(Editor’s note: One of Pacific Palisades wittiest and most astute writers is Robert Vickrey. He has been honored by the California News Publishers Association for his writing. His 2016 column begins a new series entitled: “The Best of Bob Vickey.”)
By BOB VICKREY
When my 18-year-old niece Olivia told me in April she would be enrolling this fall at Pepperdine University in Malibu, I was excited that I’d finally have some family living near me on the West Coast.
Nashville born-and-raised Olivia has always exhibited a spirit of adventure and had told her parents that she preferred attending Pepperdine or the University of Hawaii to one of the southern schools where most of her friends were headed.
Remembering my own college experience at Baylor and recalling the excitement of living on my own for the first time, I realized that if I’d had an “Uncle Bob” living in Waco back then, he probably would not have been at the top of my speed-dial list—even if we’d had such features back in the day of the archaic rotary phone.
After having dinner with Olivia and her family during the weekend she moved into her dorm, I realized that the next time I would likely be hearing from her would be in four years when I received an invitation to attend her graduation ceremony.
Anyone who has visited the campus of Pepperdine knows that it’s not exactly your traditional college setting with ivy-covered red-brick walls set amidst a grove of stately evergreens. Instead, Pepperdine sits atop a picturesque hillside overlooking the Emerald-green Pacific Ocean, where on a clear sunny day you can see Santa Catalina Island.
So, I suppose I should not have been surprised when Olivia’s mom casually mentioned that her daughter’s dorm room had an ocean view.
She must have noticed my skeptical reaction as I considered such a feature as a viable option in one’s college housing choices. This image didn’t quite match my own initial college experience after arriving at Baylor many years ago and moving into creaky old Kokernot Hall dormitory—which offered all the charm and elegance of Schofield Barracks.
Olivia showed me pictures of one of her classmates’ rooms that featured outlandishly ornate headboards above beds that you might expect to find in a New Orleans bordello. A big-screen mounted television adorned one of the walls with elaborate side-by-side desks adjacent to the twin beds. I was curious to know if the girls’ mothers had done the decorating or if they had hired an interior designer with the eccentric taste of the late Liberace.
Some of the dorm rooms at Pepperdine were designed as suites where two adjoining rooms share a common bathroom—a far cry from life in Kokernot Hall where we trudged down dimly lit hallways to one common public bathroom and shower facility that provided all the comfort and privacy of your basic army draft physical.
We would eventually discover that Kokernot Hall rivaled the Ritz Carlton compared to several off-campus houses we rented in later years. Two of my classmates and I rented a small dilapidated house that offered our own kitchen and bathroom for the first time.
Although I began to notice that I was walking downhill as I approached my bedroom and it quickly came to our attention that one side of the house was at least a foot lower than the other side. We strategically placed a broom-stick handle against the outer wall to lend some much needed support to the structure.
That particular winter brought some of the coldest weather to Central Texas in recent memory and I discovered that walking downhill to my bedroom was the least of my worries. It seems there were some significant gaps between the outside wooden wall panels as I awoke during my first night there to find my hair blowing freely in the icy breeze.
The following morning, I stuffed newspaper into the cavities of the aging wall and hung a very tasteful Ali McGraw poster that I had bought after much careful consideration from K-Mart (“Only $2.98 While They Last!”) It perfectly covered the exposed minor flaw in my otherwise immaculate bedroom and kept the temperature hovering somewhere just above the glacial icing stage.
Reflecting on the dramatic difference in our two college experiences has me toying with the idea of partaking in the good life at Pepperdine and enjoying the abundant spoils of today’s college student. Perhaps I’ll entertain the notion of enrolling in college again just like Rodney Dangerfield had done in the 1986 movie “Back to School.”
I’m quite certain that my niece Olivia would be absolutely thrilled to have her Uncle Bob as a classmate. I thought about asking her opinion, but I think maybe I’ll just surprise her when I show up next semester in her freshman English class.
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. You can find more of his columns on his website: http://bobvickrey.net/