Viva Nash Vegas

I know it was what, 13 years ago now?

…but the autumn of 1994 has to be one of the best of my life. There I was, starting at Vanderbilt, with a University Graduate Fellowship. First-round draft pick, full ride, finally going to grad school (the last link on my “you’ll really thrive once you get to junior high/to high school/to college/to grad school” chain of bullshit). I had an on-campus apartment over on the Peabody campus. I had a computer – a screaming-fast PowerMac 6100. I had a 5-digit extension (1-MUSH), a new TV connected to free campus cable with ESPN2, and a Commodore Card that I could swipe everywhere from the cafeteria at Rand Hall to the Overcup Oak pub to the Munchie Mart to the very soda machines. And as a grad student, I didn’t even have to provide cash – just sign a marker and they would credit my card account.

Middle Tennessee in autumn is the most beautiful place on earth. And the campus of Vanderbilt is a national arboretum, with trees (and pollen) from all 50 states. Put it all together and it’s breathtaking, especially the view up Peabody Esplanade early in the morning with traces of fog still hanging around. Which was my walk down in the morning, crossing over 21st Street on the way to Calhoun Hall. In the evenings, I could walk down to the Munchie Mart and get a Dr Pepper on my way to the computer lab in one of the Peabody buildings. It had a lab of all Macs, where I could see how things were set up and try to replicate it back in my apartment. And it wasn’t easy – I had a CTRVAX account and was trying to understand mail, printing, USENET – hell, it was almost two months before I figured out how to get TCP/IP properly configured and install Eudora to get my mail with. I grabbed every piece of shareware out there, sound files, video clips, you name it. I even downloaded things like Mosaic, or the beta of Netscape (I think my first edition was 0.92). I wanted to be on the Internet – indeed, my final presentation in my American Political Culture seminar was largely an accurate prediction of real-time reporting and embedded comment threading. Sure, it took over a decade to come to pass, but it’s not like I had any money on it.

I belonged there, in a way I never had as an undergrad. I remember the all-grad-school party, where they rolled out half a dozen kegs and several boxes of wine. As things ran out, the 4 or 5 other guys from my department talked about heading back to Rob’s for more – but Rob didn’t have anything to drink. And nobody had any money, except for me, who had $69 in my pocket. For about ten minutes. Standing in line at the gas station with two cases of beer under my arms, I realized that if life were a Bugs Bunny cartoon, my head would look like a giant sucker.

I remember driving around to all the malls in Nashville, one at each cardinal point of the compass, to get my bearings. I motored around West End Avenue, I went to Tower Records, I ate at SATCO, I went to the football opener against Wake Forest (which we won handily), I even bought a Starter pullover jacket and a Fossil watch with the old mid-90s barred-V logo. I was as gung-ho as any green frosh – which made perfect sense, because for the first time, I had all the things I had wanted to go to college for. Things to do on campus – division I sports! A nationally-regarded film program! A real student center! I was taking nothing but the courses I wanted to be in. I had peers, colleagues, friends. Hell, I even had a bar named after me in Hillsboro Village.

It was too good to last. On that very first weekend, I clearly remember turning right onto Wedgewood, looking up the road, and thinking with chilling clarity, “I’m never going to know what’s on the other side of that hill.”

I was right.

But even despite that, they were three of the best years of my life. And in my entire life, nowhere I’ve ever been had ever felt like home from day one the way Nashville and Vanderbilt did.

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