Oberlin Bucket List

“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.” – J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye)

By this time on Friday, I will have said goodbye to five dear friends in less than seven days. I will have hugged five different people. My eyes will have blinked back five different walls of tears. My lips will have stretched themselves into five different “go get ’em” smiles. My hands will have patted five different shoulders. My lungs will have sighed five different sighs…

The past few months, it seems, Oberlin has become a place people leave. A place that once meant home to so many people I love is now just a place those people will drive through. The brick buildings, the faded chalk on the sidewalks, the smell of Ohio grass in the air will be nothing but a sweet memory fed by a fancy brunch and a cheap pint…and then it will all be gone  again.

I used to bristle and get angry when returning Obies waxed nostalgic and remarked on all that had changed. I used to want to shout that this was a place people lived, not their personal memory. I wanted to shake off their Instagram-colored glasses. I wanted them to live here like me, with me. I still do…but the more people leave, the more I realize “my” Oberlin wasn’t all that real either.

While I grew roots, my friends grew transient. I had built my stability on top of a collapsing sink hole. I can wax nostalgic and remark on everything that is changing all I want, but I can’t fix it. This is a place, not a sanctuary. It was never mine. The louder I shouted about students and rich alums like they were some sort of inconvenient truth, the less I understood about this place I love with all my heart. Blaming alumni who come back for brunch and a beer but forget to tip doesn’t change the fear that I am about to become one.

In less than a month, someone (I hope) will be hugging me. Someone (I hope) will be telling me they’ll miss me and twisting their lips into a “go get ’em” smile. Alternatively, I will stand under the stars, shove the last box into my car, and head 40 miles east to Cleveland with only the stoic, brick buildings and faded chalk drawings to note my passing. Whatever happens, no matter how much I love it, Oberlin has become a place that I will leave. It will no longer be the center of my identity, the first thing my friends know about me, the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. (I work at a historical society. It’s not weird.)

Anyway, like Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, I struggle with good-byes. Loose ends and unfinished business are my worst nightmare. Incomplete interactions keep unhealthy friendships alive, keep me up at night browsing old flings’ wedding pictures, make me guilty when fate takes the person from my life too soon. I am determined that Oberlin will not become an old fling’s wedding picture on Facebook, so I made up a list for me (for you) of 25 things I think everyone in Oberlin should try at least once. As I prepare to say goodbye, as Oberlin becomes a destination more than a home, I want to make sure that I can say good-bye to these things properly.


1. Visit the Oberlin Heritage Center. What better way to discover Oberlin than by learning how it all began? There are house tours, walking tours, public talks, self-guided bike tours, family days, etc. Really, if you haven’t been there yet, it’s your own fault, and you should remedy it immediately.

2. Walk through Westwood Cemetery. Established in 1864, this 150-year-old cemetery connects the past to the present and whispers the story of a unique and profoundly dedicated town. The graves appear simple, but their inscriptions tell the story of generations of Oberlinians who shaped the city. The trees, ponds, and abundant wildlife make the cemetery an enchanting place for a stroll.

3. Participate in a community garden. Community gardening fosters civic participation, encourages locally grown foods, and preserves green open spaces. Plus, there’s nothing quite like watching something grow. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can plant an extra row and donate that produce to Oberlin Community Services.

4. Go to Feve Brunch. Yes, brunch with a capital B.  The menu changes every week, providing Feve fans with an exciting dining experience as well as an unparalleled sense of urgency. Think you’d love those peach-lavender pancakes? Better get them now, because you might not see them again for a while. I don’t even like brunch, but Brunch is an institution.


5. See a movie at the Apollo. The Apollo opened in the early 1900s and was the first theater in Oberlin to show a “talkie.” With different daily bargains, special screenings, and its unique relationship to Oberlin College’s cinema studies department, it’s “always a good show” at the Apollo.

6. Visit the Allen Memorial Art Museum. There are over 12,000 works of art in the AMAM. Founded in 1917, the collections include paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs from a variety of cultures and periods. I used to sit in the galleries and do my homework. There’s no greater inspiration than the inspired work of others.

7. Take a hike through the Arboretum and Ladies’ Grove. These little pockets of nature are great for wildlife, trail running, and working through problems on long, wandering strolls.

