Crossing Borders

by Abbye Meyer | 4/30/02 5:00am

When some friends came to visit Hanover a few weeks ago, one of them said that Dartmouth seemed so much bigger than she expected. The campus, she thought, was huge, especially for the size of our student body.

As she said these things, I looked around, out through the big Collis windows, across the Green, imagining the insides of the Hop and Dartmouth Hall. I tried to picture all of the spaces inside, all of the places on campus. And Dartmouth grew so unbelievably tiny.

I've experienced this problem a lot recently, as I've searched wildly this term for a good place to do work -- it's a little embarrassing, perhaps, that it's taken me until senior spring to start looking for a homework spot-- and have found very few acceptable options.

While I automatically eliminate libraries and other creepy sterile areas, I thought I might have some luck with more relaxed study environments: the Top of the Hop, the food area in the Hop, Rosey's, Dirt Cowboy and other such options. Sadly, however, I realized that Hanover and Dartmouth are indeed tiny. It's virtually impossible to go to one of these places without ending up right next to a familiar face.

I knew that if I ever wanted actually to get some work done and be even moderately productive, drastic measures would be necessary. So I decided the only practical alternative to cramped and distracted -- and consequently unproductive -- studying was to get the hell out of Hanover and into the real world.

I chose Borders (in West Lebanon) as the destination and high-tailed it out of here, with dust flying from my car's wheels. Clearly, the bookstore offered several important characteristics: a friendly caf atmosphere for work (like Rosey's), lots of books (like the library) and, most importantly, the largeness of an evil worldwide chain, located outside of walking distance from Hanover.

Entering Borders for the first time several weeks ago was my exit from smallness, my exile from the Dartmouth community, which can feel so weirdly suffocating when you need to say hello to literally everyone you see on the street.

Indeed, I was a tiny girl with my little laptop and piles of papers, slumped in my newfound corner of the Borders caf. Each trip to the counter terrified me, as I had to puzzle over the giant menu of drinks, hot, cold and frozen. I read every flyer, studied advertisements and looked over all of the little trinkets for sale. The world was huge, and I was carving out my own anonymous niche inside of it.

And for a good two weeks, I was more productive and got more work done than maybe all of my other terms combined. I was a regular workhorse, a study machine. No one distracted me or stole my attention. For how could they? I didn't recognize a single one, didn't pay a second of attention to their changing personas, their interchangeable faces.

Then it happened. I was sitting in my corner, next to the window, buried in my computer, when I saw a girl come into the caf. Almost subconsciously, I knew exactly where she would sit and knew exactly what items she would pull out of her bag. Sadly, I recognized her water bottle and thought about how awful for her to still be reading that same property textbook.

A couple days later, I started thinking of her as Fancy Law School Girl and knew the pattern on her screen saver. I began to lament her unfriendly attitude towards me, resented her smiles at other people and wondered if she would smile at me if I too came to Borders in business suits.

Soon after that, I realized that she knew Hardcore Studier Who Listens to Techno. He was the kind-looking guy who sat near me against the wall. I figured out that they probably go to school together.

They don't talk to Med School Boy Who's Better Than Me, the pale guy who likes to wear lots of college apparel and talk on his cell phone. But he likes to talk to Intense Bearded Guy Who Looks Like a "Seinfeld" Character. I can't figure out what they have in common.

I feel insulted now when the people who work in the caf don't immediately smile at me. It bothers me if they still ask me what I'd like, even though I always get a medium Chai and a glass of water (I don't even look at the menu anymore).

Now when I skulk into my corner seat and pull out my laptop, I feel as though the walls are closing in and notice little changes on display shelves. I know when live music is scheduled to interrupt quiet study time, and I know when someone's seat has been thoughtlessly taken.

Mornings and afternoons in Borders are no longer shocking and huge and worldwide; they are just more distraction-filled parts of my days. Borders is tiny --much smaller than Hanover -- but at least it's new. It's new and, for awhile at least, it was mine.