That Darn Map

Happy traveling tourists sightseeing

You’ll never feel more like a tourist than your first few days in college.

You’re walking around with maps out. You’re trying to find the best places to eat. There were even people stopping to take pictures of everything with a Penn State logo on it. Which, in our case, was pretty much everything, because Penn State is like Disney if Disney was more aggressive about in-your-face branding.

I wouldn’t say I was proud to be stopping at random corners to consult with my massive 200-building map, but as you might guess from the phrase “200-building,” it was entirely necessary for me.

“Why didn’t you just use address numbers?” you ask, clearly not understanding how college campuses work. You then add, “And why not use a flat tax? If I buy all the lottery tickets, won’t I win every time?”

As to your first question, no. For whatever reason, it was agreed upon by ancient college elders that buildings wouldn’t be given the normal street addresses students had been using to navigate the past decade or so of their lives. My first guess as to why is that this way they can name the buildings after people who donated a lot of money. I don’t think I need a second guess.

Your other questions are bad for an assortment of reasons and I won’t be addressing them for the sake of staying on topic.

“Okay,” you agree, not sure when you asked the second two questions. “In that case, can’t you at least use streets to help you find your way?”

At other colleges, possibly. At Penn State, no. Penn State really only had two streets – Pollock and Curtin. All the other roads went around the outside like a big, useless picture frame. The buildings themselves were clustered into tight groups for reasons I can’t quite fathom, though my default guess is that it made them more money. Somehow.

What this effectively meant is that a hundred or so very similar buildings were placed onto an enormous campus with no real grid system. And due to the clustering, you could walk to the general area and still spend five to ten minutes finding a new building for the first time. All while never being more than a few dozen steps from the front door.

“So…after you found it once it was okay?” you ask uncertainly.

Pretty much, sure.

“Okay. So it was smooth sailing once you got inside?”

The author shook his head slowly.

There are two major issues there. The first of these is layout. Many buildings, for example, were set up with clear, intuitive floor plans that let you find any room you wanted. Others had a single hallway on the first floor that led to hidden elevator, a second floor that was a museum and then a few more floors of laboratories with prohibited access interspersed with offices. And while a random museum is a nice way to break up a long walk, well, it’s not so great for getting to class on time.

That’s probably the reason so few world-record Olympic runs went through museums on the way to the finish line.

The second probably is a more specific one – limited, so far as I recall, to only a single building. Or rather…two buildings? And a room that existed in some weird fold of space-time that allowed it to be in both  at once. Or possibly neither? It’s complicated…

I still remember trying to find room 26 in the Hosler building. Given that the building was located right off the main path, this wasn’t hard. For my first trip there, things were going almost surprisingly well, in fact, until I reach my third dead end inside. No matter where I went, there was no room 26. I checked the room numbers a few more times and followed groups of students to see if they were headed to some unknown nook or cranny I’d missed. Alas, room 26 simply didn’t exist.

After I asked around a bit and got some strange looks and the idiotic advice to check the Hosler building, I found the problem. 26 Hosler does indeed exist. It just happens to be in an entirely different building.

Why? I have no clue whatsoever. Asking around over the years got me a lot of contradicting answers that I nonetheless assume were simultaneously true.

Hosler was connected to Deike. Hosler split into two buildings but the rooms split awkwardly. Deike annexed the room because it was being used more often by that building. 26 Hosler was actually 26 Deike (which I think was also a separate room, just to make things more confusing) except for a computer error. Despite being in a different building, that room was still a piece of the Hosler building. Room 26 was a room whose doorway only appeared when a student who needed to take intermediate geology labs walked by three times.

In short, I had no idea. I still don’t. But I’ll admit that there were enough bigger mysteries to sort of drown that one out after a while.

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