In The Zone

I take 172 steps to get from my front door to my faculty office at St. Thomas. Don't underestimate how treacherous my commute can be. When my neighbors haven't shoveled, leave piles of leaves on the sidewalk, or Mother Nature turns rain to ice, it can darn well take me an entire three minutes to navigate to OEC. And the traffic on Cleveland as I try to cross: often relentless. And the hawks who are raising a family right in the tree above my neighbor's car: big poop. And the smell of Coffee Bene brewing or Davanni's baking bread for the day: cruel.

I mention my difficult walk not to encourage envy among those of you who navigate stoplights, gas prices, potholes, and rage-full drivers on your commute. Rather, I was just reflecting – as I sat on the front stoop of our home last evening, 68 degrees and an early fall sun peeking at me and my family through the trees on Portland Avenue, bells atop Murray Herrick singing their evening song – on how much we enjoy being "in the zone." That's what we call it in our neighborhood, the blocks immediately surrounding our own little playground called St. Thomas. We're "in the zone" of students and all the youthful excitement that comes along with 19-to-22 year olds living, learning and "placemaking" (the academic term for finally getting your own house, apartment or duplex and decorating it without the rules or confines of residence hall staff).

In the zone we get to enjoy the energy on Labor Day weekend, as minivans and sedans towing trailers brimming with futons, hand-me-down dressers and vacuum cleaners are unloaded into student's "new homes."

In the zone we see the eager and optimistic students sipping hot coffee and chatting (any roommate gossip?) as they scurry down the sidewalk at 7:55 a.m. toward campus for a seat in their 8 a.m. class.

In the zone I love it when – and it happens almost every day – I run into a current or former student: "Hi Dr. Bruess! What's up?!" If I'm having a good-memory day and am in my zone, I call out their name and, maybe, even a fact or two he or she has shared in class.
Like yesterday. I'm strolling down the street (about step #68) when I see three young female students chatting with two young males who are tossing a football. I get closer and hear the familiar "Hey! Dr. Bruess! How was your summer?" I remove my sunglasses, as if that will help me get a better look. It's Bobby from my first-year student public speaking class last year. Or at least I think it's Bobby, who has the most-identical twin brother ever. Seriously. Completely identical. So I say "Hey! Bobby! Is that you… or is it your brother?" With a grin he assures me. I welcome him back to the neighborhood and to fall semester.

In the zone - like two nights ago during the first week of classes - I walked our dog Fred down and around the block while soaking in the delightful sounds and even more pleasurable aromas of students grilling in their backyard. It had the palpable feel of "Hey! We have our own place. Awesome."

If I wasn't in the zone, I surely would have missed the opportunity to meet our four super-friendly-smart new student neighbors: Brooke, Rachel, Taryn and Kristina. They moved in right across the street. And we met their parents, too, as each hauled boxes and helped our new friends hang pink curtains (we love pink) in their dining room. We will soon bake them our famous welcome cookies. One by one, I've watched each of my adorable neighbors pop over to extend a warm "hello!" into the zone, where families and kids and professors and students and alums and dogs… and many others… all thrive and live dynamically together.

UST students -- Brooke, Rachel, Taryn and Kristina -- show off the trendy pinkish décor in their new "home," just 171 steps from campus. Way to go, gals!