hallways and highrises


Twenty years ago today, my life changed irreparably for the better. Everything has been different since that day; dreams were given a shot, the motions of my current life were sprung, and my fate veered utterly into bliss. It was the day my dad drove me to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the first time, set me in front of Hinton James dorm, and drove away.

I had never visited the campus, barely knew where Chapel Hill was, and chose a South Campus dorm because it said it had a computer center. The “computer center” turned out to be four dusty green-screen terminals from the UNIVAC experiments of the late 1950s, shoved next to the washing machines.

My mom had slipped eighty dollars into my pants pockets for good luck; on that first day, I took a shower in the dorm, and when I got back to the room, the money was gone. I called my friends from high school, basically in tears, and promptly made them all afraid of going to college. It was 104 degrees, and air conditioners were illegal.

My roommate didn’t show up for another two weeks, and when he did, he plopped his hunting rifle on the bed and muttered something in my direction. It would be the only time he spoke to me that semester.

That afternoon, twenty years ago today, I began the slow walk from Hinton James to the main campus to take my C-TOPS tests, and I noticed a pair of Reeboks and Benetton shorts idling alongside me. A beautiful girl with a heavenly Georgia accent introduced herself to me (a girl? a PRETTY one? talking to ME for no reason?) and told me her name was Kendall: I promptly fell in love. She would be in my wedding party eighteen years later.

A few days on, I was practicing “O My God” by the Police on my bass in my dorm room, and a handsome fella knocked on my door and said he liked it (a guy just came up to my door? complimenting me? someone with friends of his own?) and he told me his name was Bud. Later that month we would finish 2nd in the Hinton James Talent Show by playing “What I Like About You” (the winner was a girl who whistled “Saving All My Love For You”). Bud and I would live together, on and off, for the next ten years, and we would be in each other’s lives for another ten after that, either in person, or here in the blog.

Bud introduced me to Jon and Chip, and well, that’s already been documented. From there, I’d go on to join a brotherhood that counts as my best friends to this day, start writing in earnest, eventually bring my brother into the fold (which now provides his entire social/work life) and… oh yeah, I would meet a crazy blonde chick in 1987 that would become the true love of my life.

UNC, I know people don’t get you unless they’ve gone to you. I know it’s impossible to describe what you mean to me without making non-grads groan, the same way I feel about fans of far-off baseball teams. All I can say is that you saved me from desolation, probably saved me from suicide, provided me Dean Smith’s way of thinking, gave me almost all of my friends, introduced me to the creature of woman, imbued me with an infinite store of confidence, and most of all, gave off the ecstatic whiff that anything great was not only possible, but probable.

That all began twenty years ago today, and I’m not so far gone to know that life and fate hang by gossamer strings that could have swung a variety of directions. That I landed in your neck of the southern woods continues to be an unforgettable blessing.

KendallIanFeb86(bl).jpg IanKendall2BShower(bl).jpg

Kendall and me February ’86, February 2005

0 thoughts on “hallways and highrises

  1. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    I am all misty-eyed! I remember when I drove all the way down from NJ to Chapel Hill with my parents, 19 years ago. When it was time for them to hug me goodbye in front of Manly Dorm, I began to bawl! As they drove off, I bawled some more and ran into my room and cried buckets. The reality that I enrolled in a school far from home without knowing a single soul at the school hit me like a ton of bricks. What had I done??
    Over time, I calmed down and began to love life at UNC. And you are right, people don’t get UNC unless they experienced it themselves. In many ways, the 4 years spent in Chapel Hill were the best times of my life. I was truly, truly happy there — I loved the classes, I loved my friends, I loved the town, and I loved my life there. Moreover, I loved who I was and the kind of person I became while at UNC. Sounds corny, but it is true.

  2. kevin

    I am amazed at the impact NC has on visitors. I met a rep this week that now lives in NC. She said as a girl, her family took vacations from Ohio to NC. After a couple of visits she decided she wanted to live in NC. 20 years later she does. (Of course, 20 years later you don’t)
    Time has served you both well.

  3. Andrew

    I was dropped off at Hinton James 16 years ago. Ended up living with my randomly selected roommate all over campus and town for 4 years. Hinton James gave me my best friend at UNC and a friend still today, but the walk sucked.

  4. A reader

    That really was deeply moving. I love the part about Bud. I feel bad for anyone who doesn’t live in a dorm freshman year – they really miss out. Parents, make sure your kids live in a freshman dorm.

