UC Davis Magazine

Campus Views

Bicyclius studentum. That was the creature that had turned asphalt into a river of bobbing heads and spinning tires, and roundabouts into maelstroms of flashing chrome, metal bars and pumping legs.

Sizing up the campus

California. The Promised Land. UC Davis. Here I am.

"Davis--hmmm, nice small town, if I remember right" was the general comment offered by those I asked before my arrival. I tend to disagree. I have no problem with the description "nice," or even "town," but "small" is based on one's perspective. And from mine, the campus itself is a full-blown city of higher learning, nestled in the larger metropolis of Davis, Calif.

My background might be characterized as "small," "rural" and "Midwest." I grew up in a tiny suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, a small town much more country than city. It's a place where the people behind the counter at McDonald's know you by name, haircuts come in one style--my brothers and I looked like buzz-cut triplets--and Joe the multi-talented barber will clean and oil your hunting rifle for a small additional charge.

The character of my surroundings didn't change much when I attended a small college located in the township of beautiful Gambier, Ohio. The essential businesses were spread all the way from the bookstore to the post office across the street. Sometimes I'd find myself flanked by rows and rows of the predominant local flora--corn--because I had let my thoughts wander while walking across campus. Those tall green sentinels were the only ones to see me collect my bearings and hurry back into town, other than a shotgun-toting farmer or two. My biggest concern when crossing the street was stepping in horse droppings, or getting hit by a runaway Amish carriage.

Needless to say my experiences here at UC Davis as a first-year graduate student have been a bit different from those in cozy Gambier.

Being the eager young graduate student, I arrived in Davis a couple of weeks before the undergraduates, to settle in and get to know my way around this maze of concrete and asphalt pathways.

Is it a bike path or a traffic lane? What's a roundabout? I actually need a map? Bicycles are a big thing? You don't say. "This isn't so bad," I said to myself after the first week. Sure there were lots more people, and traffic, and I had to wait in a line once in a while, but in addition to being eager, I am resourceful. I had a grip on this situation. I believed I had made the transition to urban life. I was becoming a Californian, no less.

Then the undergraduates came back.

It was 10 minutes to 9 o'clock on the first day of classes, and the flood of two-wheeled creatures that I beheld was staggering. Bicyclius studentum. That was the creature that had turned asphalt into a river of bobbing heads and spinning tires, and roundabouts into maelstroms of flashing chrome, metal bars and pumping legs. I stood there, numb, on the curb of the street I had intended to cross and stared, transfixed by this migration of thousands. I couldn't believe it. I thought the God-of-Bikes had gone mad.

In Gambier, I had been surrounded by a crowd full of faces; here I was confronted with a faceless crowd. Before I came to this "big city," I was sure my world would become a bigger place. Instead I found myself isolated in a sea of people, feeling that my world had gotten much smaller.

But after a couple of weeks, the initial shock wore off. After shouldering my way through the press of people in the MU Coffee House to get to the tasty blueberry muffins a couple of times, the surprise at my new situation lessened and my tolerance increased. My perceptions were changing. Adapt I must, and adapt I did. Granted, this adjustment came with time and myriad trials, including 20 minutes trying to find the registrar's office in Mrak Hall (until I actually saw the name on the building, I was sure it had been misspelled), lost for a while in the twisted maze of burnt-
orange stairwells.

But I did make the transition. The campus became familiar to me as I created mental "tide charts" to accommodate the ebb and flow of the crowds. I wiped the perpetual semi-perplexed look off my face and walked with purpose as I began to know the location of my classes and the layout of this city.

Then there came that one instance of certainty. The sunlight had wrapped me in its bold, wonderfully warm embrace. I was wearing my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the November sun. November sun?! This was California. My bike and my body were fused, acting in perfect coordination. Without hesitation, I plunged into the current and became a denizen of the bikeways. Easily passing the slower bicyclist and expertly dodging in-line skaters and skateboarders alike, I knew I had become a part of this place. My conclusion was reaffirmed as I forced a pedestrian back onto the sidewalk, my eyes relaying the silent yet unmistakable communication, "Step back, I'm coming through." I rode on through MY campus.

-- Mark Havrilla

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