By Graham von Carlowitz
Just the other day, I made my way back to Harris Dining Hall, located on South Quad, if you didn’t know.
The experience was routine yet, in a lot of ways, surreal. For one thing, it was the first time I’d eaten there since about a year ago, when I would frequent the buffet setup on most weekdays. I went there with my friend Chris, visiting for the weekend after having graduated last year. He there most times I ever ate there, whether it was last year or going all the way back to freshman year.
“Harris at 6?” he texted me, even before he had arrived on campus. There’s only ever been one answer to that question: “Harris at 6.”
Freshman year was a roller-coaster ride, of course, starting with awkward encounters with a randomly selected roommate and culminating in even more awkward goodbyes, but Harris was the constant.
The hundreds of swipes I spent to obtain access to the buffet were always worth it, even if the food was never as good as other on-campus locations. In fact, my friends and I had so many sub-par experiences there food-wise that the dining hall earned the nickname “Dirty Harry.” But those same experiences gave it the kind of character we were looking for, and, damn it, they were the reason we kept coming back. They were the reason Chris chose Harris to be his first meal back on campus.
When he and I entered our old stomping grounds, we hesitated for a second, wondering if the setup had changed at all — did we still pick up our trays at the same spot? Would there be rice in the first serving station?
Our nerves were calmed by the steadfast nature of Harris, which indeed offered all the same cornerstone foods — two hour-old chicken, some questionable mac & cheese, even the vegan sugar cookies that made you feel better about eating twelve sugar cookies. Going back there was like entering a zone independent of time and space, as if the outside world was unchanging and did not factor in to what we were going to eat or where we were going to sit.
The only different aspect was the ever-decreasing number of Harris customers. Sparsely populated, it makes you wonder why people don’t enjoy a cheap buffet option located near a hefty sum of dorms. Not that Harris ever attracted hordes of students, but it definitely had its days, the ones when you’d stand at the front of the seating area for a minute, perusing the field until you spotted where your friends were sitting. Finding my friends this time was way too easy.
I’ll be graduating in a few weeks, and I can’t help but feel that these memories from my years in southwest Ohio are dissipating with time and no longer able to last. With Harris being one of the last remaining artifacts from the dinosaur that is a dining hall at this point, it’s almost certain the structure will be transformed in the years to come, thus erasing that tabernacle of memories.
I suppose that’s how visiting your alma mater is when you move on. You become an out-of-touch adult whose catchphrase reads “Well, back when I was here, this was all different.” And, of course, so is your life. You can’t afford to starve yourself for an entire day, only to find salvation in the all-you-can-eat dining hall a short walk away. You can no longer sit at the table and tarry for a few hours, talking about everything under the Oxford sky until you can’t talk anymore.
I’ll miss the exceptionally average food Harris had to offer. There was never anything too magnificent, but then, you weren’t really there for the food. You were there to hang out with your friends, who, admittedly, will change as well. But at least for a few years, they didn’t have to just yet.