Now that I’m transitioning to farmerhood, but still living a mostly urban life, I’ve got more time for things I’ve been meaning to do for years. Like take some college courses. So today, I found myself blasting out the door before 8:30 rushing to be on time to the first day of class: Beginning Photography. Even before I entered the class, I had the sinking suspicion that having a B.A. already wasn’t going to make this the walk in the park I’d thought it was going to be. Going back to your student days can be a nostalgic dream, until you realize, there are some things about those days you’re glad you left behind.
First challenge: just getting to class. I went to a small Liberal Arts College where nearly 100% of the students lived on campus and within 2 weeks you knew everyone from the professors to the maintenance people. I vaguely remember visiting friends at large urban universities and wondering how they found the time to navigate the bureaucracy, sprint across sprawling campuses, and just handle all the extra hassles that happen when, unlike Cheers, no one knows your name.
First thing I learned: City College of San Francisco is bigger and more sprawling than you’d think it is. And there is absolutely no parking. So, initial awkward step back to the “good old days”: I’ll be taking public transportation there. Yup. Standing on the old J Church, probably lugging a backpack for all my books, notebooks and camera equipment. Scrambling for change. Maybe getting a transportation pass. Standing at the streetcar stop in the rain. Getting coffee spilled on me when the car is full. Now I’m really depressing myself.
Next thing I learned: first day of class is never where it was supposed to be and you never manage to show up with all the things you were supposed to bring. Check and check. Luckily I started early because arriving at my designated classroom only started a scavenger hunt for the REAL meeting site as I followed sign after sign saying, “Sorry Phot51 has been moved to. . .” I must have been diverted to three different classrooms before I finally found where they’d decided to park the class. However, by that time, I’d gathered a small group of similarly bewildered people carrying cameras, so we’d already started the inevitable “get acquainted” part of the first class. It helped that the original class was to be held at one corner of the campus and each additional redirection sent us to an opposing corner. So with our cardio under our belts and a few first names committed to short-term memory, we finally arrived at our classroom. Which we were told was only temporary. We’d be meeting somewhere else next week. Not a problem. I’d already had the campus tour. Except I hadn’t seen the campus bookstore and no one sent me the memo about the textbook I was supposed to buy.
Then there were all the schedule mix ups. Half the class had registered for the Thursday session, but had somehow had the Monday session put on their schedules. So ensued the inevitable detangling of who got to stay in the class and who didn’t. I wasn’t worried about this part. I’d signed up for the Thursday session and the registrar had mistakenly put on my transcript that I was enrolled in both the 9AM to 12 Noon AND the 1PM to 4PM class. Not a problem. I was in and would get to stay in one or the other. Until the professor dropped the bombshell that 9 to Noon was actually the lecture portion of the class. One to 4 was the lab portion. So Thursday would mean six hours of class with time enough only to grab a burrito out of the lunch cart. A SIX HOUR CLASS?!? What did I sign up for? And to think that a friend had recently tried to talk me into taking some of the freebie seminars at Ritz Camera instead.
Yes, we all remember college as perhaps some of the best times of our lives. But do you recall that horrible sinking feeling — most pronounced during Freshman Year — that you’d signed up for a class that might be over your head. Yup. Happened to me today, in A BEGINNING COURSE. The professor started handing out the syllabus, the lab and class assignments, discussing the THREE portfolio reviews for the semester and warning us that the majority of our grade would be for developing “clarity of vision”. Yikes! Armed with my degree from an Ivy League type school, I thought I’d walk all over those City College kids. Uh uh. I nervously looked around to see if everyone’s eyes were as widened as mine or if I detected any trembling hands. No, these kids are cool as cucumbers. More than one decade (that’s all I’ll admit to) after I finished college, I’m living one of my worst college days nightmares. Second only to that one where you dream you show up in class naked.
So I’m scrambling to get my textbooks and start my first week’s assignments — one of which is to know the Users Manual for my camera backwards and forwards.
Ah, the joys of the scholarly life. I guess there’s a reason why most of us leave college or university and move on. Despite the good parts, it wasn’t necessarily the carefree and easy time we all think we remember.
PS — One of the highlights of my first day at City College was the fact that I ended up next to the Diego Rivera Theater, which was painted by the great Mexican muralist sometime in the late thirties. In his usual exuberant style, Diego put in everything, including: loads of Charlie Chaplins and Hitlers, the brawny hand of Labor crushing the puny arm of Naziism, Frida Kahlo, Mayan and Aztec builders, and what looks like a tete a tete between Ronald Reagan (a prophetic bit of inclusion) and Edward G. Robinson. See some of my pictures of the murals here.