Editor’s note: Off Campus is a social experiment of student writers paying it forward. Cusetonight and the Syracuse New Times are partnering on this project by asking local university and college students to write an article with one standing rule: “You can only write about off campus experiences.” Once we receive an article, we ask the student writer to pass the torch to another student to complete the next installment.
By Malinda A Masing SYRACUSE (Cusetonight) - The bus is almost always late, which is fine because I am almost always late for the bus. It’s cold outside: my hands are slightly numb and I’m sure my nose is red. I yawn and my breath is a white cloud that dissolves before me. The bus pulls up to the curb and I gingerly step inside, nodding to the driver as my headphones scream into my ears. I find an empty seat and look out the window as the bus begins its slow descent from the Syracuse University Hill into downtown and ultimately my destination: the Redhouse.
Rewind. It’s the summer before my Junior year, the summer I begin to work in the Redhouse Café. I just returned from studying abroad in Israel and decide to stay in Syracuse for the summer instead of returning home to California. I don’t stay because of my great love of this odd Upstate New York city; it is a financial reason. I have a lease out on a house, plane tickets back to California are expensive and most significantly, I am broke.
After filling out endless applications, mostly for restaurant jobs around the university area, I stumble across a Craigslist advertisement looking for a person to work in the café at the Redhouse. I apply, and am asked to come in for an interview.
The summer is warm and the sky isn’t marred by rainclouds or freak thunderstorms. I bike everywhere and this includes my interview. I whip my bike into the parking lot of the Redhouse and chain it to a nearby post. I look up at the building. Two weathered manequins on the roof beckon me in. I enter through two sets of polished double doors and find a long lobby lined with large tables. The café is at the end and my interview awaits.
The building is odd. It is tall and made of red bricks. A peculiar blimp-structure on the roof, accompanied by the pair of mannequins, seductively looms over Fayette street. The location is strange as well, on the cusp of bustling downtown Syracuse and the more modest Westside. I will later hear rumors that the building obtained it’s name, not from the red brick it is made of, but from it’s shadowy past. It used to be a brothel. Inside there is a small theatre, gallery and café.
To my surprise, I am hired. I hit the ground running, getting a crash course as a barista, learning the foam-to-milk-to-espresso differences of lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos and subsequently, how Starbucks has it all wrong.
The infrastructure of the Redhouse is also something new to grasp. It is a nonprofit organization putting on productions, events and educational programs. One night I am pouring beer out of a tap for an open mic, the following day I am serving an office woman a quiche for lunch and that evening I am uncorking a bottle of wine for a theatre patron during opening night. Events are always changing, new people wander into the café and I learn the names of regulars.
I also learn about the people working in the Redhouse, a medley of personalities that keep the place running. In the café, most employees are Starbucks ex-patriots, leaving the corporate work environment for a more organic one. The atmosphere in the Redhouse offers me an outlet from the East Coast culture I am still adjusting to and from the college culture that I am beginning to reject. It pulls me away from bubble that is SU Hill.
The seasons change and school begins. I fit my café schedule into my school schedule, and work most Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. I miss Thirsty Thursdays and most weekend parties. What a loss. I find myself less and less disappointed, and more content to go to work.
Fast-forward. It is now winter again and I am sitting in the bus that is taking me on my winding journey downtown.
The scenery changes between the world of SU and that of downtown. Lawns peppered with red Solo cups fade into the concrete of the road and the brick of buildings. Students are replaced by pedestrians. The Carrier Dome vanishes and Syracuse Stage emerges before me. The bus whisks me further away from the Hill until finally I am in the heart of downtown. Mobs of students and bicyclists are replaced by traffic. Classrooms are now storefronts. I change as well. I am not a student, but a member of the community.
The bus reaches it’s final stop at the Warehouse, and I exit. Instead of following my peers, the sleepy-eyed students who climb the steps to the Warehouse, I turn right and head to the Redhouse.
However, my time with Redhouse is cut short. I decide to study abroad in Jordan for the spring of my Junior year, and leave the country for the most intense four and a half months of my life. When I come back to the United States, I am tired and disheartened. I feel out of touch with everything and the prospect of returning to school is daunting. Reverse culture shock has crept up on me.
After two weeks in California and another two weeks on the road, I am finally back in Syracuse. Surprisingly, the uneasiness in my stomach is soon pacified as I start working back at the Redhouse, my second summer there.
It may be the fact that working gave me something else to think about and a purpose, which helped me settle back into US culture. But I also believe that the atmosphere of the Redhouse, again, made me feel like I belong here.
Presently, it is the fall of my senior year. I still work at the Redhouse, although some of the magic has worn off. The bus doesn’t transport me from the Hill to downtown anymore. Instead I moved closer to downtown and I drive. I still work most event nights but now that I’ve turned 21, I prefer a bar to working. I’ve come to realize many of the mysteries of the inner workings of Redhouse.
However, I still find Redhouse to act as a bridge, both for the community and personally. It links the Westside to downtown and the arts to the community. It’s productions act as a passage from fantasy to reality.
It has benefitted me three times, bridging the gap from university to community, West Coast to East Coast, and helped me readjust after living abroad.
The Redhouse linked me to the greater community of Syracuse and it will continue to act as a place that links communities and individuals.
Malinda Masing is a senior at Syracuse University majoring in Television/Radio/Film and International Relations. Her hometown is Escondido, California.
Find the Syracuse New Times installment of “Off Campus” – click the pic below: