Words I never thought I’d write

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column bemoaning how much of a pain it is to be stuck living in the PSU equivalent of a federal housing project in urban Detroit. In various columns since then, I have made passing references to its slumlike atmosphere. But now that financial circumstances have banished me to living in Vancouver this term, I’ve come to a shocking conclusion. I miss living in the Ondine. Seeing those six words on a computer screen and knowing that I typed them is about as surreal as waking up two states away with no memory of the night before, in intense pain from a broken leg and a fresh tattoo of Mary-Kate and Ashley on my arm, passed out next to a large hog in a dirty ballerina dress. It’s something you don’t see every day.

The reason behind my exile to the ‘Couv is that I’ve been priced out of the market for college housing, at least for the time being. It’s going to take some hard work, or possibly some big student loans, to get me back downtown. When I was first accepted to Portland State in the spring of 2001, I had planned on getting a place at Montgomery. The $290-a-month rent seemed to good a deal to pass up. Fortunately, I decided to tour one of the rooms there first. “Tour” may be a bit of an exaggeration. I took about a 20-second glance around the airplane-bathroom-sized room and determined that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto my sanity for any appreciable length of time in that kind of environment.

After that, the Ondine seemed like a good bet. The rooms were large enough to be inhabitable, and $347 per month still seemed totally within reason. At first I was thrilled at the novelty of living in downtown PDX, but after a while the room began to seem smaller and the unique smell in the hallway began to get old. The rent went up to $364, and then $375, and finally $390.

I was never a part of the Ondine’s notorious Freshman Experience program, but I did have the opportunity to observe the academic life cycle of two successive crops of Experience people who went through the program. At first they’re in awe of the sudden freedom that comes with not living at home anymore. Hey, I could party every night! There’s no detention if I don’t go to class! Then come academic difficulties and cash shortages and run-ins with campus safety, and by the end of the year they’re as jaded as everybody else. I have to give credit to last year’s Experience class, though – the elevator drinking game and the Slip’n’Slide in the hallway were very original. But the evolutionary pattern over the course of a year remains pretty much constant.

I was extremely jaded myself by the time I’d spent two years in the Ondine. It became increasingly difficult to come up with the rent every time there was another hike. Also, toward the end of my time there, a new neighbor moved in who had a fondness for calling in noise complaints if I had, say, three people in the room talking in a conversational tone of voice. Anytime there was any kind of activity in my room after 10 p.m., I could count on R.A.s showing up at my door shortly afterward. It was also common to be awakened at 8 or 9 a.m. to the sound of cartoons. If there’s one thing I don’t want to be subjected to at 8 o’clock in the morning, it’s “Duck Tales.”

So the dorm experience began to wear on me. These factors made it hard to appreciate the convenience of the location and the more lively atmosphere that just doesn’t exist out in the soul-pulverizing suburbs. I have always dreaded the thought of living in the suburbs, and now it’s finally happened. The burbs are where people go to settle down and raise a family. I’m not looking to settle down, and every child-welfare advocate in the country would probably agree that someone with my level of personal responsibility shouldn’t be raising a family.

Now I have to laugh at all the days I missed school because I was too tired to walk three blocks to go to class. It currently takes me about an hour to get to campus in the morning. At night, after I get off work, it’s more like two hours, because the last half-hour has to be walked. Recreational activities have also been sharply curtailed. Buses only run until 12:30, the time when my nights used to just be getting started. This brings about the weekend dilemma of either cutting off the festivities shortly after midnight or going on a rock-star stint until 5 a.m., when the buses start running again.

Relying on public transportation to get to school every day also cuts into the savings that could otherwise be made by living away from downtown. There are ways to minimize transit costs, like quickly flashing expired passes, getting on the bus in fareless square and riding all the way out, or paying youth fare (I can usually pull that one off if I’ve shaved recently), but they deservedly make you feel really cheap.

It would be nice if the university would lean on College Housing a bit more to get lower rent in the dorms. I’ve whined about this problem in print on a number of occasions, but it really would be nice to see on-campus living get to the point where it’s less expensive than splitting an old house with roommates on the other side of the river, or monthly payments on a Hyundai, or Rush Limbaugh’s Vicodin bill. Something the average college student can afford.