August. College Station, Texas.
The students are back.
Those of us non-students who live here often lament the good ol' days of summer when all of the students went home to their moms and dads and summer jobs. We then had full use of restaurants with no wait. Grocery stores never ran completely out of anything. Aisles of stores weren't clogged with moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and younger siblings all searching together for the perfect breakfast cereal to fuel their college student's mornings. During the glorious summer we had all of the amenities of a city with only a fraction of the people.
Those days are mostly gone, with A&M's enrollment in the neighborhood of 60,000 and more and more people pushing through college by taking summer classes. Nonetheless, the first weekend of August brings with it the newness of little baby adults leaving home for the first time. As a result, traffic is crazy, stores are packed, and those of us who live here full time make an effort to avoid peak student times and locations as much as possible for a few weeks.
The truth is, we love the students. We love their eagerness, the excitement of becoming a part of our town and beloved school. We love their silliness and youth. They keep College Station young and vibrant, I suppose. Because of that, I always make an extra effort to have patience this time of year. If someone drives like they have no idea where they're going, it's probably because they don't. Most service staff - from waiters to cashiers - are new to their jobs. They look twelve years old and nervous, and I feel obliged to smile and be okay with the few extra minutes added to all of my errands. We tip well and give grace. We remember that we used to be them.
But today I made a mistake. A big mistake. I forgot that it is the first weekend of August in College Station, Texas. And I went to Hobby Lobby.
The place had been overtaken by the students and their families attempting to decorate their new apartments. People were swarming, I tell you. I had three things on my list: a metal art piece for the master bathroom, a 12 x 12 frame for the hall bath, and some Wonder Under for my niece's quilt (Sidebar: The quilt is a graduation present. She graduated around three months ago and moves into her apartment next week here at A&M. I probably should have done this already. My tardiness is the real reason I found myself at Hobby Lobby on August 5th.)
I put on my patience and looked for the joy in their adventures.
I giggled at the two young men trying to purchase wall art. They wandered aimlessly from aisle to aisle, finally stopping in front of some decorative wooden arrows. Baby Adult #1 picked up an arrow. Baby Adult #2 shrugged. Baby Adult #1 said, "Let's just get a whole bunch of these," and Baby Adult #2 nodded.
I can't stop picturing their apartment walls covered in stolen hometown street signs, beer posters, an Aggie flag, and a plethora of Kacey Musgrave-esque arrows. Follow your arrow, boys. Follow your arrow.
Dads. Lots of dads. Most of them far, far away from the people they came shopping with. One stood alone checking his teeth in one of the 72 mirrors on the mirror aisle. One popped wheelies with the cart on the only aisle that didn't have hoards of people. I stood nearby as a dad climbed up onto the display platform that held a fully decorated room and planted himself firmly on the wrought iron bench with a sigh. The dads entertained me.
I realized immediately that I would save time and sanity if I ordered a frame online (Praise the Lord for Amazon Prime). I quickly selected a wood and iron piece for the bathroom, telling myself I can return it if it doesn't work. I picked up the Wonder Under and then saw the line to have fabric cut, and decided once again that Prime would be a better choice.
I happily, patiently went to the check out. There I was pleasantly surprised because ALL of the checkouts were open. I don't think this has ever happened in the history of HobLob. I'm not totally convinced the people who run the place know that everyone who buys things has to check out because there is consistently a line of ten to twenty people waiting for one stressed out checker. But not today! Today I walked up and was second in line!
That's when things went south.
Random College Girl was talking loudly on her phone while the checker held her one item. The register phone rang, the checker got some needed information (presumably the price), and then quickly hung up. The checker looked on while Random College Girl whined into her phone, "Oh my God! I swear I got the only piece of posterboard here without a price thingy on it!" Then it went like this:
Checker (who was probably in her first day on the job): Excuse me. Will that be all?
Random College Girl: Wait. Huh? (to phone) Hold on.
Checker:Will that be all?
Random College Girl (waving Mommy's American Express): Yeah
At this point, I felt my patience seeping away. See, when I first moved out I used checks that connected to a bank account that had money in it because I put it there. I had a ninety-nine cent loaded baked potato from Wendy's for lunch every single day for a whole year. And I was nice to people.
(Yes, I'm generalizing about Random College Girl and her American Express. For purposes of this blog post, I don't care. Judge me.)
The conversation continued...
Checker: That will be $16.49.
Random College Girl: (snippy) What did you say? How much? (then, to phone) Oh my God! I must have gotten the most expensive piece of posterboard in the store. (back to checker) What is the price again?
I need to add here that the checker was holding something that was not poster board. It was about four feet by four feet and covered in some kind of backing that seemed cardboard-like. In my head I wondered what planet this chick was from that she thought this was poster board. And then I wondered why on earth she would come to HobLob to purchase one piece of posterboard. Here in College Station, America, we get that at H-E-B for forty-seven cents like civilized people. My patience level reached an all-time low.
The conversation continued...
Random College Girl: (to phone) Look, I'm going to have to rethink my project if poster board is this expensive. Hmmm... (presumably thinking, then to checker) Can I just leave that here with you? I don't think I want it anymore?
Checker: Yes ma'am.
Random College Girl walked away chattering loudly into her phone. I must not have lost all of my patience because I did not at any time yell, "GET OFF THE DAMN PHONE!"
The sweet first-day-on-the-job checker did an excellent job ringing up my purchase and processing my payment. I wish I could have tipped her.
On my way to the car it occurred to me that although Random College Girl had absolutely no manners and clearly did not know what poster board is, she did know not to put $16.49 on her parents' American Express for it. That's a start, I suppose. I bets she grows up a lot here.
And so we welcome the students. We ask that you have some manners, clean up after yourselves, work hard, have fun, and make yourself and your parents proud. We will continue to do our level best to give you patience, tip well, smile, and make you feel at home in this place that will be part of you forever.
Welcome to Aggieland.