Kiran started her Oberlin College experience in the fall of 2019. That first semester weekend, we had Oberlin College's fast and furious tour for first-year students. We returned to New Jersey with thoughts of exploring the town and the college campus later. But then COVID ruined those plans, and she transitioned to remote instruction from our home in New Jersey. However, Oberlin College allowed fully vaccinated students this summer, and Kiran took the opportunity. The summer session ended, and Kiran opted to stay on campus until the fall semester started in October. But she needed her fall and winter clothes. We agreed to make the drive over the Labour Day weekend, and Kiran decided to give us that campus tour we never had.
Bhavna and I rented an AirBnB off North Main Street on the edge of the Oberlin College campus, about a block away from downtown Oberlin. It's a beautiful 1900s house which our host, Linda, has sectioned off into upstairs and backend guest rooms. We had the top level with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a private bathroom, and a small deck area. It was way more than we needed, but Bhavna thought it might be more fun and convenient than a hotel room at the Marriott in Elyria.
After getting Kiran settled in one of the worst-maintained college residence rooms I have ever seen, we walked over to Aladdin's Eatery for dinner. The owners were too clever with the menu. Instead of keeping it simple, with recognisable names, the menu played off the Aladdin theme a bit too much. We enjoy eating Middle Eastern food and are familiar with the food names. The menu at Aladdin's had some idiotic name substitutions for simple items like felafel. I had to read the ingredients to understand that the item was felafel. They were also out of the only Lebanese beer on the menu, so much for providing an immersive experience. I ordered a glass of water. I'm too much beer snob to drink the piss water (aka. Budweiser or Miller Lite) that some Americans call beer. When all the baby boomers are dead, maybe restaurants will stop putting that garbage on the menu. The new generation of beer drinkers won't drink that swill.
After dinner, we took a quick stroll through Downtown Oberlin before returning to the house to shower and relax.
Oberlin is a boring town. Most small towns in New Jersey have something unique about them that makes them worth visiting. Princeton has the University. Hopewell has some excellent farm-to-table and vegetarian restaurants, an award-winning distillery and a micro craft brewery. Montgomery Township, where I live, has beautiful parks and hiking trails. Ringoes and Asbury have wineries. Oberlin offers none of that. It's bland. Generic. This annoyed me the most.
The downtown is two square blocks just off the southeastern section of the Oberlin College campus between West College Street, Main Street, South Professor Street and Vine Street. These streets are mainly lined with old town shop front ends and restaurants. I woke up early the following day. I walked downtown and photographed what I thought might be interesting, but overall, the photographs could have been more exciting. I photographed the early morning light of the storefronts on West College Street, going down to East College Street and then back to South Main Street.
I was waiting for the coffee shop, Local Coffee, to open at 8 AM. Honestly, I was annoyed. Most coffee shops in the Princeton area open around 7 AM except for weekends. If you open your coffee shops at 8 AM, you will find that most people are already well on their way to work. Even with remote work, at 8 AM, I have already drunk my first cup of coffee, eaten breakfast and am sitting at the computer catching up on blog posts. The other coffee shop in Oberlin opens at 9 AM.
I walked into Local Coffee, ordered a cappuccino and was immediately disappointed that they could not make me a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Argh!
Bhavna and Kiran joined me a little later, and after breakfast, Kiran gave us a tour of her campus.
Unfortunately, Oberlin College has chosen to use the short break between Summer and Fall sessions to dig up the campus ground outside all significant buildings and install pipes for their Sustainable Infrastructure Program. The campus is an absolute mess, with construction equipment, mud, and dirt everywhere. I photographed what I could, but the scenery was different from the beautiful campus that Kiran described.
Oberlin College claims that all faculty and staff have been vaccinated. But they won't let anyone tour the buildings unless they are vaccinated and wear a face mask. If everyone in the tower is vaccinated, I refuse to wear a face mask. It serves no purpose. After this visit, I couldn't believe that the administrators of this college were educated, rational people. We did not tour the inside of the buildings. I doubt it would have made much difference. The architecture of the structures is some of the least interesting I have ever seen on a college campus. I don't care if your college was founded in 1833 if your oldest buildings look like they were built in 1933.
After we toured the Oberlin College campus, we toured the downtown, and Kiran showed us some of the murals she had discovered.
I noticed the colourful mural on the wall of the outdoor space of the Thi Ni Thai restaurant. Then I saw the tuk tuk. We all agreed it was beautiful and wanted Thai food for dinner.
Kiran had ordered some ice cream from her favourite ice cream shot, Cowhaus Creamery, which had relocated to Elyria from its usual downtown Oberlin location because of the pandemic. We picked up the ice cream and put it in a cooler. It was lunchtime, so we drove to a gastropub in Elyria, Foundry Kitchen and Bar, where I had an excellent beer. I chatted with our wait staff, and we learned that there was a brewery, Unplugged Brewing, a short walking distance from the gastropub.
The food and the beer at the Foundry Kitchen and Bar were excellent, and walking to the brewery allowed us to burn off some of the calories we had just consumed.
Working from home over the last two years of this pandemic, it can be easy to forget how fortunate one is. Some of the restaurants and shops in Princeton did not survive the lockdown, but most did. Some even thrived as residents filled their outdoor spaces. But the many empty, boarded-up storefronts in Elyria made me realise how fortunate we are.
I would never walk into Boomers for a craft beer.
Unplugged Brewing was a farther walk than I anticipated. The friendly taproom staff served us a flight of some pretty delicious ales. Kiran is still young, but we agreed to take her on future trips after her birthday in November. We bought some canned beer to bring back to New Jersey.
We left the brewery and went back to the house for a shower. The showers in the student housing where Kiran was staying for the month between summer and fall and the shower were, to use her words, "disgusting", so she used the shower at the house.
Dinner at ThiNi Thai was delicious. The Thai phrase translates to "is here". The owners of The Feve, a popular restaurant on South Main Street, opened the restaurant at the beginning of January 2020. They were inspired by a trip to Chiang Mai, a city in the mountainous northern region of Thailand, where they met their tour guide and friend, Aon Krittathiranon, who helped them develop the menu. Aon is a co-owner and moved to Oberlin to join the project as the restaurant's chef.
I ordered a Tuk Tuk cocktail. We sat outside on the "patio" under the mural dragon. We talked with Kiran about the upcoming school year, her internship, early graduation and what to expect after that.
On Sunday, Bhavna and I went home. The flowers below are from Linda's garden.
Last week, we had a lot of rainfall in a relatively short period. Many towns flooded. Many basements were destroyed. Lives were lost. I'm sure you've read about it.