Love Lessons: Hangouts

You can’t write a college-set romance without writing in a hangout. A restaurant, a student lounge: there’s always some college equivalent of a Central Perk coffeehouse. In Love Lessons I stole rather blatantly from my own college experience.

There were two big hangouts near Wartburg College–I assume they’re still the main vein, though I haven’t been to Waverly in years.  It’s not a big town, nor is Wartburg a large college, so the hangouts beyond campus itself are thin on the ground. In the early 90s, our options were Joe’s Knighthawk and The Other Place (II).

The Other Place II

The Other Place was my hangout of choice because I worked at Joe’s my freshman year, and there’s something about facing so many stupid drunk college students sober that encourages you never to go back to be one of them. Joe’s was cheifly a bar, but it did serve burritos and maybe chicken, I forget, on the restaurant side. Locals often ordered from there to go, and some came in around happy hour, but after nine it was college students only. Dancing, drinking, making out in dark corners and on the patio when it was open. That was Joe’s.

The Other Place was my hangout of choice. I’m pretty sure it sill looks exactly like this picture. Inside it’s delicious 80s pub chic, with a million nooks and crannies and a back room that saw some of the best times in my life. You could go there to drink or simply have pizza and root beer. There was many a day a grinder sandwich was my only salvation.

We called it “the OP,” as in, “Do you want to head to the OP for dinner?” Student groups would schedule meetings there: “meet at the OP at seven.” I hope they still do. I hope they’ve updated as little as possible. I can’t eat much on their menu anymore, but I’ll go in to have a beer and soak up the ambiance.

In Love Lessons I made a nod to both these restaurants, and I wasn’t even shy about the names. Joe’s became Moe’s, and the OP became—wait for it—Opie’s. I even got in a scene in the back room, and every time I wrote or edited it, I was right back there, pitchers of beer and soda strewn about the table, Dr. Scholtz waving his hands animatedly about something or other and looking generally like he was trying to decide if he was in trouble or not.

Hangouts in high school are always tethered to your parents and family and people who knew you when you wore diapers and peed your pants in kindergarten. College is such a wild free-for-all, and the hangouts have no history. Yet they still have that protective, insular quality that makes things safe and okay. I live in Ames today, and there’s a whole campus town just off the Iowa State campus. ISU is light years bigger than Wartburg, so even the campus itself is rife with hangouts and even stores. I remember being a grad student at the University of Iowa and feeling a wicked thrill at the idea that I could shop ON CAMPUS. Of course, by then I didn’t live there, but Dan and I spent many date nights chilling in the lounge, me writing (seriously, that nerdy way back then) and he studying for some impossible pharmacy thing.

There’s one hangout, though, that I didn’t put in the novel, and for me it’s the most sacred. Meyer Pharmacy.

There were no bookstores in Waverly, and I had no car. The Internet emerged in late 1993, and it was the INTERNET, text-based and full of green text and flashing cursors. If you asked about webs, people assumed you had a spider problem. I couldn’t order books, and the very small library downtown had hardly anything I wanted. Meyer Pharmacy was my salvation.

I was an English major, and for one semester my sophomore year I had to read fifty pages a day including weekends and holidays just to keep up: and this was only one class. My emphasis was the very deadest and whitest of British men, because I loved everything before Wordsworth the best. But every Friday afternoon before choir I’d walk over to Meyer’s and charge money I didn’t have on two or three paperback books. While other people went out and blew $20 on drinks, I stayed in my room and read romance novels. I would often emerge sometime late on Saturday, slightly drunk from inundation, but so much mentally healthier than when I began.

There was nothing quite like the thrill of seeing what new novels were up for grabs that week. Sometimes my favorite authors would have new releases, but sometimes I’d find someone brand-new to me. I loved the historicals the best, because back then it was old west and Highland raiders and social workers in Chicago. I don’t know that there was a better time for romance than those early 90s, and Meyers was my gateway.

There are other hangouts in Love Lessons too, chiefly a dorm party that I will confess is one of my favorite scenes. I didn’t do too many of those myself. But Opie’s and Moe’s? Straight out of my life.

What were your college hangouts? Are they still around? What hangouts did you wish you had?

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Love Lessons: Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.

Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.

Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.

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