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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

The Boba Tour

The college tour is a rite of passage for many high school juniors. Applications to colleges are due by the end of the first semester of senior year, so one does the tour the summer between junior and senior year. My daughters had visited many campuses in California by virtue of growing up here. Since they knew the East Coast schools by name only, my husband, John, and I took our two elder daughters on the East Coast college tour. John took our eldest daughter, Hana, to a dozen or so schools in 2003. In 2005, it was my turn to take our middle daughter, Claire, on the quest. This is true offspring tourism! The line between who is showing who the world truly merged on this trip.

Before our trip, Claire introduced me to a drink called boba tea. We both became obsessed with finding it in each of the college towns we visited. Plus, Claire wanted to visit the abandoned town, Centralia, Pennsylvania. She had spent time on the East Coast where there are plenty of abandoned buildings to explore. A practice called urban exploring. She heard about Centralia through urban exploring lore and wanted to visit. I’m always up for a quest so we set off.

Although the boba teas run together in my memory, tea in Boston and Providence were memorably good. The colleges - built of stone with groves of trees on beautiful campuses, and ivy actually covering walls - run together in my mind as well. You arrived at a college, found out when the campus tour would be, followed a well-informed, personable student around and listened to his/her description of college life at that particular institution. A question/answer session often followed. We visited Dartmouth, Brown, Barnard, Columbia, Vassar, Smith, Tufts, Princeton, Yale, and Swarthmore. I’m really grateful that I got to be the one to take Claire on this trip because I had never visited any of these schools or spent much time on the East Coast.

On to Centralia

None of the colleges were particularly proximate to Centralia, so a special detour was called for. With Claire as my trusty navigator, printed MapQuest instructions in hand (no Google Maps or Waze existed!), we set off.

Did you know that there are at least 259 underground mine fires burning in the United States right now? Thousands burn globally. The Centralia fire began in 1962. By 1980 the State of Pennsylvania took over the area by eminent domain, then razed the houses to the ground and removed all the debris. What’s left is an eerily quiet grid of streets and some out buildings that were left in shambles. These buildings didn’t exactly pass as an urban exploration fun spot, but all dilapidated buildings have a story which they sometimes share. On the roads, we could see vents where steam and fumes escaped, highways buckled and broken where the heat from the fire had burst through. I felt thrilled and terrified at the same time. The likelihood of our car being swallowed by the roadway suddenly opening seemed to be a genuine possibility. It didn’t happen, but it lingered in the back of my mind.

Unfortunately, few photos of the trip survive. This was probably the last trip I used a film camera, as opposed to digital. The Nokia flip phone I had, took low quality images. I remember taking a photo of Times Square using my Nokia, but wherever I stored that image, it is now long gone. iPhones were still two years away. I scanned a few photos of Centralia and one of the colleges we visited, but none of the gallons of boba. Just trust me that we found all the boba there was to be found. My cover photo is compliments of @jcomp, and much appreciated. You can see more photos of Centralia here.

In driving with Claire, I learned so much and experienced the East Coast college towns in a way I would not have on my own. We visited her friends in several towns. So I got to be part of those visits. Her idea to visit Centralia was inspired and I never would have done that on my own. I drove in New York City for the first time, an idea which had intimidated me up until that moment. I thought the traffic was somehow especially difficult to navigate there, that drivers were somehow different. Does this sound like a California girl, or what? And, this intimidation amuses me now, because I had been driving my entire driving life in Los Angeles where the traffic is fast and challenging, and in San Francisco which has very steep hills. The bottom line is that I think she showed me more than I showed her.

Claire chose UMass Amherst, which she loved. And, no, it was not a school on our tour.

Claire visiting Dartmouth.

A wall at Princeton bearing the name of my great great great great great grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, the president of Princeton in 1758. You've heard of legacy admissions to colleges? Yeah, well, this one didn't work.


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