Summer in a Southern College Town

Summer in a Southern College Town

UVa RotundaThere’s nothing like living in a southern college town in the summer. We’ve lived in Charlottesville, Virginia for almost ten years and before this we’ve always lived near a large urban area. In the past we’ve lived near Milwaukee and New York City so the comparison is stark.

Charlottesville and its surrounding area has about 200,000 people. New York has a least 9 million while the Milwaukee metro area is at least 8 times larger. But the lack of people is not my main point here.

Charlottesville is transformed in mid-May from a cosmopolitan urban island in the middle of the rural South into just another sleepy Southern town. After the commencement, the last of the student’s make an exodus to all points of the compass. Some students do stay.

Some attend summer school. Others work as interns at the university. Some foreign students remain here because it’s too difficult to return home with high costs and visa issues. But the vast majority leave.

Right after the conclusion of final exams the automobile exodus is like a continuous stream heading out of the city. Quickly, Charlottesville returns to the rhythms of the South. Life slows down. Restaurants are empty. Service is better because the natives are more appreciated during the summer, not that we’re ignored the rest of the year.

All of things that you don’t want to do during the other seasons, get down in the summer. There are fewer long lines. There is always time to engage store personnel in conversation because there’s no one else around. All those restaurants down by the University that we avoid during the school Downtown Mallyear are available for a visit.

Once the last of the athletic teams either win a championship or are eliminated, the sports pages are a little thin. There is more national news than local university-centric stories. I’ll tell you how sleepy it gets around here. There were no obituaries in the paper today. I have a feeling that even the university administrators leave town.

One of the most noticeable things that you not is the quiet. The general noise level in the city has gone down more than a few decibels. Restaurants are quieter. You can actually carry on a conversation at a normal level. I can now hear the music in my favorite breakfast place. Summer in the South is all about quiet.

Traffic in Charlottesville is notoriously bad. Every person who is interviewed for one or the other weekly will mention. When has what the dislike most about Charlottesville, they’ll respond with one word: traffic. It seems that every student brings a car. The student lots are always filled. It seems that all of the female students have SUVs while all the guys have sports cars.

During the summer months, there is no traffic worth talking about. Around the university, you could shoot a cannon down the main streets and not hit a thing. Mind you, this is a university with a world-class hospital that is used by people in a 50 mile radius. Still, during the summer, traffic simply evaporates in the summer heat and southern humidity.

As I’m writing this, we’re in our second week of our summer vacation but still, something seems to be missing. The energy that the students bring with them is gone for another year. But in two months or so, it will return for another academic year.

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