

I had lunch here with five of my children on the last Saturday of September, while my wife, who was attending her class reunion, hung out at the $20 a head luncheon out on the back lawn. The dining hall was around $8 per person for all you can eat as well as ice cream and other dessert included, so it was as good of an option as anywhere else within walking distance, as we had already gone to the (in)famous Chick and Ruth's diner the night before. I had not been in the dining hall in more than twenty years. Not surprisingly, it had changed.

The Scene at Chick and Ruth's. This must be early in the day. Everything looks too clean.

The Ride. I was looking forward to the trip, as I had not gone further afield than Boston in the entire year previously. The way down was not at all onerous, and even pleasant, as we took two days in coming, stopping the first night in Philadelphia, and after some visiting in the morning, having a fast (for us) three hour ride down to Annapolis, including an obligatory stop for snacks at a Wawa in an especially flat and treeless part of Delaware. Since we seem to want very much to be conscientious workers and parents of schoolchildren, we had to return all the way home on Sunday in order to be ready for Monday morning. Besides having to leave abruptly right after partaking of the farewell brunch, this inevitably takes about twelve hours to get back home. As I get older I do care more about convenience as well as the ability to travel more leisurely. My last two times in Annapolis I have spent extra money, quite a lot of it really, to stay within walking distance of school and the center of town, and I find that it is worth it in terms of my overall mood, especially given that I am only taking such trips once or twice a year now, if that. Now I am reaching the point where I don't want to have to rush back on an extremely long ride in one day. Our trip home also coincided with the last day of the Pope's visit in Philadelphia, with the attendant closure of half the highways around that city, so we went up through York, Lancaster, Allentown and Scranton and then across I-84 to Connecticut. The first half of this ride, during the daylight, was very pleasant. on mostly empty roads through the interior of Pennsylvania. When we got to Connecticut there were three separate occasions where we got stuck in construction back-ups for at least 45 minutes. It was also, as always, considerably colder and darker and gloomier once we got back into the New England evening. It is home, but it is a dark and lonely place to drive across at night. In any case we did not get home until around 2:30 in the morning, and it took us most of the week to recover our sleep. But the trip was still worth it!

I love the Pennsylvania Turnpike's eternally empty Northeast extension

Location. St John's is an old school in the old section of an old town, so it is pretty much where it should be. Most of the students in my time had little use for Annapolis, and the cool kids especially were merciless in their evisceration of the local scene. It is true that the dominant character of the local population has never meshed well with the culture of the college, though I am surprised by how unfavorably the town seems to be considered with locales of roughly similar colleges, many of which are in far more isolated locations and have much colder weather, winter lasting in many instances (such as almost all of New England) nearly the entirety of the school year. But I have written about all of this before. Predictably, the surrounding neighborhood has become desirable and incredibly expensive compared to what it was in the early 1990s. Students, including those from the regular middle classes, used to rent well-worn rooms or apartments in the historic district within a few blocks of campus in those days, but these places have been renovated for more upmarket purposes, and I don't think too many students live in town anymore, unless they are from wealthy families. The college had to build a couple of new dormitories for the first time since perhaps the 1950s to address this issue.

The main building of the college, dating from 1743.

Day. The weather was wonderful, overcast with temperatures in the low 70s. I could comfortably wear long pants outdoors. As I had primary children-minding responsibilities I mostly hung out near the play areas during the day instead of meandering from scene to scene of social action, and, sadly, I was unable to attend any of the parties later in the evening.

Ambiance. Back now to the dining hall, the main room is largely the same as it was, with the exception of a buffet line at the front manned by two or three employees of the catering service, which I have to admit I found kind of intrusive, though this may have been because I was sitting at the front table right beside it. The booths in the smaller room that had been the smoking section in my day had been ripped out and replaced by a double row of drink and ice dispensers, not an improvement to my mind. I cannot say I got any real feel for what the social atmosphere is like now. It seemed kind of subdued. It was Saturday afternoon, and the crowd is always lighter on the weekend, and is usually absent the most intense and energetic students, who tend to be more vigorously and productively occupied elsewhere on the day off.

This is it. I guess the full length portrait of William of Orange must be at the other end (behind the photographer)

Crowd. Mostly students obviously. I only noticed a couple of other older people in there, though there is no objection to their going in. I sat facing away from most of the students and was pre-occupied with prodding my children through the meal so I actually did not have much opportunity to observe the students.

Food. I had fired my children for this dining option beforehand with promises of chicken patties or fishwiches with fries being on the menu. Times have changed however, and the type and apparent quality of the food being served is of a much higher standard than I actually ever encounter in my own current life. Indeed, it is in this matter of food and diet that I most worry that our family may have dropped out of the college-going classes, or at least those classes that attend colleges like St John's (I confess that, never having gone to the kind of school that the Buffalo Wild Wings crowd went to, I am mildly terrified of them). They had whole grain pasta, potato latkes,good quality pastrami on a fresh onion roll. They did have some French fries, though these too looked to be more of some kind of modern hand-crafted variety rather the old freezer burned crinkle cut model that we used to know. It was all very good, and I know that these offerings are hardly exotic, but the whole presentation, remodeling of the serving area and so on struck me as riffing on some kind of San Francisco, i-pod, vaguely exclusive aesthetic, in the sense of, some people have the mannerisms, thought processes, etc, that assure you that they belong in this environment, and other people, like me, really do not. Incongruously, there was one of those flip-over waffle irons that they always have at the continental breakfast at hotels along the interstate. My children were most grateful to see this, and I think it was the main part of the lunch for the younger ones.


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