Adventure into the Freshman Zone

Jennifer Niemela

You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Freshman Zone.

12:35 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1998.
A pack of rabid freshmen roam the streets of Dinkytown, searching for that elusive kick-ass party a sophomore mentioned over a bowl of cornflakes at dinner in Territorial Hall. The sour smell of beer, wafting out of a bar they pass on 14th Avenue drives them on hungrily.
Their eyes are bloodshot from frantic lack of sleep. They’ve lived in the dorms for three days now — a 72-hour-long coed slumber party.
The male freshmen wear typical mating apparel: a flannel loosely tucked into a pair of belted khaki shorts, a baseball hat, leather sandals. The female freshmen are duly attired: tank top stubbornly lacking a long-sleeve shirt in the cool fall air, jeans, clunky shoes.
It is Tuesday night, two days before fall quarter classes start, and the academic purpose for their presence at the University is the farthest thing from their minds. They’ve been thrust from the claustrophobic dens of their respective families and they’re hungry for some drunken debauchery.
The freshmen’s hunting grounds comprise Dinkytown, U.S.A., the importance of which is unbeknownst to them as of yet. Over the next 4 to 12 years, they will frequent the stores, restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons and bars in this evolving off-campus college community. More than half of the pack will take up temporary residence in the dilapidated, over-priced apartments in the Dinkytown area at some time in their University careers.
The pack moves stealthily on into the night, continuing the tireless, perpetual search for the ultimate kick-ass party …

8:15 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1998.
It’s kept him awake all night. He shifts in the crunchy new sheets adorning his twin dorm room bunk-bed, brow creased with worry.
He’s broke. And classes haven’t even started yet. All the money he saved up over the summer lifeguarding at the YMCA in his hometown near Green Bay, Wis., is gone; he doesn’t even know what he spent it on. A few CDs here, all those nifty plastic dorm room organizers to make the optimal use of his space — it adds up.
He leaps quietly off the top bunk, trying not to awaken his new roommate, who seems pretty cool. His older brother, a University alumnus, used to talk about donating plasma as a way to make a few extra bucks. You can make up to $150 a week, or something. Man, he could do that as a job, just going from plasma donation site to plasma donation site.
He slips into his clothes — including a U of M sweatshirt — his mood brightening considerably.
Once outside of Sanford Hall, he takes a right on University Avenue and strolls toward campus. As he passes what appears to be a church with an office building tacked on the back on the corner of 15th and University Avenues, he stops; he has to use the facilities.
He pushes open some big copper doors on the side of the building and goes up a ramp, looking for the men’s restroom. But what he finds instead is worth a thousand urinals: The Student Employment Center.
Bulletin boards filled with little slips of paper advertising jobs in a variety of areas. Clerical, labor, food service, custodial, “There’s something for everyone here,” he thinks as he peruses the center’s display cases. And, he notes with glee, none of them pays less than $6.00 per hour!
Thoughts of plasma donation flitter away as he excitedly writes job reference numbers on a piece of paper with a golf pencil.
Man, this is a jackpot. Gainful employment conveniently located on campus where you’re a student first and an employee second. He asks the friendly receptionist the name of the building, so he can tell all his new friends about this miracle.
“The Donhowe Building,” she replies with a smile. “319 15th Ave. S.E.”

8:51 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, 1998.
God. What a nightmare. She’s just sat through gridlock traffic on the freeway from her parents’ house in Apple Valley. This commuting thing really sucks so far, and it’s only the first day of her first year at the University.
She angrily snaps off the KQ morning show on her radio; she’ll probably be late to her 9:05 class because of that traffic.
Finally, off in the distance she sees the shopping mall-esque parking lot signs of the Huron Boulevard parking complex: the blue, scary Wildcat Lot sign off to the right; the surprisingly benign Wolverine Lot sign in the back; the jovial Badger Lot sign threateningly close to Mariucci Arena; and of course, tall and proud, closest to campus, the Gopher Lot sign looking benevolently down on the commuters as they pull into their spots.
Because she’s getting there so late in the morning, she has to park in the far corner of the Badger Lot. It seems like she’s miles away from campus and she has to be to the West Bank in 10 minutes.
She collects her backpack and starts the journey across the lot when suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she sees something. Breaking heroically through the morning mist that’s settled on the Transitway, a University of Minnesota bus trundles jauntily along, stopping at a bus stop right in front of her.
Desperate for anything that will get her to class on time, she boards the bus and asks the driver if it goes to the West Bank.
“Why, yes,” the driver answers. “This is the Campus Connector; it goes to both banks and the St. Paul campus.”
She starts fumbling in her purse for bus fare, but the bus driver puts his hand up to stop her.
“The bus is free,” he says, giving her a jolly wink.
She sinks into a plush, clean seat and breathes a sigh of relief. The air-conditioning cools her luxuriously. Maybe this commuting thing isn’t so bad.