My mom and I packed three large bags, none of which matched the others, in preparation for my trip to Boston and ultimately on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Harvard. I had been away from home before, once to visit my grandfather in Atlantic City, and another
time for pretty much the entire summer in a college preparatory program held at
Columbia University, but this was different.There was both excitement and
I was grateful for two things though: my mother had always been particular about how my sister and I looked and despite not having a lot of money, we bought clothes that allowed for a lot of combinations-thus increasing the size of our wardrobes- and also, I
developed the meticulous habit of keeping them not just clean, but spotless.
I didn’t take any mementos from my room, no pictures of the family or keepsakes that reminded me of home. The fact is at an early age I was always looking forward and never backward. I appreciated my experiences and cherished memories of the things my mother,
sister, and I had done as a family but my focus was always on the next challenge, that next hill to climb. (I did pack my white football cleats. I fully expected that I would be using them at Harvard.)
We struggled with the bags as we placed them in the car, a 1968 blue VW bug, and headed for Dayton Airport, about forty miles north of Middletown. From that point on, the trip was a blur. I was just too excited, with too much going through my mind, to really notice anything else. I was simply on an American Airlines flight from Dayton, Ohio, to Boston Logan airport. I do remember giving my mom a hug, and I do remember her
offering advice on safety, but that was it, I blinked and I was there.
When I arrived in Boston I struggled with those bags again, a seasoned traveler I was not. I did manage finally to pull them to the curb and hail a taxi. The driver, a short stocky man with a prominent nose, helped me put them in the trunk, and off we went to “Hah-vahd
“Going to be a freshman at “Hahvahd” he said with a strong New England accent. At least that’s what I thought he said.
“Yes sir” I said.
“Where are you from?”
“Ohio… huh” he said. I guess the mention of Ohio told him all he needed to hear. We both then let our conversation drift off and dissipate into the ethers as our attention turned to
the matters at hand, him driving and paying attention to the road, and me imagining all the adventures I would experience at Harvard.
Boston looked old to me and not very friendly. The streets were so narrow and rickety and the buildings looked so imposing. I knew this was a new beginning for me and so I forced myself to look at the positive side, the chance to explore all the history that Boston
had to offer. “For goodness sakes, I was on my way to Harvard College,” I thought, “the oldest and most prestigious university in America.”
After a few miraculous twists and turns, a drive along the Charles River, and a trip through a tunnel that had scared the “shit out of me”, the taxi pulled up in front of a red brick building, no different than all the other red brick buildings on the block. The letter I had
said I would be living in Hurlbut Hall, one of the Union Dorms. I took this to
The fair was $17:00 and I gave him a twenty and waited for the change. He gave me three and I gave him back one as a tip. He just smiled. I never got his name; my first chance to make a friend in Boston and I missed it.
The cabbie opened the trunk and together, he and I pulled the luggage to the sidewalk. He returned to his cab and gave me a quick wave goodbye. As he drove off, I stood there looking around at nothing in particular, just taking it all in. It was beautiful. There was a gentle breeze, the trees were green, and the sun was shining brightly. I just stood
there. So these were the Union dorms which sat outside of Harvard Yard. I pulled my luggage to the front of the building, which was actually the back of the structure, and stared at the doorway. Above the door was a sign in metal letters that said Hurlbut Hall. The taxi driver had been correct and he had dropped me exactly where I needed to
be. This was to be home for the next year.
There was only one problem. I had no idea what I needed to do. I stood in front of the door a few moments longer and just looked around. I opened the door to Hurlbut Hall and in the foyer were mailboxes to the left and another door that was locked straight ahead. On that door was a sign “suggesting” I go to the next building and meet the janitor. He
would give me my keys.
“This is crazy,” I thought. “There’s no one here to greet us, or rather me; there’s no one here to tell me what to do.”
I left my luggage in the foyer and walked to the next building. There sitting behind a long table in a hallway just inside the door sat a man in dark blue kakis with a row of keys scattered neatly on the table in front of him. “Hi” I said. My name is Jan…Jan Adams and I in Hurlbut Hall, Hurlbut 45.
“Hurlbut 45,” he said as he surveyed his table and picked up a set of two keys. “This one,” pointing to the larger of the two “gets you in the building; and this one gets you into your room. There is also a combination lock on the door; the combination is in your packet. In the event you lose your key-and you will- the combination will allow access to the building” He then reached behind him and took a large yellow envelope from a stack sitting there neatly.
We then stared at each other for a few seconds and finally, not being able to take the silence any longer, I was the first to flinch, “Anything else?”
“No, that’s it…Good luck; have a great year.” he said. And away I went.
There was no elevator in Hurlbut Hall. I carried those bags, one at a time, up three flights of stairs. I was the second to arrive and my roommate, Raymond Swaggerty, “RaySwagg” as he came to be called, had already claimed a bed. I was left with the bed in the front room. Ray was not there and so I began to unpack.
The room was simple and rather sparse when it came to furniture. Opposite the doorway was a wall with a large window that looked out on the Harvard Union across the street. A twin bed and mattress sat below the window. The wall to the left had a desk situated in the
center. On the right was a doorway which led into another room, RaySwagg’s room. Next to it sat a bureau for storing clothes and adjacent to that was a closet. The restroom and shower were down the hall on the right.
My schedule was inside the packet I had received from the janitor. Everything that I would need to do for the next few days in order to register was right there. I was shocked at the lack of fanfare. “Where was the band and cheerleaders? Where was the welcoming committee for my arrival at Harvard College? That was it, just the janitor?”
“RaySwagg” returned before I had finished unpacking. We said our hellos
but you could see him staring at me: jeans too tight, hair too big, and
rose-colored glasses, prescription of course, wire rims certainly. There I was
in all my glory.
Ray and I spent a lot of time talking that night. Our conversation was at first clinical as we sparred to get some concrete idea of each other but soon progressed to a warm sharing of
feelings. He was from Detroit, he was black, and he was to be my roommate for
the next four years. Ray had attended Detroit Country Day School; he looked very studious but not very athletic. He was in fact almost shy, kind of quiet, but clearly friendly. I could see from the start that we would get along fine. My first fear about college was now behind me, so far so good.