If not for the academics, the crisp Ohio weather, or the disarming Midwestern friendliness, one surely comes to Oberlin for the nightlife. I remember, what seems like ages ago, holding the Oberlin and NYU brochures side by side and pondering that age-old query of the 18-year-old mind: “Ok, [insert something big-time important, i.e. career plans] aside, where is the party at?”
Alright, maybe it came down to a few more things than that. But it certainly wasn’t out of the question. That stuff matters. I think it is an incontrovertible truth of this world that what we’ll really remember probably isn’t found in the blocks of our G-cals. Or the dry esotera of our wizened, yet loveable professors. The food for real reminiscence is whatever (in)action proceeds the familiar haphazard text, “What’s happening tonight?” Even, and perhaps, most especially, if that response is the ever-feared “idk.”
A year ago, this “idk” didn’t have to mean much. You could always find something going on, if you knew where to look—or not. Maybe some of my fondest memories from last year consisted of searching for an alleged party “down the block,” which mostly entailed aimless wandering to a chorus of “I think it’s down here” until someone decided to consult Google Maps. Stumbling around in the darkness like this, with either one or thirteen people at my side, was definitely not what I would call a waste of time. Even if, in the moment, invaluable party (i.e. drinking) time happened to be wasted.
Even if the party didn’t end up being that great, or, as mentioned earlier, was shut down, becoming a party-martyr, a certain sense of optimism would always hold true on the trip home. One that naturally coincides with the triumph of having inserted oneself into a traditional social ceremony. At least you saw some fresh faces (or semi-fresh, in this tight-knit community of ours). If the party happened to be of the jazz (or really any musical) nature, you most likely stood witness to the 2 a.m. prowess of the typically extraordinary Con kid, imbibing sound as smooth and unpredictable as the watered-down-whatever you were drinking. And, if all else has failed you, at least the pregame was fun.
For those of us who didn’t love to party, there was still a world of options sprawled right in front of us. I asked some people what their favorite activities to do on weekend nights were, and besides the many iterations of partying, some of the responses I got included hanging out in dorms/lounges, playing D&D/video games with friends, long dinners at Stevie, large Netflix parties, wandering around downtown, making brief forays into the ‘Sco, going out to eat, brazenly trekking into the wilderness (i.e. the Arb), hooking up, and, last but never least, getting sleep. It is these sorts of activities that stick like glue to our brains. Maybe that’s why we return to them so habitually, week after week—and yet, something new can be found in each experience, every time (even in sleeping).
Things are a bit different now. Parties, of course, are not an option, and, although some of the above-listed activities still remain feasible in small groups, there’s still that overwhelming feeling that things aren’t the same as they were before. There’s always room for drifting, but, with such fewer options, maybe less for spontaneity. We can’t wander around searching for the locus of social activity, because there is none. Every group of friends is on their own.
How have we ended up keeping ourselves busy, then? The survey says, by hanging out in Tappan with a speaker, Zoom movie/video game/D&D nights with friends, doing homework, watching TV, art at the Arb, Zoom classes (for those across the globe), watching/making TikToks, Facetiming, drinking tea, “doing laundry lmao,” watching Disney shows/movies, practicing instruments, getting high in various places, and sleeping (again).
With these responses in mind, it appears that the pandemic has, in a sense, almost forced us to be productive and careful creatures on Friday nights. At least, to the degree that we find ourselves doing laundry and homework, making tea instead of blacking out. Whether this is for better or worse, who’s to really say, but I know that I, for one, love waking up on a Saturday morning to the smell of clean clothes coddled under my arms, because I have refused to let them go all night.
In all seriousness, another thing that I was surprised about by these responses was how relatively vared they were, in comparison to those regarding pre-pandemic life. It appears that we, as Obies, being the creative and determined people that we are, will always find ways to entertain ourselves—even if these fall under the realm of the conventional, the “my mom is probably doing this right now” category. And we will always make the best of it.
It’s no shocker that the dwindling array of weekend entertainment options has certainly taken a toll on part of that youthful, yearning spirit of ours. But it certainly hasn’t come close to destroying it, it would seem. I take a walk around on Friday nights and still see people smiling and happy, basking in the quiet warmth of good, social-distanced company. When we can’t surround ourselves with dozens of people at a time, it really allows us to see all the sides and dimensions of the two, or three, or even eight people we do place within our immediate sphere. Maybe this is where the real memories can be found. Maybe this is where the truest stories can be written.