Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Glory Days in a Young Man’s Life

Hi Bill

Today I am thinking about my first year of college at the University of Pittsburgh.

In July 1967 the parents drove me to the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh and dropped me off for my three-day (I think) summer orientation program at the University of Pittsburgh. I don’t remember being particularly nervous about it. In fact I believe I was eager to attend. I remember Dad driving into the parking garage below the twenty-something-floor cylindrical dormitories. Mom and Dad helped me get checked in and find my room which provided a great view of the neighborhood and part of the campus. Our parents stayed only a short time before reluctantly leaving for home. I know they were worried about leaving me there and they were facing the reality that I would be leaving home in September.

Clark in late summer 1967
Eager to begin college at Pitt

Honestly, I was glad to be there and I looked forward to learning more about Pitt during the next few days. My orientation roommate, Joe H, eventually showed up a few hours later. He was a very interesting guy who lived only a few blocks away from campus on (believe it or not) a street that was the same as his last name. I also met other newbies, including Pat B, Charlie H and many others, some who became good friends as we progressed through our university lives. Between all the organized meetings and activities, I was able to explore some of the city neighborhood near campus with my orientation comrades.

I was happy when our parents drove me, in a station wagon full of my essential belongings, to campus in September. They helped move my possessions into room 1104 on the eleventh floor of Tower A, which would be my home for two years. Then I encouraged them to hit the road back to “Homeville” as soon as possible. I was eager to embrace my college life.

I had been informed about my assigned roommate, Richard H, but we had not had any contact and he didn’t show up until the wee hours of the morning. I awakened when he came in and we talked for only a very short time. Richard was from the Pittsburgh area and his father was a doctor. Therefore he and I did not particularly have much in common. However, it only took a short time before we became good friends. In addition, Richard’s twin brother, Jim, was also in Tower A, but up on the 21st floor. The three of us became and remained good friends throughout our college careers.

Richard H (my roommate).
He always studied with his shirt over his head,

Jim H, my roommate's brother

The beginning of my college career was pretty much what I expected it to be. It took some effort to find my classrooms on the large city campus. I was amazed by the huge sizes of some of the lecture halls. Finding and buying the correct textbooks and supplies at the bookstore was tedious and very expensive. I quickly found friends that I met regularly for meals in the cafeteria on the lower level of the dorms, and unlike most of them, I was amazed at how much I loved the cafeteria food. I really chowed down. It wasn’t Mom’s cooking, but there was plenty of it and I enjoyed it.

The view out my dorm window:
Hillman Library and wonderful  Forbes Field

Of course I got to know everyone on the 11th floor of Tower A. Amazingly, almost all of them turned out to be good guys and some of them liked to party (believe it or not). That reminds me of an unfortunate celebration in my room one weekend early in my college career. My friend Trevor somehow got some hard cider and a few of our friends (except Richard who had gone home for the weekend) gathered for a party in my room on Saturday evening. We had a great time, but the party could be heard all over the 11th floor and the consequences were not fun. Our “House Monitor” (alias Rat) found out about the party, which precipitated several interrogations with me. I was probably not interested in what he had to say and he threatened to drag me through the campus judicial system, which could have kicked me out of school for having an underage drunken party in my room. We didn’t like each other anyway because I wasn’t interested in his fraternity (sorry Bill, I know you were a frat man) and it was touch and go for a while. That did not stop me from partying but it did entice me to be more careful about who was invited and about keeping the noise down a little. Eventually we moved the parties to off campus apartments.

The infamous party: I am the one with the shades and the booze

Football games were also a blast, even though our team was certainly not championship caliber. We trudged up the hill to the old Pitt Stadium with enough liquor to create a party in the seats and make it very hard for us to walk back down the hill. Mostly we just fell down and rolled down the hill. Amazingly we never encountered any interference from the campus judicial system. Basketball games were also fun but I don’t believe alcohol enhanced our pleasure as much during them.

That freshman year was a blast and I loved mostly every minute of it. Amazingly, I was able to perform well in my classes and finished that year with a 3-point-something GPA. However, it also included some unique trauma like the swimming classes I had to endure in a mandatory physical education class. I could swim well enough, but my swimming coaches demanded a higher level of perfection than my doggy paddle. They also insisted on teaching us lifesaving techniques including what seemed like hours of bobbing and diving (or jumping) off of the highest-level of a multi-platform dive tower. Bobbing for seemingly hours was torture. Surface and Inhale, Sink and Exhale! Surface and Inhale, Sink and Exhale!... Figuring out how to breathe wasn’t too difficult, but forcing my exhausted arms and legs to keep kicking and pulling was very challenging. I mean, we were not actually in danger of drowning. Bobbing was bad enough, but jumping off the platform dive in the clouds without a parachute was just completely ridiculous, and I said “Hell No I Won’t Go.” I jumped off the lowest platform and took a lower grade in that class. Hey, my homies and I had been splashing around the lake at the state park near “Homeville” for many years and we didn’t drown. We jumped out of canoes and row boats and whatever, and I didn’t attend college to kill myself jumping off a man-made cliff in a physical education class. Clark doesn’t like heights.

Charlie H (Herbie) sitting on my dorm bed in front of  my bulletin board 

Getting to know Pittsburgh was also a fun process and having friends who grew up there helped me find my way to wherever I wanted to go. Of course, we Pitt students thought we owned the Oakland neighborhood around the Pitt campus. However, my friends and I also got to know the Shadyside area where the “Hippies” hung out and the shops were expensive. I also learned to “squeeze” onto public-transit to visit downtown and other areas.

Scott M (a high school classmate) attended Carnegie Mellon University a few blocks from the Pitt campus and we got together a few times, which was nice. However, we had each embraced a new group of friends and the ambiance of CMU was radically different than Pitt’s. I also occasionally saw my good friend from elementary through high school, Duane L, who was attending Community College of Allegheny County and worked at a Sears Automotive shop on the North Side of “The Burgh.” He had a car and I occasionally rode back to “Homeville” with him for some weekends and holidays. During one late-night trip back to “The Burgh,” his car broke down on a very dark and lonely road. Luckily, he was mechanically adept and was able to get us moving again, but not before we were hassled by some local juvenile thugs - not fun but we survived.

Duane L before a late night trip back to The Burgh

I had a wonderful time during my freshman year at Pitt. That campus, and the city of Pittsburgh, became my home and figured I would stay there forever. I even stayed there for part of the summer after my freshman year to get another required class (or maybe two classes) out of the way. I had to move out of my room on the 11th floor of Tower A and into a room on the 17th floor of Tower B. That floor was populated with many Pitt football players and my temporary roommate (Paul N, who I believe was a linebacker or lineman – a big guy) was one of them. I will never forget that wild dormitory experience. Those football players terrorized us poor normal (nerdy) guys. It really was an endurance test. However, my roommate and some of his friends protected me. I have to admit that it was funny to see what they did to some unprotected guys. I had a great time living with Paul and hanging with him and his friends including Larry W. who became a good friend of mine.

Larry W on top, Richard H (my roommate) on bottom

Eventually I went home for a month or so that summer feeling very good because I had survived my first year at Pitt. It was also nice to have some home time with the parents and hang with my “Homeville” friends. However, I was eager to return to Pitt after my short summer break.

Clark early freshman year

Richard clipped this, added the comment at the top, and posted
it on the bulletin board behind my bed. I kept it there
all freshman year and reposted it sophmore year.

Bill, I know you also had wonderful college years and I would love to hear about them.

Take care.

Sincerely Clark

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