Off Campus is a social experiment of student writers paying it forward. CuseTonight.com and the Syracuse New Times are partnering on this project by asking local university and college students to write an article with one standing rule that states: “You can only write about off campus experiences.”
Once we receive an article, we ask the writer to pass the torch to another student to complete the next installment. Read the first installment below:
Living in Syracuse is an inherently weird experience as a student. Don’t get me wrong Syracuse University is a phenomenal place to spend four years of education, lack of sleep, and poor decisions. But as I sat in my dorm freshman year I couldn’t help but think there had to be more to Syracuse than “that street I walk down on Saturday nights” and the Calzone place.
But despite my desire to get “Off Campus” it was almost impossible as a lowly impressionable freshman without a car. But everything changed this year when I brought my car up for sophomore year. “Let the adventures begin!” I thought to myself as I put the key into the ignition on my first attempt to delve into the actual city.
Needless to say I got sufficiently lost because Syracuse seems to be very attracted to the idea of one-way streets. Now, don’t get me wrong I like one-way streets as much as the next upstanding citizen, but the sheer amount of arrows pointing every which way gives a very “Alice in Wonderland” vibe to everything. Not knowing the area was a disorienting and scary to say the least. And I reacted the same way I always do; eating an absurd amount of Taco Bell in a parking lot while listening to Christmas music. Side note: why is a Syracuse radio station playing Christmas music at the start of October? I love it but it’s messing with my sense of time.
As I ate that taco that the esteemed scientists at Taco Bell had engineered to taste like a baked potato, reflection sprung upon me like the indigestion that follows said baked potato taco. “This isn’t an adventure,” I thought “This is the exact same thing you’d be doing on campus but just with lower quality food.” If that’s even possible.
I made it my goal that I would find something out of the ordinary, something that I couldn’t find on campus, and really dive head first. Or more realistically dip my toes in, because even in metaphor diving is kind of scary.
The answer to my problems came as it so often does in the form of President Andrew Jackson. I got a text from my friend asking me if I wanted to go to a musical called, “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” It sounded like everything I could ever ask for: song, dance, and serious meditation on the morality of manifest destiny. It’s the type of show Broadway dreams are made of.
I then asked which student group or Community Theater was performing it. Both of which I enjoy seeing immensely because things can either go well or very, very wrong. Either way you can expect tears of happiness or laughter. My friend though promptly reported that the show was being put on by a professional theater downtown called the “Red House.”
Alright, “why not?” It had a generally mysterious name that prompted thoughts of a B rate horror movie. It was in downtown. What’s the worst that could happen? And thus after another disorienting drive through the city of Syracuse full of missed one way turns and a point of driving on the opposite side of the road we made it to our destination. Seriously guys if we’re going to have one way streets we need to make them a lot clearer.
The outside gave the impression of instant class. It was like one of those cool clubs that you see celebrities getting out of their cars to go into. I took stock of my attire and I was wearing a flannel that had some choice stains that I assumed were from various Taco Bell self-reflections. But I pressed on anyways, how below the dress code could I be?
The answer was a lot. When I walked in I was met with the sight some mahogany tables that were occupied by some of the fanciest people I think I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t their attire, though that too was nicely kept and conspicuously stain free. No, it was the general air of put togetherness that accompanied each and every one of them.
Yes, they were each probably thirty or forty years older than the rest of my party and had a steadier income than summer job money but it was intimidating nonetheless. Each member of this fancy group seemingly had a glass of wine. All they needed were monocles and I would have felt like I was at a Romney family reunion.
My gut said “get out your not good enough” while my stomach said as always “hey that brownie looks good.” I went with my stomach’s idea first, after all he usually knew what was best for me. My friends and I made our way to the very hip coffee bar/ I assume real bar and promptly got two brownies between the four of us.
My stomach was right as always because the brownie was probably the best thing I had ever eaten. Now that may sound hyperbolic but it honestly but all of the other brownies that had been experienced in my life to shame. I loved it so much I worried that my friends would take the rest of my half before I finished. This prompted me to go on high alert with the intention to kill if so much as one of them placed a hand on my brown pastry from heaven above.
That brownie put me in such a good mood that I began to appreciate everything around me. This space was cool. Each of the fancy people seemed less fancy and more just interesting. As we shuffled past one of the fancy bunch the man looked at us and exclaimed something in Latin. Weird? Yes. Kind of cool too? Also yes.
The theater itself was small giving a fantastic view of the stage thus making literally every seat in the house a good one. The employees were just the right level of hipster that you weren’t overwhelmed but felt like you were part of an exclusive club. Plus commercials were put on before the performance that were genuinely laugh out loud funny.
After the performance I exited the theater with a genuinely good feeling all around. The show was wonderful and I was introduced to not only an arts scene that I was unaware of but also very hip place that whose sole purpose was to facilitate that art and make god’s chosen baked good.
When it was all said and done and I was back in my dorm room at school I felt good. Yeah, the adventure started with discomfort and a sense that I shouldn’t be there but isn’t that what adventure is built on? Isn’t it about trying new experiences and being put into places outside of your comfort zone? Like a center for the arts full of Latin spewing older people. Snap judgments are never good and often close you off from some of the best stories. So kudos to the “Red House” theater for offering something truly unique that can’t be found on campus. I’ll definitely be back. After all, I’ve been wondering if tacos and brownies would pair nicely.
Christian Unkenholz is currently a sophomore Public Relations and Political Science major at Syracuse University. His hometown is Baltimore, Maryland but more specifically the suburb of Laurel. He is also the humor columnist for the Daily Orange, the student run newspaper at Syracuse University, this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found in a Taco Bell parking lot.
Find the CuseTonight.com installment of “Off Campus” – click the pic below: