Someday, when Andrew Pregler is president of the United States, he’ll look back on February 2015 when he was a volunteer tour guide at Syracuse University, and he’ll think: Now that was a tough job.
But right now, on this frigid Friday, the senior broadcasting and Information Technology major shows no hint of duress. He’s leading 15 or so prospective students and their parents, plus one tag-along columnist, on a walking tour of SU. He’s polished and enthusiastic. He bleeds orange. Later, he’ll tell me that although he has a sweet job lined up with Major League Baseball, he’s sad he’s graduating.
It’s 5 degrees with a wind chill of minus 18. “We’re going to go upstairs and outside,” Pregler warns us after a hypothermia recovery stop at the Schine Student Center. “I’m just mentally preparing you guys.”
Some 100 volunteer student ambassadors lead these roughly hour-long tours. On a warm day (let’s define warm as 22 degrees), it’s a fun gig. But selling SU during what could go down as the coldest February on record is like trying to pitch 1942 Leningrad to Disney On Ice. Fierce gusts make it hard to open the heavy doors of campus buildings. Our eyes search the ground for safe footing and the skies for humanitarian air drops.
Pregler rattles off fact after fact. We learn that celebrity pinkeye victim Bob Costas, a Newhouse School alum, takes 20 SU interns to each Olympics. That’s great to know, except I can’t feel my nose.
A dark thought intrudes: Would I eat my fellow tour group members? Would they eat me? How would I taste?
“It’s going to be good, but it’s nowhere near Mom’s cooking,” Pregler says.
Wait. Is he talking about cannibalism, or the meal halls? The cold plays tricks on my brain.
I should note that I’m taking the tour with a longtime friend from Boston and her 16-year-old son. My friend makes me promise not to name her or her kid in my column for fear that the association will hurt his chances of being accepted. Hard to disagree.
“What’s going through your head?” I ask her son Fab (not his real name) as we scurry past the Quad like characters in Doctor Zhivago. “It’s nice,” Fab says. “Ridiculously cold, but nice.”
His diplomacy would be laudable, but I’m so tired. Tired of my Blistex tubes freezing in my car overnight. Tired of my phone’s battery dropping from 25 percent to dead in five minutes. Tired of my jackass West Coast friends telling me about their tee times. I had dreams once, too, just like this Pregler kid, but now I just want to lie here in the snow naked in front of the Life Sciences Building and drift off to sleep.
No! I WILL NOT DIE! Not like this. There’s too much to live for. The NCAA Basketball Tournament, for example. OK, maybe not that, but other stuff. Like spring. OK, maybe not that either, but . . .
What’s Pregler yammering about now? He says there’s regular bus service to Destiny USA, “the second most heavily trafficked mall in the country.” Does he not understand that Destiny isn’t a mall? It’s a “fully integrated dining, retail and entertainment destination” and a global mecca of green commerce. What are they teaching these kids up on the Hill?
But otherwise Pregler is superb. He mentions the U.S. Air Force flight simulator in the engineering building, and that the Carrier Dome urinals are sluiced with captured rain water, and that if you kiss your sweetheart on the famous Kissing Bench — and I’d check my notes on this but it was too cold to take notes — your lips will freeze together and you’ll both die of pinkeye.
Finally, it’s over. Pregler leads us past the Roozeyfelt Boo-Hee School of Fonnix and back to Crouse-Hinds Hall where we started. Way up top, Chancellor Kent Syverud is busy recruiting more pay-in-full Saudi princes and planning his next Dungeons and Dragons battle. He can be proud of Pregler and the other student ambassadors. Even in this weather, they make SU look Fab.