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Will They Stay or Will They Go?

It’s that time of year again, when some of us breathe a bit easier and not just because we’ve graded our last essays, attended a couple graduations, or taken our first dip in the no longer cold water of our pools. We’re breathing a bit easier and sleeping a little more soundly because they’re gone, most of them at least and temporarily of course. But gone nonetheless. UC Davis students have left for the summer.

“That’s when the locals come out,” according to Justin Bradley, a retail sales consultant at the downtown AT&T store. My husband and I walked in to pay a bill and the place was, “Dead, dead, dead,” as Bradley described, glancing around in amazement. And while their business is, “impacted one hundred percent,” I was thrilled that we could conduct our business and be on our way in a matter of minutes while half a dozen AT&T employees wandered aimlessly about the store.

Empty Davis Street

Where to park? Anywhere!

In fact, with all that extra time on our hands, we walked down to the Davis Barber Shop on “G” Street where there too, there was no wait involved. And while Demetrius Barrera gave my husband a summer cut worthy of a Marine recruit and explained that for his business he prefers that the students stay, he had to admit that there is, “nothing like going to the movies or the bank and pulling right up” to a parking spot close to his destination. Indeed, there would have been plenty of those from which to choose had we driven rather than walked, and had we been so inclined, we could have had our pick of any seats we liked at coffee houses as well as bars. And speaking of drinking, fewer college students means a reduction in calls for police service from locals complaining about loud parties, and fewer accidents for the Davis PD to worry about, as Press Information Officer, Lt. Phan explained.

An empty Davis Barber Shop.

An empty Davis Barber Shop.

When asked for their opinion about the summer version of our fair city, several locals agreed that the streets were safer in the absence of, “cyclists ignoring stop signs,” as David Sutton complained, adding that, “walking downtown at night there is less tobacco smoke.” While my childhood friend, Karen Adams McCall enjoys the idea that the, “university pool has room on the grass to sit,” and when she’s doing her shopping, “the grocery store isn’t congested with roommates trying to agree on which brand of peanut butter to get.”

Empty Chairs

Where did everyone go?

Of course, Davis would not be the same if the students were not part of the colorful tapestry with which so many of us grew up. And before too many of us become overly excited about the notion of reclaiming our city, even temporarily, according to Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht, more and more students are staying since campus has more summer offerings, and rental cycles make it difficult for students to leave. He recalls his first two years on the job when it felt like the town and campus really emptied out over summer. Yet most of the trouble still comes when the bulk of students return and brand new ones arrive, as they learn what the Chief refers to as, “bike culture,” when a lot of accidents take place as newcomers navigate new territory. The first couple of months before school gets serious are problematic as well since the fire department has to deal with a spike in alcohol related calls. And if a holiday happens to fall on a Monday and students live too far away to travel home for a long weekend, they remain in town on what the Chief calls, “staycations,” also times during which the department is kept busier. No wonder Chief Trauernicht chuckled when I asked how he felt about the students leaving town.

Yet despite the increase in the number of students who stay around, most locals I asked couldn’t help smiling at the thought of the anticipated yearly reprieve. “Imagine a university town without students,” said my dear friend and fellow writer, Kathy Williams, a faraway look in her eyes and a mischievous smile on her lips as she leaned back in her chair. “We’re like mice peeking out after the cats are gone,” she said, and I couldn’t suppress a giggle at the analogy or the dreamy look on her face.

So as not to be accused of making general, sweeping statements, not all students are problematic and some are not only quite studious and responsible, but also rather lonely when their classmates leave town and they stay behind. UC Davis student, Margarita Skiba is one of those individuals of which we’d like to see more. When I asked how she feels about the summer exodus she became rather wistful and stated that it gets, “very depressing,” and she misses seeing groups of students chatting, laughing, bringing a smile to her face as she walks through campus.

A very empty Cloud Forest Cafe. Nice.

A very empty Cloud Forest Cafe. Nice.

Davis writer, Naomi Williams, shared that when she thinks of students being, “mostly gone over the summer,” she is reminded of an innkeeper in Belize who told her about the frequent rain there and their attempt to be philosophical about it. “‘It’s a pain, but it’s also why it’s so beautiful here.'” Williams says that she feels that way about the students. “They can sometimes be a pain, but they’re also why the town is special. So I enjoy the peace and quiet of summer, but I also try to feel welcoming toward the students when they all come back in the fall.”

I’ll try to keep that welcoming feeling when Mishka’s coffee house is overrun by students and their laptops, when front lawns are dotted with ping pong tables covered in red plastic cups overflowing with beer swilled by overgrown teenagers drinking themselves senseless. But right now, I’m leaving our bedroom window open as I turn in for the night, enjoying both the blessed silence and the sweet smell of jasmine floating in. I’m also trying not to think that soon, those college kids may very well be our own children occupying residences in other university towns near and far. And when that time arrives, will we be as eager to see them leave? It just might be too quiet when their rooms are empty and too many seats around the table are unoccupied. When no one rolls their eyes at a parental suggestion or asks to borrow the car, that silence may weigh too heavy to bear.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now, there’s a summer to enjoy.

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