The freshman’s bags sat on the floor next to the bed his mother had just finished making up. It would be the last time she made his bed and the last time his dorm room would look this neat. He and his parents had already met the R.A., toured the music building, and eaten dinner at one of the uptown restaurants. It was time to say goodbye.
His father and mother had timed it so that they would leave for home just as he was walking across the campus of Bowling Green State University to his first meeting of incoming marching band members; the young man was at school a week early for band camp. After hugs and kisses, his parents departed and he headed over to the music hall with butterflies in his stomach.
In the massive band rehearsal room he sat among a group of fellow freshmen and some upperclassmen. He didn’t know it at the time but the people who would become his best friends and future roommates were also sitting in that room, probably feeling just as anxious as he was.
Later that night, when these new students had returned to their dorm rooms with instructions to get plenty of sleep (they had a long day ahead of them), the freshman found himself alone in a vast, empty dorm building. His R.A. was already hitting the bars and the rest of his classmates were living in a group of dorms where 90% of all incoming freshmen lived. He was away from them, having been placed in an upperclassmen dorm due to the fact that he would be rooming with his cousin, a sophomore.
While groups of kids began to mingle and form friendships, the young man propped his feet up on the windowsill and continued reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.
On his campus issued dresser sat a JC Penney’s brand 1970s style stereo, a hand-me-down from his older brother. Scratchy vinyl records spun in circles as the needle dance precariously over well-worn grooves providing mood music. Years from then, after he’d completed college, he would imagine how this scene would be shot if he were ever able to capture it on film. With the young man’s feet crossed and the book propped in his lap, the camera would slowly dolly back, revealing more and more of the sparsely decorated room and somehow capturing a bit of the loneliness the freshman felt.
A couple of weeks later, he attended a Neil Young concert at Blossom Music Center, an outdoor amphitheater in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. That night, the skies were black from storm clouds and rain pelted those brave enough to battle the weather (there weren’t many). Although Young and his 10-piece band of hard workin’, horn-playin’ bluesmen put on a standout performance, it was the opening act, folk singer Steve Forbert, who made a lasting impression.
Standing alone, under a single spotlight with just an acoustic guitar and his raspy voice, Forbert performed a heartfelt set of songs, most of them culling from his most recent album, Streets of This Town. The young man came away from the show with wet clothes and a new batch of songs he would seek out when he had some extra cash.
Eventually, he found the album in a second-hand record store and listened to it several times over, one song more than the others: the title track “On the Streets of This Town.” The melancholy of the melody and the determination of Forbert’s character would always remind him of that first night in his dorm room. Although there was some loneliness, there also existed a feeling up uplift, a feeling of adventure and change.
More importantly, there was a feeling that the healing of a wounded heart would actually begin. After a long summer dealing with the heartbreak of losing the girl of his dreams (long summer? It’d been a long winter, too), the young man was finally out of his hometown. Even though it had been eight months since she moved away, living in his hometown meant every turn of the corner, every stoplight acted as some reminder of young love lost.
On that night, with the silence of a deserted campus just outside his window and the rock and roll of some long forgotten band playing in the background, he was alone with Garp, his thoughts, and the comfort that a new beginning was upon him.