Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rochester: A Study

The graduate student is an exotic creature, prone to idiosyncrasy which baffles scientists to this day. One tradition, a leftover from the juvenile and adolescent phases, is the class trip, a group ritual marked by unexpected travel and huge amounts of noise. Our intrepid hosts have had the chance to observe a graduate "class" (name for a group of said students) on one of these fascinating journeys.

The ritual of the class trip begins at 3:00 AM, when the graduate student is roused by a series of alarm clocks. After confusedly fumbling for the traditional garments of a winter coat and toque, the student walks through the streets of Siberia Toronto. In a display of characteristic wimpiness, the graduate student decides that it is too cold to bother and summons a passing cab driver, who safely escorts her to the house of her herd-mate. The herd-mate (only half awake himself) is summoned by a barrage of increasingly desperate texts, punctuated with the profanity contemporary to the era. Another cab is acquired, and the students continue to the house of a third herd-mate. As a new parent, the third herd-mate is accustomed to a lack of sleep, and is disgustingly cheerful. The three students arrive at the university at 5:30 AM and proceed to the all-night McDonald's down the street, as is traditional.

At 6:30, the herd has gathered, led by the Professor (head of the herd), who ushers them onto the bus. Unlike the usual vehicle, this bus is very comfortable and quite small, allowing for easy communication between the students (though some express distress at its lack of electrical outlets, which leads to the Fight for the Portable Charger, a conflict becoming increasingly common in travel). The Professor's second-in-command, the Keener, organizes a "headcount", which will be repeated every time the students board or exit the bus, in order to ensure that no one is abandoned in Upstate New York. Though the graduate student is prone to be egocentric, sneaking free food at local gatherings and holding others captive with what is known as "the thesis spiel", it occasionally exhibits altruistic tendencies.

Though some of the students will use the peaceful beginning of the road trip to rest for the coming day, others may engage in customs specific to travel. Road trip games are a valued part of group travel. Unusually, this caffeinated early-morning group chooses the game of Truth Or Dare, traditionally played late at night after consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Many of the herd choose to abstain.

(A section of this report has been removed as a condition of publication)

After just over an hour of travel, the graduate students reach an international border (division between claimed territories of various sub-populations), an event which is greeted with grumbling and a few nervous jokes. Today, the border functions with uncharacteristic efficiency, processing nineteen people in a little over ten minutes, even though some students have joined the herd from distant lands. Like the graduate student, the border guard also appears to dislike early mornings.

Upon successful entry into the range of Homo Americanus, the graduate students enter the next stage of the trip, called The Greasy Road Stop Breakfast. Once everyone has partaken in the Ceremony of Coffee, the group proceeds to engage in Small Talk, an event which is met with varying success. Large quantities of unhealthy, delicious food are consumed - as is traditional. The graduate students learn, with alternating interest and disgust, about the existence of grits.

During breakfast, the students have an idea to visit the landmark of Niagara Falls, as is traditional among humans of the Canadian range. After careful negotiations with the navigator of the herd (henceforth known as The Driver), the graduate students manipulate the planned path on the return journey. The bus driver begins counting the days until retirement.

After about an hour of (mercifully quieter) travel, and attempting to pronounce Upstate New York place names - "Chili" turns out to be "Chye-lye" - the herd arrives in Rochester. They are immediately ushered into the museum, and separated into the Film and Photo tribes. This reporter cannot account for the experiences of the Photo students; however, she can report the route taken by the Film students. Initially, the group is taken underneath the museum, into the archives. This is a treat for all - endless cans of film are lined up along the shelves, some of which came directly from film student deity Martin Scorsese, and the legendary organization known as the Warner Bros. The graduate students are reduced to awed silence (and the occasional shiver, both from the importance of the material before them and from the cold temperature of the storage facilities). Truly, they are in the presence of a treasure. The film ephemera storage proves no less exciting, despite the revelation of Bela Lugosi in a genuine Dad Sweater.

The Film students are subsequently taken to the facility's theatre, which is equipped for exhibiting nitrate film, one of the few theatres in the United States that is permitted to do so. (It's outright illegal in Ontario.) Nitrate film, one of the few substances that can turn an ordinary archival job into an action movie, and the item responsible for killing Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, was the film stock of choice for the first several decades of the medium. This begs the question as to why the powers-that-be ever decided that the use of a carcinogenic material that burns underwater was a good idea. However, the graduate students are entranced by the novelty, and agree that it will be a great experience to return to the local film festival in April, where this stock will be presented.

After the traditional visit to the gift shop, along with the current trend of complaining about local currency, the Film students are reunited with their Photo brethren over lunch. Introduced to their Rochester counterparts, the students enjoy sandwiches and tell the locals of their customs, in the hopes of forging an alliance against the forces of "No One Knows What Your Field Is, Go Into Accounting Instead".

Lunch is concluded, and the graduate students are ushered into the larger museum, which preserves the home of The Deity George Eastman. Amongst nineteenth-century furniture and carvings of dead animals, the group is treated to a glimpse of life in the home of a great innovator. The students enjoy the beautiful architecture, and it is generally agreed that being wealthy in the early twentieth-century is a "pretty epic way to live, oh my GAWD did you see that dining room". Lots of photographs are taken, lots of items coveted. Many images are 'grammed for public viewing, as The Millennial Decree of Oversharing (2011) explicitly states that no modern picture may be shared without a filter.

Left with free time to explore the museum, the students are unleashed upon the exhibits, as well as the gift shop once again. (Due to the aforementioned currency problem, shopping activities are mostly confined to the imagination.) A display on the history of James Bond paired with ornithology (?) is of particular note, with much speculation devoted to how on earth the artist got Halle Berry to pose.

As the afternoon wanes, the students are collected and corralled back onto the bus. Though they put up an effort at their usual rambunctiousness, the herd is exhausted from the day's efforts, and so they rest (awakened briefly by a stop at Arby's, an unknown location in the herd's natural range). Experiencing a burst of energy known as a "second wind" in the early evening, the group takes control of the bus's speaker system, encouraging two students from distant lands to teach them the secrets of their native language (mostly slang) and playing the teachings of the goddess Adele on an incessant loop. One student attempts to narrate the best landscapes of Upstate New York, but he is quickly booed back to his seat. After another surprisingly quick journey through the international border, the group diverts to Niagara Falls, where they take (surprise!) more photographs to commemorate the occasion. The bus driver is in surprisingly good humour, despite essentially having been kidnapped.

The herd safely arrives in Toronto. All agree that the day's adventures have been more than satisfactory, and the individuals return to their respective dens. So tired that she is almost hallucinating, the graduate student returns to the comfort of her bed, looking forward to another weekend of that time-honoured exercise - The Procrastination of Netflix. This day trip to another land, exhausting as it was, has been most excellent.


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