8. Listen to WOBC-FM. Sure, WOBC can be weird, but that’s all a part of its charm. I don’t really know what “freeform radio” means, but when you tune into 91.5FM, you’re tuning into something special. With more than 150 weekly programs that range from talk shows, news reports, live performances, and music of all genres, every hour they broadcast daily is unique.

9. Volunteer at Oberlin Community Services. This organization is amazing. Their programs do great work in the community, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been an active part of it.

10. Go bowling at Oberlin College Lanes. For those of you who are new to this blog, you probably don’t know how much I love bowling. This has got to be one of my favorite places in town. Cute, affordable, and fun–the Lanes are a great place to bowl.

11. Bike somewhere. It’s always been a dream of mine to bike to Kipton, or Elyria, or Chance Creek, or Lake Erie, or an apple orchard…The point is, Oberlin is close to a lot of really neat places. And it’s also pretty flat. Take advantage.

12. See a show with the Oberlin Summer Theatre Series. It’s free and their line-up has something for everyone. Plus, the people who produce the shows are pretty darn talented. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

13. Eat something sweet at Gibson’s. People say all the time that Gibson’s is overpriced. True or not, history demands you get at least one piece of candy, doughnut, or ice cream scoop from this store. It’s older than just about everything else.

14. Buy a book at MindFair Books. There are so many options, and they all smell gloriously musty. You never know what you’ll find, so be sure to spend some real time browsing the stacks. Bonus points, you’re giving a book new life when you buy it and love it.

15. Visit Martin Luther King Park or sit at Toni Morrison’s Bench By the Road. Oberlin has a really important history of fighting for social justice. I think it’s easy to get caught up in today’s issues and not take into account how the struggles of the past still affect our lives. These places are good for sitting and thinking.

16. Attend a concert. Classical, contemporary, solo, choral, ensemble, jazz, TIMARA, dance, folk, indie, oldie…so many options, and they’re all so damn good!

17. Make use of the Oberlin Public Library. There are programs, book sales, and your standard library fare all in this repurposed grocery store building. Oh, and did I mention the friendly staff? Mudd Library is great, but OPL just has that charm.1

18. Support local farmers. There’s plenty of ways to support local produce in Oberlin. Farmers’ Market, City Fresh, community gardening…I’m about to move to a city. I should take advantage of this while I can.

19. Use a microfilm machine and visit the Oberlin College Archives. Mudd Library has a lot of resources that have changed my life. The documents in the Archives are spectacular, and the microfilm machines will never cease to make me feel like I’m on a television show. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like casually browsing issues of the Oberlin Review from the 1890s.

20. Finish an Agave burrito in one sitting. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person, at some point in their lives, will be in want of a burrito the size of their face.

21. Go to the Free Store. I can explain this one in one word and an overdose of punctuation: FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

22. Visit the kittens at the Ginko Gallery. Not only are these little critters adorable and will melt your heart, the organization that rescues them plays an important role in helping reduce Oberlin’s feral cat population. They make sure these sweethearts get a good forever home instead of struggling to survive on the streets.

23. Walk to every single monument in Oberlin. I couldn’t pick just one. I love them all. (Highlights: Gateway to Women’s Education, Giles Shurtleff, Shansi Memorial Arch, Harper’s Ferry Memorial, and Charles Martin Hall Plaque.)

24. Get another free cone at Krieg’s. This custard is like God’s poop…meaning it is the most delicious thing on a hot summer day. I just started a new loyalty card. Buy 10, get your 11th free. Bring it on, custard.


25. Go to the Observatory on Peters Hall. They have great telescopes, a planetarium, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. (I should know. I used to work there.) Just being on a roof and looking down on the other buildings and people is enough to give anyone a God complex, but don’t worry. There are plenty of stars, galaxies, and planets to put you back in your place.

There is, of course, so much more that makes this town special for me. If I had less self-control, I would have put things like “catch frogs in the AJLC pond,” or “eat a bowl of cereal in Tappan Square,” or “take a walk after a nighttime rain in the summer,” or “go contra dancing,” or…see what I did there? I said them anyway.

Words cannot express how hard it will be for me to leave this town. Oberlin is more than just the stuff I listed, but maybe if I manage to do them all, my heart will break a little less, and I will be able to look forward to the next adventure with a little more youthful abandon.


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