Students are returning to Hinterland’s campus in droves, and it’s not even dorm move-in yet, let alone the start of the semester. I can’t recall another time with this many early birds, thousands of them, soon to be tens of thousands. What does it mean? Is the economy so bad that summer jobs are finished early or never got started? Is it an index of intergenerational squabbling—they’re sick of mom and dad? Or is it a new lurch toward conservatism, with confident youth eager to finish their degrees and get started making money?
Things will settle down in two or three weeks, but at the moment Inner Station is a very dangerous place. If the university’s insurance premiums don’t soar at the start of new semesters, they should. Every year at this time someone falls off a house, another off the back of a motorcycle; people walk across streets, oblivious to traffic (there’ve been several fatalities in recent years), and act rudely just when their demands ensure they’ll never get their steak soft tacos. They shout into cell phones while riding buses, Hey isn’t it cool to be back I’m back You cut out say that again What What Are you back in town When will you You suck Do you wanna go out tonight What?
I witnessed a fender-bender yesterday next to me in traffic and saw someone else blow through a red light the day before that. Today Mrs. Churm was almost rear-ended and saw another person run a light after traffic had begun to flow. There’s always a lot of traffic in Inner Station when students are in residence, but there’s a panicked, disorganized vibe to it right now.
When they get a little older, students will learn to be cool. I’m long-practiced at the fine art of blending in, on several continents. My niece’s wedding was on the DePaul campus last week, and I strode purposefully through Chicago’s Lincoln Park, where our hotel was, wearing an expression that said, I’m a little angry, if not insane, because I live here, sucker, and therefore I know exactly where I’m going. I didn’t let cars bluff me when I crossed, and I walked just ahead of the flow of foot traffic. I fit in to the rhythms of the neighborhood, you see, by pretending to belong, and that kept me on-time, on-target, and perfectly safe.
The homeless guy on the corner watched everyone else go past and beat desultorily on an upended pickle bucket. I don’t know why, but he took one look at me striding along and shouted, “Hey, Money!” as if it were my name.