Living in a college town, you tend to mark time by seasonal changes in the local population. Summer starts when the students leave in early May, and ends around the third week of August, when the students come back. Certain weekends—football, commencement, and move-in—are marked on your mental calendar as “times to avoid the Target on North Atherton.” Winter break is when most of downtown closes early, but at least you can always find parking.
The pandemic has temporarily removed those reliable markers, warping our sense of time’s passage and forcing us into new routines that are anything but. It was trying to understand what that meant for day-to-day life at a place like Penn State that inspired this issue’s cover story. In the spring, when COVID-19 first altered all of our lives, students went home, classes moved online, and for a while we all just made it up as we went. But by fall, the university community had had time to plan for something resembling a normal semester, even if normalcy proved elusive for students, faculty, and staff alike.
I’m sure I’m not the only one trying to find normalcy in small doses, holding onto routines I can maintain in spite of the pandemic. Running, for me, has become more important than ever. Robbed of the head-clearing and cardiovascular benefits of my daily commute to campus—a hilly 20-minute walk each way—I’ve tried hard to stick to an every-other-day schedule, as often as not getting in my morning miles around campus. Even nine months into this thing, I still haven’t gotten completely used to how quiet and empty University Park is. It’s great cruising down the middle of Pollock Road from Burrowes to Bigler without having to worry about cars, or spending half an hour running the Eastview Terrace steps without fear of plowing into half-awake undergrads with their noses in their phones.
But of course, it’s not great, not really, because it’s not a big, vibrant, thriving college town without those same undergrads and the traffic and crowds and energy they bring. I’m looking forward to sharing the campus with them again soon.