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New tastes at the old dorm cafeteria

November 10, 2011
By Andy Heller , Daily Press

FLINT - I am agog. My college dorm serves chilled cucumber water with dinner. My old dorm, I mean - the first one I lived in at Central Michigan University 30,000 years ago. Give or take.

The dorm is called Carey Hall. It also had ginger water, by the way. I tried some on a recent visit. It was refreshing, although it could have used a touch more ginger. It was a bit watery, which maybe isn't surprising for water.

But, still, vegetable and root infused water? No wonder college costs so much these days. When I was eating in that cafeteria 30 years ago, trust me, we did not have infused water. We had tap water, milk, soda and coffee. Serve that in the dorm today and the kids would say, "What is this, prison?"

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Andy Heller

My, how times have changed. And before you ask, heck yes I'm jealous. I have this paranoid suspicion that things - colleges, towns, parties - get nicer after I leave. I don't think it's me. (You haven't heard anything have you?) My timing has just always been bad.

I was on campus with my son Sam, who is a high school senior, and the lovely yet formidable Marcia. Sam was competing that day for a scholarship. CMU gave us a coupon for the dorm cafeteria so we could get a bite after the competition was over.

Sam was less than thrilled to use it. That was my fault. I hadn't been back to campus in years, so I was a bit excited, if we can broadly define excited as "overdosing on nostalgia." In my defense, I'd had three cups of coffee. He really should learn to cut me off.

Anyway, my babbling on the walk across campus to the dorm seemed to not fill him with an overwhelming desire to explore in detail the grandeur that was my college experience.

"Hey, Sam, do you wanna see where your mom and I first kissed?"

"No."

"See that hill there, Sam, that's where we went traying when it snowed. Oh, the memories! Wanna hear more about it in excruciating detail?"

"No."

"And see that building there that looks like all the other buildings to your bored teenager eyes? That's where I took most of my classes. Isn't that fascinating?"

"Aargh!"

By the time we reached the dorm he'd stopped listening to me altogether. I could have said his hair was on fire - and I did - and it wouldn't have registered.

So he was spared multiple expressions of astonishment as I gaped at what had become of my old dorm cafeteria. You, however, are not so lucky. But I will condense.

"Ohmygod, they have a southwest kitchen line! Ohmygod, they have a Mediterranean grill! Ohmygod, they have a vegetarian court! Ohmygod, they have an American diner! Ohmygod, they have a designer coffee kiosk! Ohmygod, they have a breakfast bar!"

I went on like that for 20 minutes. Why it didn't fascinate Sam is beyond me. He sure would have been impressed if he'd eaten a single meal there back in the day.

Back then, the nightly dinner menu consisted of two things:

1) Whatever the cooks found to cook, which often consisted of whatever strayed too close to the back door. (OK, that's a joke, but it's not far off the mark, trust me.)

2) Peanut butter. (Without peanut butter, half of CMU would have died of starvation, which isn't good for enrollment.)

One of the specialties of the house, as I recall, was something they called "angel steaks." These were round, uniform patties of what I still hope to this day was chicken. We were served these 12 or 13 nights per week, which sounds impossible but it certainly seemed like it if you were there.

I looked all over the Carey Hall cafeteria circa 2011 and didn't see a single angel steak, so I asked one of the cooks where they were.

"Angel steaks?" she said. "Um, I don't think we have any of those. Have you checked the southwest kitchen?"

"Where's that?" I asked.

"Over near the ice cream sundae bar."

Ice cream sundae bar? We didn't have an ice cream sundae bar!

Told you my timing stinks.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller.

You can e-mail him at aheller@flintjournal.com.

 
 

 

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