Alumni Western Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western

The final say

by Lauren Pelly, BA'10, MA'11

The ‘local hangout’ sitcom trope always makes me chuckle. No one has time to hang out at the same bar every week, drinking the same beer, talking about the same things, laughing with the same people. It’s not how life works. Unless, of course, you’re at Western.

The opening notes of Rick McGhie’s Country Roads cover always felt like the start of our theme song. “Take me home down Western Road,” we’d sing-slash-shout, drowning out John Denver’s wistful lyrics.

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, this became every Wednesday night.

My ragtag table of regulars would slide into The Spoke through the back door, bypassing all the crowds. With cheap beer in hand, we’d spend the next three or four hours rambling on about student politics, essays we hadn’t written yet, and our hush-hush romantic entanglements. We were on a first-name basis with the manager and gave the stink eye to our sworn enemies, the smarmy student council kids drinking at a nearby table.

That bar was our Central Perk. Our Cheers.

It was, for a brief and beautiful time, our second home. And then it ended – abruptly, I assume, but I can’t remember my last ‘Rick Night.’ It must’ve taken place sometime before I graduated in 2011, and I’m sure we talked about how it was the end of an era.

Or maybe we didn’t.

Was there any sort of fanfare, when the cast of my university years reached our series finale? Probably not. Western: The Next Generation hit the airwaves instead, and we all moved on to adulthood. As you do.

I was reminiscing about those days with some Western friends recently. “We’ll never have that again – that time,” one friend mused. “That’s the point,” I replied.

We were drinking wine, not beer, and sitting in my living room, not our local pub. We don’t have a local anything these days, and why would we? Now, we’re a bunch of 20-somethings in Toronto, where going to the same bar every week would be rather sad at worst, and a poor use of the city’s ever-changing nightlife at best.

All of us inevitably drift further and farther away from the Rick Nights of our time at Western – or whatever it was we latched onto with our respective motley crews – because adult life, as we all know, is almost nothing like a sitcom. Friendships fade. Jobs get busier. People move to new cities and have kids.

While university is a bizarrely tight-knit community of pseudo-grownups, true adulthood is the subsequent diaspora. Have you ever met a group of adults who live their lives like the apartment-sharing, coffee shopfrequenting characters of Friends? Of course not.

And if you did, you’d probably find them an odd bunch, stuck in a sort of stunted adolescence.

But, at Western, everyone needs rituals. Those regular checkpoints help forge new bonds and give wide-eyed students a sense of belonging, something most people crave during university.

For many, those four-ish years offer the first chance to live away from home, far from the comforting familiarity of parents and high school friends. It’s such a powerful, world-changing time of transition, and constancy makes the whole thing a little bit easier and a lot more fun.

Attending university is also a blissfully unique phase of life where the whole campus is essentially a small town catering to your every whim. There’s a niche for each student, sure, but everyone is also woven into the fabric of university life.

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” goes the theme song for Cheers. “You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same; you want to be where everyone knows your name.”

That’s how Rick Nights feel in the moment – everyone knows your name; you’re all sharing the same troubles and successes. Life after university isn’t like that, and that’s OK.

Those Western rituals, those ‘local hangouts,’ are frozen in time. We need them in the moment and we can’t replicate them. But just like an old favourite sitcom, we can play those reruns – those memories – any time.

Lauren Pelley, BA’10, MA’11, is a Torontobased multimedia journalist and reporter at the Toronto Star.

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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