Letter from the Marketplace

The Marketplace at Occidental College. April 13, 2020. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

As part of The Occidental’s COVID-19 coverage, we will be running a series titled “Letters from” written by staff writers, editors and Occidental students. These letters aim to document the experience and insights of Occidental students as they adjust to new circumstances. If you are interested in contributing to the series, please send an email to brewere@oxy.edu or kheinze@oxy.edu.

“How are you today?” someone asked. I was fetching the last banana chip muffin in the display cabinet when someone in a black Tiger Cooler cap and T-shirt approached me. We started talking, and I learned his name is Robert. He is the morning supervisor at the Cooler. Although the Cooler is where I normally get my morning fruits, I did not recall ever seeing Robert before. Now we wave and greet each other every time we meet at the Marketplace.

Ever since  March 19, when Occidental closed the Cooler, the College moved all dining services to the Marketplace. With only about 200 students remaining on campus as of April 1, the Marketplace is now overrun by staff in black caps, white chef hats and work suits, like the stones in the game of Go. The sandwich station is now joined by two fridges from the Cooler, and the snack shelves are stocked with newcomers: chocolates and energy bars. Music is constantly playing, and staff are chatting, laughing and dancing tentatively. The Marketplace is now the most social place on campus, replacing the quad as the center for all in-person exchanges. 

Most of what living on campus looks like right now is being physically alone. I spend the majority of my day  in my dorm room, and the trudge to Marketplace is my daily exercise. But for a lazy Berkus resident, even that feels like too much sometimes, and I’d often rather do cardio in my bathroom with a 15-minute YouTube fitness video. The quad is mostly empty. Local children followed by their parents with bikes or baby strollers and elderly couples strolling with dogs have replaced the usual clusters of chatty or studious students. Everyone seems to know everyone. Even in a mask, I am constantly waved to and smiled at as I walk down the shaded trail behind Bell-Young. Sometimes I wish I was not seeing these people because they should really be staying at home as much as possible. But there seems to be a tacit agreement of kindness between strangers during this time when anxiety and fear prevail.

Life on campus right now is a line segment. On one end is my dorm room, the other the Marketplace. As dull and simple as it seems, it is this exact confinement that has made me discover the people and places that have always slipped from my attention in the past because I took them for granted. As I walked down from Stearns Hall the other day after meeting someone, leaves from the giant tree in front of Haines Hall danced in the wind, sprinkling over the sparsely layered grass. At that moment, I felt like I was in a pastoral movie scene. The isolated sound of leaves rustling, the hugeness of the tree, the stillness of Haines Hall and other deserted buildings — I had never seen campus this way before.

Julia Koh/The Occidental