11 April 2006 - Tuesday

Going to Syracuse

The lure of Syracuse is strong for any thinking man or woman, and that is as it should be.
-- Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind

My visit to Syracuse University required careful planning. After a few false starts -- originally, I hoped to use spring break for the trip, but our schools had picked the same week for vacation -- I found a relatively clear week in my schedule. I raced to complete that week's assignments early, drafting a research paper in record time the night before I was scheduled to leave. That Monday night, I boarded an Amtrak train in Longview, joining my mother and younger brother, who had come up from Austin on the same train to accompany me. Their willingness to come along would turn out to be a great help.

Normally, I love trains. I love being able to see the countryside pass by, and I actually like the long overland trip much more than a shorter airplane ride. This journey north, however, tested my patience.

The trip from Longview to Chicago was mostly uneventful, but not entirely. Late Monday night, I awoke to the protestations of a drunken lecher two rows up, who was being put off the train for making a nuisance of himself. He charged the conductors with racism, to the amused exasperation of the black women sitting nearby. Then he promised darkly that he wouldn't leave the train unless he were carried off by paramedics (he was having a heart attack, he decided). Fortunately, the man meekly followed two Arkadelphia police officers off the train at the next stop. The rest of the trip was pleasant.

The second leg of the journey, however, was considerably less smooth. The train we boarded at Chicago was smaller and less comfortable, with narrow seats and out-of-order bathrooms. Furthermore, we were sitting directly behind an incredibly irksome passenger -- a large, loud, irrepressibly obscene man with a cell phone and a DVD player. He was traveling from Chicago to New York City, so we had to deal with him all the way to Syracuse. To make the experience more interesting, the passenger seated directly beside me also had a mobile phone; he chattered on it nonstop during the night.

Even after we arrived in Syracuse, the trip kept getting complicated. Shortly after detraining, I ended up in an emergency room to investigate some pain that had been getting worse and worse during the journey. The problem didn't turn out to be very serious (as far as the hospital could tell), and I felt much better the next morning, when I was scheduled for interviews at the university.

I think Syracuse is going to be a good city for me -- a nice size and atmosphere for my needs. When I was there, of course, the weather was beautiful; I was warned strongly not to get used to that. (I believe the annual average is 115 inches of snow, with nearly 200 inches in one recent year.) Whatever the climate is like, the people I met there were uniformly warm and accommodating, easily matching what I expect here in the genial South.

I probably shouldn't go into much detail about my meetings at this point, since I don't know the individuals involved very well yet. I will say, however, that I met with several faculty members and students in history, and that they all made me feel very welcome. The professors even shepherded me from office to office themselves, introducing me to each other. They answered my questions freely and, I may say, satisfactorily. When I went back to my hotel that day, I was pretty sure I had already come to a decision.

Unfortunately, the medication prescribed as a precaution by the ER doctor made me violently ill that afternoon; I stayed in the hotel moaning and vomiting rather than exploring the city. On Friday morning, I felt much better but still not well enough to walk about much, so we stayed in the hotel until it was time to catch our train back home.

In other words, after all that work, I got to spend just a few hours at the university, or indeed, seeing the city at all. But those hours were enough.

I have mailed the school my paperwork, declaring my intent to register and accepting my university fellowship. Starting this fall, then, I will spend the next few years at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, studying in the department of history.

Now I have to figure out where I'm going to live when I get there. Oh, well. Minor details.

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