There’s no denying that Oberlin College is a small school. Rounding in at about 3,000 students, it’s easy to run into people you’ve known, seen, been briefly acquainted with, or who are only one degree away from your close friends. While that experience can have its pros and cons, I think one extremely beautiful response to the small school size can be the experience of getting off campus while living in Ohio. In all college experiences, there will be moments when classes or social scenes become overwhelming. Living only a few blocks from everyone you spend time with, class environments, study spaces, and dining halls is oftentimes extremely convenient and exciting but can simultaneously become too much.
Those moments call for a spontaneous drive away, and I believe that in Oberlin, that spontaneity, those drives, and the destinations hold a special kind of beauty that is difficult to find elsewhere. Last week a shared bad day fell upon a few of my friends and me. Everything seemed to go wrong and fall apart in a horrendous storm of overwhelming exhaustion. Perhaps there was something in the air; others noted that a few moons had aligned in a troubling way the night before. Regardless of the universal or personal logic of our bad day, Greer, Post and I came together in bad day solidarity. Sprawled about our living room with no inkling of how to remedy the day, Post proposed suddenly that we all go to the beach.
There was no question that the plan was brilliant. Not many things could have dragged us up from the soft cesspools that had become our couches, but the prospect of sitting together at the beach caused a sudden hubbub of sweater and blanket collection. Speakers, cards, journals and water bottles were thrown in the bags. Cameras were picked from the table, and with arms full of objects and no idea what exactly would happen at the shoreline, we tore out of the apartment and towards Post’s car. The notion of getting away from the spaces that had grown so familiar, even for a few hours, was too enticing to ignore for even another second. In fact, the thrill of driving someplace with friends began to (very slowly and silently) permeate the dark cloud that hung above our bad day.
In the winter, the trees are bare, but each week is dotted with truly blue days. The drive from Oberlin to Vermilion cuts past sprawling fields, rows of Victorian-style houses, and bends enclaved with trees that bend like huge sticks in the afternoon wind. The phone that controls music in the 30-minute drive is passed around between the three of us, and each new song that images from the speaker is met with bursts of “you’ll love this,” cranking of the volume dial, or a memory attached to the melody that reveals our melancholia in a surprisingly sweet way. The drive is silly, and sweet, full of anticipation for the beach but treated by the three of us as its own event. The train passes and takes so long that we all regret our prior wishes to see a train today. A drive with a car packed with friends is a simple idea and practice, but has marked some of my most important college memories, and always comes to mind when I’m far away from Oberlin and trying to conjure important and impactful moments.
The beach at Vermilion was freezing cold and naturally empty at 5pm, save for a few stray wanderers and their dogs. We set out a big blanket and all sat down to play cards and not think about anything but the slow-moving water and each other’s reassuring company. Oberlin is surprisingly close to a wide selection of beaches created at Lake Erie’s shoreline. Vermilion, for instance, feels like another world with pristine white houses, massive decks, and a slew of motor boats lined up along manmade canals that wind through the town. The beach at the end of the main road of the town, though tiny, is complete with a picturesque lighthouse and a long row of rocks that create a dam between the open water and a smaller canal. In three, we picked our way along the rocks, stopping to examine ice that formed between the crevices and over loose moss. As we reached the end of the rock formation we turned our faces out towards the sun, waning carefully over the clear horizon and peppered with one hundred seagulls that had suddenly taken flight. Black specks raining in the air, the notion that forty minutes ago we were all lounging decrepitly in our living room was incomprehensible.
We finished our night in true drive-around fashion at a diner in Amherst, a town just up the road from Oberlin. At Blue Sky diner we ordered what looked like an all you can eat buffet and completed most of the meal in our corner booth before tapping out and requesting boxes. With night upon us, we returned to Oberlin well fed and at peace. The drive, the time spent together in tranquility and in unfamiliar spaces, and the diner food synthesized to form a perfect bad day remedy.
Regardless of a good or bad day, exploration of Ohio beyond Oberlin always leads to a sweet adventure. The nature, the people, and the hidden spots in the surrounding towns rarely disappoint.