Fresh Perspective | Getting to Know Oakland

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

As a young girl, I grew up with Pitt vocabulary already etched in my brain. Primanti Bros., Forbes and Fifth avenues and the Cathedral of Learning were regular topics of conversation in my house. I grew up hearing how my parents fell in love at CJ Barney’s (which is now Dunkin’) and how they made Oakland their home when they went to Pitt.

Naturally, when I committed to Pitt, I couldn’t wait to make my own memories on my parents’ old stomping grounds. Pitt had always been a second home to me as a little girl, but I was eager to explore everything Oakland has to offer and make it mine. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated my college experience, it hasn’t stopped me and my friends from exploring Oakland so we can create stories worth telling our own kids someday.

Hillman Library holds a lot of late-night hours and laughing sessions with my friends. We like to break out of our dorm room and wander to the first floor of Hillman where we sit at our favorite round wooden table. It sounds insane, but if someone is sitting at our table, we panic. So many times we go to Hillman, motivated to get our work done — but hours later, we leave with stomachs that hurt from laughing so much and loads of actual stuff that still needs to be done. Or sometimes, if the mood is just right, we have serious therapy sessions about what we are going to do with our lives and where we will be in the future. Little did I know that the first floor of Hillman would become one of my favorite places on campus.

When the fine dining at Market Central doesn’t suit our fancies, we like to explore restaurants. One of our favorite places to go is The Porch at Schenley. We would trade our normal sweatpants and sweatshirt combo for jeans and jewelry and feel like actual humans instead of robots who Zoom all day. It’s at the tables at The Porch where my friends and I bonded and became closer.

One of my favorite local coffee shops, Red Hawk Coffee, is located on Meyran Avenue. One day, a friend and I walked around Oakland and discovered the coffee shop that is hiding right next to a crepe place. We sat outside and drank our coffee while watching the cars zip by. We took advantage of Forbes Avenue and walked into every shop we found interesting — a record store, flower shop and Hocus Pocus, an occult store. Even though we had to wear a mask and I definitely killed 99.9% of germs on my hands every couple of minutes, we were still able to explore and go into shops I didn’t even know existed. Now they’re some of my favorite places to stop by.

And then we have Schenley Park. Even though it’s a bit of a walk from where I live on campus, it’s always been worth it. Those green fields are where my hometown friends and I talked and played frisbee on beautiful fall days. When we got our weekly blanket of snow, some of my friends took cardboard boxes and anything else they could get their hands on and caught some speed sledding down those hills. Schenley Park also witnessed many of my stress-relieving runs and walks I would take when school got a little too much for me to handle.

During the fall semester, when we didn’t have to walk through inches of snow or worry about our lips turning purple, Schenley was always our favorite place to go on Friday or Saturday nights. It was a universal fact that we would end up there at some point during the night. All my friends on the floor would meet up at the park and that’s where we’d hang out. We would play music, dance and talk — it was something fun to do since we really couldn’t “party” in a world inhabited by COVID-19.

Even the sidewalks of Oakland hold some really great memories for my friends and I. No matter where we were going and what we had planned, when we were all together walking from point A to point B, we were always laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Most of the time, we were either getting food or catching the bus to go off somewhere to get out of our building.

It’s not the particular places in general around Oakland that I love so much, but it’s about the people I’m with. As a little girl, I heard my parents tell me stories about the times they spent with their friends and everything they did together, and I can’t help but hope that when I have kids, I will be able to tell them all about my friends and our time together in Oakland.

As a pandemic has left a lot of us alone in our homes or our dorm rooms in quarantine, we have sacrificed a lot. Many people lost loved ones, their jobs, time with family and our normal lives. I thought that coming to campus during a pandemic would alter my goal of making Oakland my home, but I was wrong. As I walk around campus, I still see all the spots where my favorite memories have been made. I know that even though COVID-19 changed the logistics of my life, I wouldn’t trade the experiences and memories I’ve made in Oakland for anything.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and self-care. Write to her at [email protected].