It shocks me more than a little bit to realize that a quarter century has passed since I set off for college. It was a big deal then and—for reasons tied up with vanity and my inability to grasp how fast time truly does fly—is an even bigger deal now. I mean, 25 years have gone by since my parents packed me, my all-in-one stereo/cassette player, my records, clothes, and trumpet into the car and deposited us on the grass in front of my dorm? Really? Funny how the mind can squeeze the space-time continuum like an accordion.
I started out at a small college in rural Indiana, then transferred to The University of Virginia, a big state school (though not as big as some) in a bigger town. I’d never set foot on the campus before my dad and I pulled up in our Chevy station wagon, and we were both floored. Most colleges project a specific ethos; ivy-covered or not, they have a look and a vibe that says, There’s something cool happening here. But Virginia had something more. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in the 1800s, it came freighted with all kinds of history. The red brick walls and white-pillared pavilions positively oozed collegiate gravitas. It even had its own nomenclature: The campus was The Grounds. The main academic quad was The Lawn. It had a Rotunda. People still seriously referred to it as “Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village.” And they still do.
The other thing it had was a cool town. Charlottesville bumps up against the university and certainly has its share of bars and stores that cater to students. But it had, and still has, its own sense of place and history. In the last 20-plus years, it has grown and evolved without losing its cool. And it’s not alone. Our cover story this month takes you to 10 college towns in a wide radius around Cincinnati, all of them chockablock with culture, history, and excellent local food. Yes, Charlottesville and Madison, Wisconsin, are a bit of a drive, but that’s why the great philosopher Blutarsky invented the term “Road trip!” If that’s too far, fear not, we’ve also got guides to a host of closer, activity-packed destinations, such as Athens, Ohio; Bloomington, Indiana; and Midway and Berea, just across the river and down a country road in Kentucky—all relaxing drives, especially when the leaves are turning.
The rest of the issue is packed, too. If you’ve never heard of Reed Ghazala, the father of circuit bending, or laid eyes on his amazing electronic instruments, then turn to page 70, read Brent Donaldson’s profile, and gape at Jonathan Willis’s photos, which capture the eerie beauty and mystery of these wild pieces of technological art. Likewise, if you want to know how small the world really can get, read Patricia Gallagher Newberry’s piece on the unlikely cast of characters who came together to help a local family pluck two orphans from the chaos of last January’s earthquake in Haiti. And finally, if, like me, you enjoy watching pumpkins flung long distances and smashed to bits, read Alyssa Brandt’s story about three guys and the medieval siege engine they wheel into Stanbery Park every year after Halloween. Time may pass, but some things never get old.