Most years at around this time, I do a “back to school” edition of B/F/L focused on the U of I campus which is once again about to be inundated with thousands of young adults, all extremely excited for the upcoming year of study. Since this is my third such column I have titled it “Back 3 School,” which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, does not make sense phonetically, but was nonetheless something I absolutely had to do.

A BUILDING
The Very Square Apartment Buildings Just South of Scott Park

I have reviewed many student dwellings for this publication. I sometimes think I overuse terms like “dystopian” and “Soviet” to describe them, but honestly how else could I describe these two:

This pair of small, and super square apartments just south of Scott Park on Healey are fascinating to me. They are so relentlessly depressing, while also somehow having character. They look like they could only exist as sets in some sort of European satire film from the 1950s.

*klaxon sounds*
Voice emitting from speakers on every street corner: “ATTENTION VALUED CITIZENS. YOUR JOYFUL 16-HOUR WORK DAY IS COMPLETE. PLEASE RETURN NOW TO YOUR ASSIGNED HABITATION CUBES FOR REST AND RECREATION.”

Honestly, these wouldn’t be as bad except they’re identical and right next to each other. Though you’d need a full cul-de-sac of nine of them to be truly unsettling.

For some reason, the front of these buildings are the side with all the bathrooms. So every window on the North walls are made from glass blocks, adding to the surreal vibe. Though I also think they look vaguely Art Deco from this angle. The building on the right has some pretty serious cracks in its facade. Looks like it might start crumbling any minute.

Lefty isn't looking that much better if I'm being honest.

The other sides have normal windows and look somewhat less foreign, just bland. I mean, they even picked beige bricks. Presumably because red brick would have been far too bold. In the rear there’s doors and fire escapes for the top floor apartments. I wonder if any weirdos living here use these as their primary points of ingress and egress?

Verdict: The Habitation Cubes are pretty bleak, but they do have character. If I were a student, I might even choose to live in one of these over one of the swanky new high rises.

A FEELING
Shopping at the County Market on Springfield

The County Market at Springfield and 4th is really the only proper grocery store near campus. This fact has always been somewhat baffling to me considering the sheer range and number of people it must serve every day. University employees and Champaign residents shop there frequently, but the County Market clearly knows who their main demographic is: college students. You can tell of course because the booze, frozen meals, and snack sections are all within ten feet of each other. If the only things on your shopping list are pizza rolls, oreos, and a six pack of Smirnoff Ice, this is truly the height of convenience.

When you’re at that County Market, you’ll of course see college students outside of the booze/snacks/frozen area as well. If you observe closely, you may encounter something magical: young people grocery shopping for themselves for the very first time. There is a special kind of anxiety reserved for the first time you go shopping after leaving home. Keep your eyes peeled and you can relive this anxiety from afar right at this County Market.

You might see an 19-year-old buying their very first plunger. Realizing too late that they should have invested in one much sooner. Or perhaps you’ll see a nice, bright, young person completely baffled and offended by the exorbitant price of mixed nuts. Hopefully you won’t have to witness the tragedy that is a person paralyzed and overwhelmed by trying to choose from among a dozen different paper towel options.

Verdict:  If, like me, you often feel like you haven’t grown up terribly much since college and are discouraged about it, just spend a little time at the County Market on Springfield, you may be surprised how mature you really are. Or maybe you’ll just be more discouraged by the fact that you can no longer live off of beer, Nutter Butters, and tater tots.

(Please note this column is not meant to disparage college students, many of whom are very skilled and confident grocery shoppers. We all learned at some point though right?)

A LATRINE
The Men’s Room at Firehaus

Before Firehaus gets bulldozed, I just had to review this bathroom.

More than likely you’ve been to Firehaus, the sports bar on 6th Street in Campustown. They’ve got great burgers and drink specials, but have you ever really taken a long look at the interior of Firehaus? Much of the bar is like, fire station-themed, with pictures of firemen doing stuff, and old fire helmets on the walls and lots of red trim. This all obviously makes sense based on the bar’s name.

However, much of the rest of the space is covered in a small iridescent blue/green tiles, almost as if this fire station-themed bar was a mermaid-themed bar in a past life.

This strange dichotomy continues into the men's room. I especially like the stainless steel light switch plate, which does not go at all with the mermaid tiles.

Apart from the warring tile choices, this restroom is pretty standard. One stall, two urinals, two sinks. All nice and clean (at least on the evening that I was there).

Ultimately, the most notable thing about this bathroom is the sound. This place is equipped with an XLERATOR hand dryer. It’ll get your hands pretty dry, but it is also quite loud even in the best of circumstances. In this small restroom that is completely covered in tile, this hand dryer is just a few steps away from deafening.

And then there’s this:

Yeah, this bathroom doesn’t have a door, it just has this slightly curved hallway which is also extensively tiled. That means whenever the hand dryer is running, a bunch of that noise is funneled right down the hallway and into the seating area beyond, immediately impeding any conversations that may be happening out there. Having been on the receiving end of such a sonic assault, I can say with authority that it’s super annoying! To the point that I almost wanted bathroom-goers to stop washing their dang hands (blasphemy!).

Verdict: I’ll miss Mermaidhaus when it’s gone. Maybe I’ll be able to salvage a few of the shiny tiles from the wreckage. I won’t miss the not-so-soothing sounds of the XLERATOR though.

That's all for me this month. If you see any university students walking around, make sure to welcome them back in the traditional way: By asking if they're prepared for their quiz tomorrow. 

Photos by Tom Ackerman