As I pulled into one of West Union’s not-high-enough, not-low-enough high tables Sunday night, there was a hitch in my pre-meal routine. Don’t worry, I still gazed at the plate half covered in grease from my gratuitously cheesy pizza. I still snorted at the week-old episode of "Comedy Bang Bang" piping into my earholes. And I definitely didn’t forget to whisper my customary prayer to David Ortiz.
“Dear Papi, please don’t let anybody try to come talk to me. Amen.”
But between all of that foolishness, the divergence. I looked up from my plate and took in the Union. The imposing, sterile glass. The blissful chattering. The options. Oh, the options!
Counter after counter, too many to count!
Ample seating, indoors and out!
Bad romantic poetry-worthy stuff. You know your school has really kicked it up a notch when your food choices include not just Vaguely Italian and Vaguely Indian, but Vaguely Japanese, too.
This celebration might seem like overkill to those of you fortunate enough to have varied your diet in the past two years on-campus. But for three straight semesters, I lived, ate and classed on West campus, trapped in the tedious cycle of Duke stress. In many ways, the campus food choices mirrored my feelings about this institution: the classes here are indispensable; without the sustenance provided by the Loop and ABP I would have literally perished. My friends are loyal and kind; the sesame seed bagel toasted with cream cheese and sliced tomato has always been there for me. Midterms and parties and chipotle black bean burgers and tots and oh god, why does all of this food taste exactly the same? When did Duke make me lose my ability to feel?
Through all of this monotony was the Union. For the better part of twelve centuries (it seemed), the hypothetical building perched faithlessly over the deserted plaza, offering a bitterly unrealized promise. One day, Duke will have food, Kirby. But not today. And probably not tomorrow, either. Enjoy that Loop mushroom swiss burger.
But then one day, Duke had food. I arrived to campus this autumn to discover the open, beckoning doors of the great glass wonder. My first trip the Union, I got so overwhelmed, I ordered a kale salad. Did you know kale is delicious? As I took in the myriad culinary possibilities, I spun around the open halls like Julie Andrews at the beginning of "The Sound of Music." I didn’t even care that I had to pay for this food with my not-my-parent’s money.
Food takes a mirror to cultures; in the pre-Union days, Duke’s was a culture of disregard for one’s health. This is still undeniably true, but at least now we have a place to sit and talk about how counterintuitive it is to prepare people for the real world with catastrophically stressful exams. At least now we have a forum for our shared college experience. Just don’t try to come sit by me.
I finished my pizza and walked past a few other lonely eaters. One of them, like me, had his headphones in, lost in the drudgery of another meal, another day, another semester. I thought, he might be younger than me, already sick of the Union offerings. Already wishing he could be anywhere but Duke.
This new generation is going to be different. This new generation has food. That kid doesn’t know how good he has it. And that makes him exactly like me.
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