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Empty Athens

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By Olivia Young | oy311909@ohiou.edu

The bags are packed and stacked in the backseat. Students are saying farewell to their cozy homes and families. Soon, every highway route running into Athens will be clogged with Bobcats trying to make their way back for another term.

The end of winter break is here.

The town folk are evacuating the premises to avoid the swarm of students and they’ll likely dodge the bricks as much as possible until May 5 — the day after graduation. That’s because during the semester, locals — the ones who don’t own an Uptown business or teach a college class, at least — and students struggle to co-exist. They scowl at each other because they fail to realize how much they depend on one another.

Townie-students suffer from a strange dichotomy. We stop at the crosswalks to let cars pass when our classmates just keep walking. We wave at local business owners and sometimes talk to our professors after class, because we went to high school with their kids. And on some weekends, instead of doing the Court Street shuffle, we spend time in the woods, at home, with family.

Many of us have ancestors who helped build up this town and they’ve been here to see the distance between townies and students grow. When our grandparents were in their 20s, they spent time Uptown bowling, playing billiards or shopping for dresses at one of the several department stores. When our parents were in their 20s, they spent their time on Court Street getting pizza, going to arcades and having an occasional drink at one of the few taverns in town.

Much of my winter break was consumed by tracing those roots and getting acquainted with the town before I became a part of it. Through researching archived records, reading books and conducting interviews about Athens’ past, I’ve watched those innocent pleasures dissipate year after year. Athens looked so different a century ago that it’s now almost unrecognizable, saturated with bars and apartment buildings. The charming Athens that everyone still falls in love with today has only half the charm it used to.

Uptown Athens has catered more and more to the wants and needs of students and less to those of the people who live here year-round. In an interview with Ron Luce, the director of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, he called Court Street “inaccessible” to Athens residents, compared to what it used to be.

So although the townie-students live within the same borders of their homeland, most live in a different world than their families. When winter break finally comes, Athens and “home” mean the same once again. That’s when Athens is full of familiar faces trying to squeeze in their Uptown errands while the streets aren’t packed.

And so just as the rest of the student population heads to their respective towns to celebrate the holidays, the ones who grew up here feel like they get to go home, too, to a different Athens than their out-of-town comrades know.

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Olivia Young | oy311909@ohiou.edu

I feel bitter every time I glance at my Facebook newsfeed, clogged with photos of fellow bobcats admiring the blizzard that is affecting just about every place in Ohio except Athens. Maybe our time is coming. But really, it’s not.

It was another gray, rainy Christmas for Athens. To our surprise, it snowed just a few days before and left patches of white lingering on the ground for the big day. And then the rain ensued December 26, wiping the last of our white Christmas away.

Northeast Ohio: Snow Northwest Ohio: Snow Southwest Ohio: Snow Southeast Ohio: Rain

Northeast Ohio: Snow; Northwest Ohio: Snow; Southwest Ohio: Snow; Southeast Ohio: Rain

But if the snowflakes were to fall in Athens as they are throughout the rest of the state, we would be ill prepared — for two reasons: 1. It simply doesn’t snow in December, and 2. The city, for whatever reason, does not use salt to cure roads on the rare occasion that it does snow. I learned this while writing an article last year about businesses that depend on winter weather. Instead, Athens uses a saltwater anti-icing concoction that actually wreaks havoc on roads and the cars that drive on them.

Perhaps it’s the salt truck drivers who are wishing for rain instead of snow. Other city workers are wishing that somebody else would take down all the lights and wreaths they decorated Court Street with last month.

This year, in light of Ohio University’s quarter-to-semester switch and the company of students in December, the city outdid itself in trimming each tree and topping each light post with ribbons and wreaths, even broadcasting Christmas carols over the loud speakers. After 21 years of living in Athens, I am almost certain those speakers have never been used for anything other than tornado sirens. The lights were strung just a little heavier this year, and the horse-drawn sleigh rides ran just a little more frequently.

Rainy Court St

Some townies were so overwhelmed by the boost in holiday spirit that they threatened to move from Athens for good (no lie)! I’m not complaining, although I bet whoever has to take the decorations down is.

In addition to the upsurge in holiday spirit, there was also an increase in the popularity of Athens-related gifts this year: Athens Brick memorabilia, photos of the town from Lamborn’s Studio and ornaments with “Athens” painted on them from Mountain Laurel Gifts. Written on nearly every storefront window and sidewalk chalkboard were the same two words: “shop local.”

Christmas is a time when townies take the most pride in their turf. Thinking about my final winter break as a townie-slash-OU-student makes me a little nostalgic, but all the townie pride that comes with Christmas reminds me that I’ll always be an Athenian at heart.