UVa Visit Part 3

Last part, I promise. This post covers Saturday and the trip home on Sunday.

I got up bright and early Saturday morning, too, because P wanted to take me out to breakfast. Shortly after 8:30 we were on our way to a restaurant much nicer than what I’d expected in his red Audi Quattro convertible, which was also much nicer than expected. (I don’t recall the car type because I’m interested in cars, but rather because it was the sort of car I’ve never ridden in before.) There, we met his wife, who was also very nice, and had a breakfast that was much more of a social affair than anything else. Talk of graduate school and work-related topics really didn’t come up, though we did have a lovely discussion of lifestyles outside the U.S. Like me, they’ve spent significant time overseas.

As P and I headed to campus, I was searching for a non-narcissistic way of asking him why he was showing such interest in me as a person (rather than as, say, a potential advisee). He’d even told me at one point that he wanted me to consider him someone I could ask any sort of graduate school related question of, whether it had anything to do with UVa or not. That’s a very different attitude than I’ve encountered before. Finally, as we were walking across the parking lot, I asked. He explained that the curiosity he saw in my statement of purpose was what caught his eye. In his experience, people with curiosity like mine are the most successful and interesting people to work with. His explanation was a bit longer and more involved than that, but, all in all, it was quite flattering. It kind of reminds me of when Harry Potter gets his first wand: “We can expect great things from you, Mr. Potter.”

***

On Saturday, there was an Open House in the engineering school, which many of the prospective graduate students had stayed on for. What no one had told us is that this event was geared more toward high school students looking to come to UVa as undergraduates. I wandered through the exhibits and hordes of parents and high schoolers for a bit before wandering down to the undergraduate aerodynamics lab where I knew that Ben from the ARL was supposed to be. As it turned out, I spent the rest of the morning giving tours and advice to prospectives along with him and an undergraduate. It was kind of funny that I was telling students all about what the lab was used for when I was not even a student there, but I only needed to listen to the other two for a few minutes before I could fill those parts in. Any questions about wind tunnels or aerospace engineering in general, of course, I could already answer. Ben seemed both amused and thankful to have me around, especially when I took on questions from a difficult-to-understand Japanese man who lingered in the lab.

I’d hoped to catch Kathryn Thornton’s lecture at one o’clock–she’s a dean at UVa and a former astronaut–but the room was packed beyond capacity by the time I got out of the lab and I hadn’t had any lunch yet. So Ben and I headed up to the faculty lounge where there was food to be had. Hanging out with some of the professors and grad students I hadn’t met before was good for me. It showed me that I’d fit right in, even down to getting teased about eating their lunch constituting a guarantee that I was going to come there. That was when I realized that the decision of whether or not to go there for graduate school was now going to be a lot tougher than before.

After lunch, I started wandering outside, planning to head to the Rotunda for the two o’clock tour, when I ran into Nic and Joe, two other prospective graduate students. Happily, they had the same idea that I did, so we went there together, heading for the Rotunda by walking up the center of the lawn, pausing for me to take photos every once in awhile. (I will post those sometime soon. Just haven’t had time yet to get them ready.) It was a gorgeous, spring-like day, and the campus was hopping, filled with students enjoying the good weather and alumni out with their children and pets, exploring the grounds. We turned out to be the only ones on the tour (well, until a random man joined us partway through), and an excited second-year told us story after story about the Rotunda, Academical Village, and the University’s history. It was great fun, though I wish I’d been able to find some good postcards showing the inside of the Rotunda.

Nic and Joe were tired at that point and headed back to the hotel. I went with them as far as the university bookstore, where I went postcard hunting, without success. We weren’t planning on meeting up again until 8:30 or 9 after Nic got back from dinner with S, so I had a substantial chunk of time at my disposal. I didn’t feel like going back to the hotel, so I wandered back onto the grounds, found myself a nice tree to sit under and gave my parents a call. Then I wandered around campus some more, shooting photos at will. The sun was, by that point, unfortunately not in the best place for that, but I took the photos anyway. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by a music shop on the Corner just to see what they had. I ended up leaving with a copy of the Frames’ Finally single because they had a good price on it.

As I relaxed in the hotel and watched HBO, I got a call from Joe, inviting me to dinner with his friend at Panara. That, as expected, was good, and the prices were a good bit better than the Panara in Tower City, too. Back to the hotel to wait for Nic. Once he got there, we decided to go bowling and bowled a couple of black light games. This time I was able to get a ball that was the right weight for me, which means that I bowled much better than my last expedition. My first game was crap, but the second one was 122, respectable for me. When we got back to the hotel, I was kind of hungry, so we took a walk up the Corner to a deli shop called Little John’s, where we got sandwiches and such. I had the Special, which had hot corned beef, pastrami, cheddar, 1000 Island dressing, and tomato. It was amazing. I spent all of the next day thinking about that sandwich.

I got to bed around 1:30, later than intended, but the evening was so great that it didn’t matter. Nic, Joe and I met up in the lobby for breakfast the next morning. We happened to run into another prospective student, so the four of us went out to breakfast together and enjoyed ourselves one last time. I get the impression that Joe and Nic will probably end up going to UVa; we exchanged e-mails and promises to keep in touch and let one another know where we end up.

Joe was kind enough to give me a ride to the airport, and so began the great journey homeward. Everything went fine until I got in to Cleveland, where RTA decided to fuck with me. The red line train was only running to Tower City, which meant that I had to get across the East side myself. There was a red line shuttle running to the later Rapid stops, and I managed to catch that at Public Square. Since we stopped and sat for no apparent reason (no one got on or off) at the first couple of stops, I figured that they were at least pausing at all of the Rapid stops. It turns out that I was wrong, as I discovered when they charged past the E. 120th stop. I got up and asked the driver, who condescendingly informed me than I should have pulled the wire for stop. Excuse me if nobody had done that for E. 79th or E. 105th. She paused at a light in the middle of the East Cleveland ghetto and asked if I wanted to get off there. Um. No. No fucking way.

By this point, I’d already been traveling across town for far longer than it usually takes, so I was getting annoyed. We make it out to the Windermere stop, where we pull in just in time for the Red Line Shuttle heading the opposite direction to pull out of the lot. Grumbling to myself, I stand in the cold and call my apartment, hoping that Eric is around and can come pick me up because there’s no telling when the next bus will be back. No, Eric’s gone. Livid by this point, I decide to take a chance on the #6 bus that’s pulling in as I hang up. I jump onboard, flash my pass, and sit there glowering out the window, hoping that I’ll recognize when I need to pull the wire. Since that area of town is of an unsavory nature, I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years stoutly avoiding it. It’s not like I’m going to recognize when my stop is coming. Thankfully enough, though, I do, and I get off a little ways from my apartment, muttering curses against the RTA all the way home. In total, I spent more time trying to get across town once I was in Cleveland than I spent on either of my flights from Charlottesville. But I got home at last, and that ends the UVa saga.

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