All right, kids. First and foremost, congratulations are in order. You have successfully navigated your relative high school’s snares of comfort, survived a mild summer, and now find yourself someplace you might consider “nowhere.” After embracing your parents one last time, perhaps breathing a sigh of relief while doing so, and unpacking the elements of your collegiate life from boxes and impact plastic, you have officially taken the first step into being a collegiate.
No doubt, these will indeed be four (or four and a half…or five and a half) of the most important years of your young lives. Filled to the brim with all manners of potential, embodied in hallows of the classroom, lecture hall, undersized bed, shower stalls, welcoming stretches of grass and concrete — and yes, even bars. However, as a collegiate resident of this town, both for undergrad and now graduate studies, I have watched class after class roll into Champaign-Urbana, only to limit themselves in their relative explorations of our humble little plummet of a town.
As the university opens its doors to you, it also has the potential to close your minds to the never ending question: “What is there to do in C-U.” You’ve heard the tours, you’ll end up following an upper classman, and sometimes you’ll regret what you did…especially if you can’t remember it. However, we at Smile Politely, would love to stand as the sensible, older sibling alternative to usual watering holes that are sprinkled around campus.
C-U, though it may not seem like much, is quite the opposite. We are a sprawling league of extraordinary minds, armed with art, instruments, venues, and a “scene” unparalleled in all of downstate. We will sometimes give you an opportunistic knock, and we will hope that you answer. If not, further knocks will come, but you may find yourself hearing tales and stories of the former knocks, and what you might have missed.
Now is your time to discover, and we hope that you will. Vitally, here are some of the things you should do, just to see if we whet your appetite:
Go see a show> Bands are plentiful in this town, and we play host to more musical guests than you would care to count. If you should ever get the chance, go see Headlights, Elsinore, Tall Tale, World’s First Flying Machine, Krukid, Cornbread, Text…and the list could go on. We have sent our music out into the world (Spinnerty, Animate Objects, J-Phlip, Coco Coca), and the world is listening intently. Perk your ears up, and you might find yourself nodding your head.
Find yourself some place different> 21 years is indeed the magic number, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot explore. See an exhibit at the UIUC Art and Design Link Gallery, maybe get trained at the Independent Media Center for WRFU, ride in Critical Mass, learn to breakdance with Floor Lovers Illinois…above all else, do something. Even a small town is too massive to sit idle and wait for things to come to you.
Go dance: You might have two left feet, but believe me that there are worse things. Whenever you see DJ Mertz, DJ Delaney, RoRo, DJ Evily, or DJ Belly on a bill — go out and groove. Hell, you might learn something.
Go eat, for God’s sake: If the palette of dorm food is not to your liking, satiate it someplace around C-U. We are one of the most (honestly) multi-cultural college towns, and our vittles show it. See how hot you can take it at Siam Terrace, or work your way through the menu at Mandarin Wok. Have a real burger at Guido’s, or share tapas with your friends at Radio Maria. Have a slice of pie at Manolo’s or Jupiter’s. Have a hot cup of joe at Bar Giuliani, and flip the bird to Starbucks. Local business owner Jimmy John’s already has the hearts and minds of 95 per cent of campus. Save your cash, and buy a sandwich a different day.
Lastly, don’t be afraid: We know you won’t jump headlong into these experiences right away. Hell, you’ll have enough trouble finding your classes. But, we also want you to know that we are waiting for you. Every class that arrives has some impact on what comes next. You might form a band, or you might become a show organizer. But, what matters is that you get out there and get a chance to see it. There’s nothing like collegiate regret…it is what becomes regretted that determines the longing for it.
Welcome to C-U. Watch before crossing streets, don’t walk in the bike path, don’t bike on the sidewalk and don’t make bad requests to good DJs.
Enjoy yourselves, and smile politely.