This fall I lived and ate in Tank, one of Oberlin’s co-ops. Because of COVID, I had only been in one other co-op, Pyle, during my freshman year. Pyle is dining-only, so living and dining in Tank was a completely new experience. Though I don’t have all the answers when it comes to how co-ops truly work, I feel that by living in Tank, cooking, cleaning, and working as an accessibility coordinator this semester, I began to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of Tank and the Oberlin co-op system at large. Describing every detail of a co-op would result in a blog that is too long to read. Instead, to offer some sort of perspective into my everyday life as someone living in Tank, I’ll look back on what a Monday looked like for me this fall.
I can’t say I’m an early riser most days, but I’d usually get up early enough to have some time for breakfast before class. On Mondays, my French class began at 10am, so by 9:30 I was padding downstairs in search of some granola or a piece of cheese. In the main dining room, right in front of the big doorway is a table allotted to “tasty things.” The table is reserved for any food that can be left out for anyone to enjoy. For instance, any baked dessert or bread made by bread-makers, tasty things makers, or any other co-op members can be put out there. Usually nothing lasts past a day due to the sheer amount of excitement around a rosemary loaf or a brownie, but granola is made at such a large quantity most weeks that it often lasts through the full seven days. With some milk and a spoon, I’d sit down at the table in front of the huge window by the front door and eat a bowl of chai-ginger granola. Greer, my roommate, was always much better at waking up early than me, so during the days when I found time for breakfast we sometimes found each other in the morning downstairs, and would eat granola and drink tea together before class.
By 9:50 I was out the door, wiping down my cold wet bike seat with my sleeve and setting off for class. Though most of the bike rides this fall were freezing, getting to Peters Hall in six minutes instead of fifteen was always a gratifying experience. At the intersection before Tappan Square I’d usually wave to all the other Tank people biking in different directions to get to their 10am classes as well. Up three oddly steep flights of stairs, and out of breath, I made it to class on time. French lasted about an hour, and by 11am I was out of Peters again, back into the cold. Lunch is served every day in every co-op at 12:20, so with an hour to spare, I would head to Mudd (the big library) to try to start on homework for the day or catch up on assignments for the week. At this point, I’d make the executive decision each Monday to request a save plate or not. A save plate is a plate the cooks for the given meal set aside with your name on it. The plate will remain in the fridge for a full 24 hours before being composted. Sometimes, if I had too much work I couldn’t get away from, I’d request a save plate an hour in advance by putting my name down on the google spreadsheet and go to eat it later, after my second class. Most days, I wouldn't pass up a home-cooked lunch at Tank, so I’d bike back across Tappan Square and make it back to the living room a little bit before 12:20.
Some of my favorite parts of living in a co-op this fall were the moments when everyone would congregate. It would happen before every meal, because everyone wanted to be on time, but for the 15 minutes before lunch, everyone would disperse across the two living rooms, the dining room, and the main entrance chatting and laughing in the way that fills a big house like Tank with warm noise. In the fall, meals were eaten out on the big porch that wraps around the front of Tank until it became too cold and we all started trickling inside. During my most recent Mondays in Tank, I ate in one of the living rooms, sometimes on one of the many cozy armchairs with my plate balanced on my knees, other times with legs folded on the ground and my plate perched at the edge of a coffee table. Meals are always fun because I’m never sure who will be there. Friends, strangers, and other co-op members are always welcome at meals, and lunch always makes for an interesting conversation and a good laugh.
By 12:50 I was always rushing out the door again, jumping onto my bike and pedaling as fast as possible towards Warner for my samba class. I always appreciated the first ten to fifteen minutes of warm-up stretching and dancing in that class. They felt deeply necessary because I was often too full to jump directly into choreography. Samba ended around 2:30 and at that point I had a chunk of free time, with nothing scheduled until dinner.
Though Monday was my most unscheduled day of the week, that really meant that it was one of the few days with consecutive hours available for homework. The beginning of the week always felt like a fresh start in that sense. With a short walk across Wilder Bowl from Warner to Mudd I’d stop by Azariah's cafe in the library, knowing I’d find friends and familiar faces. The coffeeshop is always full after classes, and my friends on the Oberlin meal plan tend to study there because of the coffee so nearby. If I found them there, I’d usually grab a coffee if they were willing to give up a meal swipe or some flex points. With a coffee in hand, a few hours of studying never seemed so bad, and I’d walk to the fourth and most quiet floor, which I’ve finally learned to fully appreciate this semester.
When the ice melted into the dregs of my coffee, and I found myself staring intently at one of the big sprawling plants of the library instead of my computer, I knew the time had probably come to head home. Back on my bike I’d listen to music as I rode back towards Tank. Though the ride towards class is a tiny bit brutal because of the tiny hill I always had to climb just before the Oberlin Hotel, that same hill makes the ride back at night a really beautiful one. I’d pause here to make a “that’s the only hill in Ohio” joke but I feel I’ve made enough this semester to last a lifetime, and that poor hill has probably heard me say it every time. By 6pm it was already pitch dark, and arriving back at Tank was a little like returning to a lighthouse filled with warm yellow light and people you know.
At 6:20, pre-line for dinner is called. The same applies to every meal: pre-line is a line meant for accessibility that occurs before line. Line is when everyone goes to the dining room to get dinner. The cooks put out all the food that was just cooked onto a series of tables designated for food service. Then, in a single file line of kids clutching eclectic plates and bowls we go one by one to serve ourselves the meal. At the end of line there’s usually cheese or nutritional yeast to sprinkle on top, and the long line of cups ready to be filled with apple cider or chocolate milk. Then, with a hot bowl of food, a fork, and an excitement for dinner, I’d return to the living rooms to find a place to sit and eat. Similarly to lunch, there were always lots of people eating and chatting in every room.
On Monday nights I was scheduled for a crew shift. In each co-op, each member works about 5 hours per week cooking and cleaning the kitchen. Around 7pm, I convened with my crew shift group to begin the after-dinner cleaning session. At the beginning of each semester everyone in Tank was trained on how each part of crew works, from where to find the hairnets and aprons to the usage of the Hobart, our massive industrial cleaning machine. I always liked crew because it was easy to fall into a familiar groove. After cleaning the kitchen every Monday night with the same set of people, we had a certain rhythm as we moved between jobs, measured the temperatures in the fridges, swept, mopped, and surfaced every visible inch of the space.
By eight pm Crew was over, the kitchen and dining room were once again glistening, and my Monday was finally coming to an end. If I had any motivation left in the day, I used it to convince myself to do a little more homework in preparation for the coming week, but I seem to recall the colder fall Monday nights ending in my room with Greer curled up on the armchairs we had previously lugged up to the second floor with brute strength. With our many strings of Christmas lights plugged into the walls and the harrowingly bright overhead fluorescent light finally switched off, we’d catch up on our days and close out another Monday night.
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