In which Larry goes back to college for the first time in over 20 years.

Last weekend we dropped Daniel off at Carnegie-Mellon for summer school (the CMU drama school’s pre-college musical theater program).  It was essentially the first time I’d gone back to CMU since I graduated (we visited for a couple of hours back in 1992, but we spent most of the time visiting friends in the area and very little time on campus). 

We got in on Friday afternoon, got our car and headed in.  I have to admit that it felt quite strange seeing all the landmarks as we drove in from the airport.  We got onto 376 and headed west towards CMU. 

We drove around the campus pointing out all the relevant locations to Daniel and Sharron.  Then we parked the car and took an impromptu tour of the campus.

Even after 25 years, the campus hasn’t changed very much.  They’ve built a couple of new buildings on the cut (a large swatch of lawn that runs from Forbes Ave to the Hunt Library).  I like the new performing arts center (not surprisingly, they have a killer theater), but not the new campus center (the space itself seems to be fine, I just dislike how the building looks).

My biggest shock happened when we entered Doherty Hall.  I hadn’t realized it, but the building still had the same smell to it.  I know it’s weird, but I associate memories with odors, and Doherty has a distinct smell that is still there.  I was also surprised that they hadn’t really changed the two big lecture halls in Doherty.  We then wandered over to Science^H^H^H^H^H^HWean hall and started looking at the various professors offices.  Wean 7500 (the big lecture hall in Wean) also hasn’t changed in the past 25 years (although they did upgrade the lobby outside the lecture hall, go figure that one).

We continued outside and eventually wandered up to Squirrel Hill to get dinner…

Saturday was spent moving Daniel into his dorm room and attending various and sundry orientations, many of which were quite good (and some were utterly tedious).  Vaguely humorously, I ran into one father who was dropping his daughter off for the pre-college musical theater program.  He mentioned that his son was working at Microsoft for the summer :).  Strange world. 


Sunday we went to Kennywood, which is Pittsburgh’s main amusement park (with some utterly killer roller coasters).  Fortunately it was threatening rain, so the crowds were light.  Again Kennywood is almost exactly as I remembered it; I have to say I was really impressed with what they’d done with the place – even though it’s on a major road, it feels both cozy and expansive at the same time.

Sunday evening we went to the O’s for dinner; we’d spent the past 15 or so years raving about the place to our kids, we figured it would be a shame not to go there.  The hot dogs were just as good as I’d remembered.  After dinner, we caught up with a friend from college and spent a couple of hours catching up on old times (which wasn’t nearly enough time). 

Monday we flew back to Seattle, we’re still tired from the trip, but it was a HUGE amount of fun.  I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed Pittsburgh all these years. 

Comments (16)

  1. My trips back *always* require a stop at Primanti Brothers in the strip.  

    The thing I find facinating about campus is how the’ve "created" space to put buildings – It kind of looks like they’ve bolted buildings on to the side of the hills behind Wean and Hammerschlag 🙂

    But I do agree about the smell – when I walk Baker/Porter, it’s like the 20 years have just gone away…

  2. Christopher: We seriously thought about going to Primanti’s but we really didn’t have enough time…

  3. Robert Wray says:

    Larry – I’m with you on the "smell thing". There was a plant outside the window of my maths classroom at secondary school that let out a really heavy musky smell during the summer and I smelt it recently whilst holidaying on the Isle of Wight. Instant flashback.

    It’s amazing how evocative scents can be!

  4. John Miller says:

    oooh, no visit to Pamela’s for the Sunday morning brunch. You wasted a trip.

  5. Matthew Douglass-Riley says:

    WeH 7500 hasn’t stayed /entirely/ the same–the seats were all reupholstered a year or two ago.  Of course they’ve also upgraded the lighting/projectors/etc. several times.

  6. Matthew, could be, I didn’t notice at that level of detail (I’ve got a good memory, but it’s not THAT good).

  7. Monica says:

    It was good to see you and Val again, though it was too brief.

  8. Monica says:

    It was good to see you and Val again, though it was too brief.  (Sorry if this multi-posts; nothing happened the first time I hit the submit button.)

  9. Jeff Parker says:

    It is funny you mention the smell thing. I recently took a trip back to my old home town, where I was born and raised, I had not been back through there in 8 years or even to that part of Indiana. I was driving with my sunroof open suddenly would get smells I recognized. Smells in the air, it was very weird how that worked. Just the smells in the air were somehow different than that of Ohio, or Michigan. Which are all farm country but maybe it was just the type of crops and trees but it was noticeable different and a familiar smell of home.

  10. nathan_works says:

    Pamelas, in Sq hill, next to the Baskin Robbins ? Geeze.. Granted, it isn’t as greasy as the O, but dang that place is always packed when we go..

    Does the O still have a full time, armed guard there ? And did ya’ll get the big basket of greasy fries ? Boy.. Memories of living in PGH.. In Oakland, no less, near Panther Hollow and Schenley Park.

  11. Nathan: I don’t think Pamelas was open when we went to CMU…  And we were at the O’s at 6PM on a Sunday, so no guard.  On the other hand, back in the 80’s they absolutely had a full time armed guard.

    I had forgotten the quantities of fries they sold, I made the mistake of ordering the medium…  

  12. Norman Diamond says:

    "I know it’s weird, but I associate memories with odors"


    "The brain areas that process odor and sound are networked closely with the regions that play a key role in fear and memory — two key components of posttraumatic stress."

    That’s from a newspaper article by David Kohn, which appears to have been printed in the Baltimore Sun and then reprinted in the Washington Post, before being reprinted in today’s issue of the Japan Times.

    In other words, it’s not weird at all.

  13. MS says:

    I used to go to CMU to do the ACM programming competitions.  I always thought that the comp sci building was built more like a bunker than anything else, but so has every other comp sci/math building I’ve ever been in.

  14. MS: There actually isn’t a CS building, they’re building one right now.

    Maybe you’re thinking of Wean Hall?

  15. MS says:

    Yeah, Wean sounds right.  I only ever visited CMU for the ACM competition so I wouldn’t know for sure.

  16. Celvin says:

    Connecting odors to memories is not strange at all, actually, I read a scientific paper one or two years ago that the part of the brain that processes smells is somehow directly connected to some parts of the brain that manage memories…

Skip to main content