  5. killian

    Although my time-line is a little different, my sentiments are very much the same. I came to UNC at a time when my life had fallen down around my ankles, (not very helpful for a professional
    dancer :)), and slowly but surely found my way back to making art, friends, and love again. Eventually went to grad school, a fabulous, life-changing experience. Stayed and flourished for 7 years, came back almost every summer, and am now beginning my second year back in Chapel Hill–For Good. And I planted the “Carolina seed” in my nephews (6 & 8) this summer–they came and stayed for 2 weeks, and as they got in the van to drive back with their mom at the end of a GLORIOUS visit, Roland sang out, “See you next summer, Kiki.”
    There is just NOTHIN’ like it. . .

  6. emma

    Freshman year at UNC (18 years ago), I roomed with my best friend from high school who was in my wedding party over eight years ago. The girl who would be my maid of honor was just across the hall and another honorary bridesmaid was just a few doors down from her (She had gotten some medical note saying that it was necessary for her to have an a/c, so we spent a lot of time in her room!) How lucky I was to be placed on the same hall with these great friends and these friendships led to a couple of other life long friendships as well.
    My second oldest niece will be taking that drive with her mother (my sister) and father next week as they drop her off at Hinton James and in many ways, I am so envious of all that she is getting ready to experience.
    Thanks for taking me back to “Carolina in my mind” this morning.

  7. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    My first friend at Carolina was my maid of honor eight years later. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding a few years ago.
    When I interviewed for my position here at the Insurance Job (which, for all my bitching, is the best job I have ever had), my boss said that he had 3 nieces, all grads from Carolina. Later, he told me that he hired me because he figured that I had to be the best candidate — I went to Carolina!

  8. scruggs

    Funny this is today’s topic, as I just attended the Atlanta Carolina Club’s sendoff of local incoming freshman (thanks GFWD). Those lucky kids. So, there’s been a lot of Carolina love around lately.
    I remember unpacking alone in my room in Cobb for CTOPs, from out of state and not knowing anyone. Some random girl pops in looking to go out, and 15 years later we’re still buds!
    The Lodge even played a part in my experience. I went out some with one of those boys, and in the process met up with some cool chicas who are still my best pals. Shout out to Lisba, Dana B, and Misse! And of course, our trip to Hatteras with the twins!
    Carolina was such a great experience, I had to stick around for grad school. My husband is a double UNC grad, too. Makes it easier to decorate the sports room. No fights. What if I had ended up with That Dook Boy??? Now we get to indoctrinate our son. What fun.
    Speaking of our 2 year old and Carolina, we were sitting in our room in the emergency ward of our local hospital Wed night at 2am. (Side note: Poor kid will be in the hospital until Sunday, but he’s a trooper.) Anyway, the ER doctor is in talking with us, see’s my NC logo tattoo on my ankle and shouts “Hey, I went to Carolina!”

  9. Mel

    I recently found your site and have enjoyed reading new and old posts, but especially the ones about Carolina. I was a freshman at a women’s college in Raleigh 19 years ago this month-Meredith College, but I’ve loved the Tarheels for much longer than that. You are fortunate to have been a student there and btw, you have a beautiful family.

  10. LFMD

    Scruggs! A UNC logo tattoo! I love that!
    Hope your little one feels better soon. ERs are not much fun, but I am sure they will give him a lot of attention.
    Yes, we are everywhere. And that is a very good thing.

  11. Tim

    I arrived on campus 14 years ago. Mind you, I was living in Granville (3rd West Vikings!), but only because the housing lottery number slipped out ahead of time, and I was going to be dead last. I was already in love with the place from visiting my older brother (Morrison, 16 years ago), but wow. I can’t put in words what it meant to me. I’ve made some great friends since coming to the frozen North for graduate school… but my closest friends are still from my Carolina days. Sigh.

  12. Just Andrew

    My 2nd day at UNC I was standing in line waiting for my student ID and this beautiful blonde in front of me started talking to me. I looked behind me to find out who she was really talking to. Turned out she really was talking to me. Wierdness. Jeez, I loved that wierdness.

  13. Andrew

    How cool is Scruggs’ tattoo.
    Laurie: Looks like they built some new buildings in our absence. Nobody called me for the OK. Just remember, there is only one Hinton James.

