Wednesday Wild Card: The Lobby (a.k.a. Those Were the Days!)

January 13, 2009

I happened across a little homemade video on the web yesterday, and the sound track that the video creator used was Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” from about 1982 or 83.    Wow, did that song take me back to high school and college! It was one of my all-time favorites. I made a comment about the song on facebook and inadvertently started a very small movement among some of my friends (particularly the girls) who felt like dusting off their old Chicago albums and playing them today.

I also received a comment from another college friend, John Reynolds, who liked the song and emailed me a link to the original video. Then he mentioned that some of his best memories from Milligan College were of “sitting on the couch in Sutton watching the early days of MTV 80’s videos with 37 other people, right before we went in to eat.”

So true, John… so true.

I went to Milligan and lived in Sutton Hall from 1985 to 1989. Being the small college that it was (and still is, although it is about twice the size it was in the 80s… but I digress), Milligan had one dining hall, and that dining hall was located on the first floor of my dorm. Additionally, everyone who lived on campus in those days was on the meal plan. All this is to say that pretty much everyone at the school went to Sutton at least a couple times a day, whether they lived there or not… and the lobby was a major hangout location.

Before meals, when we were waiting for the cafeteria doors to open, we sat in the lobby. After meals, when we had put up our trays but didn’t have anything in particular to do just yet, we sat in the lobby. After classes, when we’d just walked up that huge hill with all our books, we would burst through the doors into the lobby to crash on one of the massive couches for a few minutes. People who didn’t live in Sutton sometimes cut through our lobby from the side door to the front, just to see if anything was going on.

As our paths crossed in the lobby each day, we would stop and chat with each other. Exchange class notes. Read the bulletin boards. Wait for the cafeteria to open. But mostly, we watched TV. And what was on TV?  Back then, almost exclusively, on any given TV in any given dorm lobby on that campus, we watched MTV.  We watched videos, and more videos, and more videos. Occasionally someone would change the channel, but that never seemed to last very long.

The lobby was also where many of us witnessed the Space shuttle disaster of 1986. It happened right around lunch time and so many of us were glued to the TV, which for once was not playing videos.  I recall standing there behind the long couch, a crowd of students gathered in front and all around. I was ready to head out the door to class, but kept waiting just another minute to watch that unbelievable footage one more time.

The lobby was where we witnessed the 24-hour “Madonna – True Blue” marathon. Yes, MTV had some sort of contest where people from all over had submitted their homemade videos using her “True Blue” song as the soundtrack. So for 24 hours solid, we heard that song. Over and over and over and over. And over. My husband asked me earlier how the song went, and I’m no Madonna fan, but I instantly started humming the tune and singing the chorus. Because it was drilled into my head 20-odd years ago.

The lobby was also where I found myself alone very late one Halloween night, watching the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie. By myself. In the dark. It was one of those situations where you start watching, and you get scared, but you are in this big dark empty room and you don’t want to leave your seat because the boogey man will get you. But you can’t get up and turn the TV off, either. Because of the boogey man. So you wait and wait and wait and then finally some random person comes through the lobby doors, and you get up and turn off the TV as though you were just heading upstairs anyway, and you’re all, “yeah, so how was your Halloween? Did you do anything fun?”

When there was a special event on campus — anything involving a banquet — the lobby became a little like your elderly neighbor’s living room: you would want to go sit on the couch, but you couldn’t quite get comfortable. There would be actual grown-ups milling about, wearing real dress-up clothes. The college would adjust dinner hours so that all the students would be out of the cafeteria well before the adults showed up. It was like your parents had a party, but they made you get ready for bed early and told you not to come downstairs. Sometimes I would come bounding down the stairwell on my way somewhere, and see the crowd of fancies, and turn around and head back upstairs until they went away. Sometimes I would sit just out of sight and listen to the jumbled conversations. Sometimes after they were all in the cafeteria with the doors shut, I would go back down to the lobby and walk quietly over to the closed doors and peek in the crack to see what they were doing.

Sutton Hall’s lobby was just a big room with high ceilings and parquet floors. It had clunky furniture that was meant to survive years of beatings before being replaced. But I think back now to how much time I spent there, and I smile. When I visit campus these days, I always like to walk through at least once. Things have changed over the years, but I still remember vividly what it was like to stroll into that lobby after a meal, plop down on the couch, and just sit. Music playing in the background. Friends chattering about the day’s events. The clinking of silverware coming from the dining hall. No real responsibilities on my plate. The biggest decision before me being whether to watch more MTV, or perhaps go for a walk… just as soon as I rest my eyes for a few minutes.

Those were the days!



  1. I gotta send my dad to read this one. It’s great!!

  2. Sutton lobby was awesome! I remember sitting and waiting for lunch and watching “closet classics” on MTV – the Doors, Jimmy Hendrix, etc… But my best memory of Sutton lobby is my first kiss with Sarah – in the corner of the stairwell. A moment I’ll never forget 🙂

  3. I was there! I remember groaning when ‘Thriller’ would come on because it was such a LOO-ONG video. But fun, too. I always wanted to dance like that.

    I remember the fancies, as you put it, down in MY dorm lobby, milling about, letting the cold air into my parquet box!

    I also remember cuddling with my then-boyfriend, he was so cute, on the furniture in the quiet half of the room (closer to Jim’s door). He’s still pretty cuddly.

    I even attempted to make a cake in the kitchen/dungeon of that lobby. It was for a NT or OT project, I think. Crazy memories!

    Thanks Laura for the jumpstart…

  4. Oh, how I loved Sutton’s lobby! You’ve captured it so well. I remember how we used to rush out at maybe exactly noon to watch Closet Classics. That was my favorite MTV.

  5. Oh my Gosh I am going to cry….Laura have you ever thought of writing your memoirs… this whole memories thing is making me just way to emotional lately. Thanks for sharing ….

  6. Laura, great job capturing the common experience for so many of us … “I want my MTV”. I don’t think I’ve watched MTV more than 5 minutes since Milligan. I’ll never forget the wave of people rushing out of the cafeteria into the lobby to see the news of the shuttle tragedy. All the dorm lobbies had their own culture. I don’t remember “True Blue”, but probably anyone who lived in Pardee Hall during our time could recite the entire script of “Beverly Hills Cop” without missing a line.

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