  14. JJE

    Sigh…11 years for me and it still feels like yesterday.
    Everything I hold dear in my life came to me via Carolina.
    I met my husband as a 19 year-old sophomore. He was a 22 year-old freshman after four years in the Navy. We started dating within a month of arriving on campus and we’ve been together ever since. (Is it even possible we’re now midway through our 30s? I certainly don’t feel that old and he’s still pretty hot!) Now we have a precious new baby boy and I just sent Ian the photographic evidence that we intend to raise him “the right way.” (And it’s just a freak coincidence that his middle name is Jordan and he was born on the 23rd. Really.)
    I met my best friend and godmother of my child on my first day of my freshman year at Carolina. She was a sophomore and one of my suitemates at Granville. I was such a nervous nellie about finding my classes that she actually led me around from building to building before school started, pointing out every single classroom door on my schedule. Never laughed once. She’s also the one that clued me in to the fact that my ID was also my library card. Uh, she did laugh about that one. ;-) Anyway, she once stole a pic of Dante Calabria (swwwooon!) from the DTH files and had it signed for me and a year or so later convinced me on Wednesday afternoon to fly to Seattle that Friday morning for the Final Four.
    My sister entered Carolina when I was a senior and if anything ever cemented our bond as more than just siblings, this was it. She is now my other best friend. (My third but much younger sister just graduated from Carolina in May and again, having that Carolina bond brought us much closer together.)
    My Mom bought season tickets for football once Patrick and I graduated (as did we – our seats are all together) and not long after the passing of my father, ponied up for season basketball tickets by endowing a scholarship. In the 11 years I’ve been out, it’s rare that Mom and I have missed any home game, fball or bball. We’ve even made most of the away fball games, from dook to Wisconsin, and many of the away bball games, including a Final Four. Mom is the best at always being up for a roadtrip! If anything has truly bonded our relationship, it’s Carolina sports – not your typical mother-daughter activity, but it works for us. I will always treasure the memories I have of being at the big games with Mom – beating dook in bball, Miami in fball, Dean’s record-breaking game, Midnight Madness (told her I was pregnant at last year’s MM exactly at midnight), etc.
    Oh, and finally, the Clef Hangers. LoveLoveLove them. Even had them sing at my wedding. A day without listening to the Clefs is a day without…well…a day without my wretched but somehow inspired solos in the car. LOL!

  15. Susan

    As luck would have it, I ended up in a North Campus dorm the Fall of ’87 as a freshman. To this day I still think fondly of all the people I met at Carolina and how they all shaped in different ways who I am today. Some I still keep in touch with, some not, and some I wish I hadn’t lost touch with.
    I almost moved back a few years ago when my husband interviewed for a job there at the hospital. He loved Chapel Hill but the job wasn’t a good fit *sigh*… During his interview I roamed all over campus and all through the memories. I hope one day my son gets to experience Carolina…he’s 2 so I have a long time to convince him!

  16. Greg (not THAT Greg, another Greg altogether)

    Thanks for the post today… I still miss those Carolina years like no other time in my life.
    My wife had 2 of her randomly-assigned-freshman-college-roommates as bridesmaids when we were married 9 years ago – 7 years after she graduated from Carolina.
    My freshman roommate was a senior and one of the most socially dysfunctional people I’ve ever known. At least he didn’t have a gun.

  17. Tanya

    Ah, you’ve landed on my favorite topic! I’m so grateful I kept a journal while I was at Carolina because there were so many great memories that I would’ve forgotten otherwise.
    On my first day there, I remember feeling the enormity of what I had just begun and wanted to savor the moment forever. I can honestly say that as each day of my 4 years passed, I felt a twinge of sadness knowing that this awesome journey was one step closer to being over. Funny how early on in my very first semester, I met a guy who introduced me to Rush and my (still) favorite song, “Time Standstill.”
    At Carolina, I started a connection in which I would find myself, my confidence, my best friends, my husband, my favorite hobby, my first job and even Ian!
    (I also vividly recall writing to my best friend, who ended up going to Brown (bless her heart), wondering if it was an admissions requirement for all Carolina men to be hot.)

  18. JJE

    Hey, Tim! Didn’t realize that was you. We could be the only two, but somehow I kinda doubt it. The Ian fan club is ginormous. ;-)

  19. Bud

    Those were good days. I’d forgotten the whistler that beat us whistled “Saving All My Love For You,” but suddenly I hear it again. Man, she was good.
    I wonder whatever became of Steve Page and Kam Miller (and that woman who played the flute on our *other* song). You know, had we stuck with it, we might have bridged the gap between Jethro Tull and Evanescence.
    Yeah, everyone should spend their freshman year in a freshman dorm.
    And of course, Go Tar Heels!

  20. KTS

    North Carolina sounds like a great place to have gone to school. And Chapel Hill, of course, must be great also. In my case, it was the University of Vermont, and Burlington. NC and UT sound very similar. Always freshman dorm! One of the best years of my life.
    What I really want to post – and it’s not completely off-topic, since it’s a coming of age story – is that tonight is the night that Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes get blasted into the sky over Woody Creek, CO.
    Reading “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” is, as Grace Slick said about DMT, like “being like shot out of a cannon.” And “Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail,” his other masterpiece, got me interested in politics.
    I remember being stoned out of my gourd and going to see Herbie Hancock in D.C. in the summer of ’74, when Nixon was on his last legs. On the way to the hall, we passed The Watergate. Weird! At first glance it looked like any other building, but then you just knew it meant something more.
    Hunter Thompson was a literary genius.
    So tonight I’ll have a glass of Chivas on the rocks, and listen to the clinking of ice and whisky, in a salute and farewell to HST.
    “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

  21. Tim B.

    KTS, I’ve already got the Chivas on ice, but I am leaving the ether alone tonight. I recently took a job out in the Southern California desert and am half-tempted to drive out to Barstow and let things start taking their toll. I re-read “Campaign Trail ’72” every year and every time I head into the final two months of working on a politcal campaign. I cannot believe how much a single book has impacted and influenced my life and outlook for the better part of ten years. When HST died, I couldn’t really articulate to friends why I had admired his writing so much. In Rolling Stone’s retrospective on his career, his son, Juan, eloquently captured what I, and countless others, learned from his father. That is, HST taught us deep cyncism in how this country works and a deep idealism to not stop getting angry when it refuses to be the great country it could, and must, be. I wonder what he and Nixon are up to now? Probably arguing over NFL favorites.

  22. eric g.

    The title of your post put a smile on my face as soon as I read it. I will never forget opening a white envelope from Chapel Hill and pulling out a brochure with that strange title (why did they think that would make anyone go to their school?). I selected several more centrally-located dorms and was then plopped into 1016 Morrison. My first day (also 104 degrees, and the elevator was out, so my ill-tempered father and I got to carry my stuff up ten stories), I got completely lost and missed the 10th-floor dorm orientation meeting. I ended up in the sixth-floor meeting, sitting next to a fellow from the third floor who had had had similar problems. He introduced himself as Chris from Atlanta and said “You want to get out of here and go buy some beer?” Fourteen years later, Chris Landgraff was best man at my wedding, alongside groomsman Chris Chapman. I, too, owe a fantastic debt to the University of North Carolina, the greatest component of which is the opportunity to meet folks like you and the rest of the commenters on this blog.

  23. Ronda

    Jesus, I love Carolina! I landed at UNC in 1988 and my story is the same. The people I met there are still an integral part of my life today. They taught me how to loosen up and not take life so seriously. They showed me who I was and who I could be. My freshman home was in E-haus and (forgive me) I was accidentally given an air conditioner (I don’t know how it happened, but it was magically sitting in my window when I arrived). My first two roomates were psycho-nutso and both bailed on college altogether before Thanksgiving. I was an RTVMP major and now (17 years later) am finally using my degree. Life can be weird and circuitous and yet so wonderfully and spectacularly good sometimes. I know I’m late to this party (particularly in replying to this post), but I’ve lurked here since b-ball season. I enjoy the crap out of this blog and reading everyone’s comments. It’s nice to find such a cool group of people that have managed to become connected simply by words in the ether. And, Ian, I echo everyone else…what a wonderful and beautiful family you have!

  24. Lindsay

    Dang, as hard as I try, I can’t seem to muster up anything snarky to say.
    Except to point out that time in Chapel Hill has some magical property that allows it to pass in fits and stops. Somehow, Ian and I are contemporaries and friends, even though he matriculated when the rest of us were still in middle school.
    Please G-d, or Cheevus, or UNC Admissions Board, or NC Legislature Appropriations Committee, let Jack want to go, and be able to go, to Carolina–and keep it just as amazing as when his Mom and Dad and Aunt and Grandmother were there.


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