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Bubble Trouble

Opinion | November 25, 2013

Amidst the hectic day-to-day of campus life, the Tisch roof serves as a refuge for students as they watch the sun set over the Boston skyline. But how many students actually bother to go into that city on a regular basis? The distance between Tufts and those skyscrapers, whether actual or perceived, creates the idea of a “Tufts Bubble.” Fair or unfair, this implies that we as college community hold ourselves separate from the towns around us, and more importantly, the big city across the river.

Since moving from Carlisle, MA to Tufts, I’ve experienced the effects of the bubble firsthand. On campus, I find myself watching Celtics basketball games online. I like watching the remarkable feats of athleticism on display, even if this year’s Celtics are, for the most part, a putrid corpse of a team playing solely for the NBA Draft. I like watching coaches strategize, knowing that no plan fully survives contact with the enemy, and the simplicity of having my team. But most of all, watching the games reminds me of times when I have seen them in person. What’s interesting about those memories is how many of them don’t actually involve the games themselves. Rather, I remember packed train cars and headlights flashing in the alleys near the Garden just as much as I remember this rejection or that thunderous dunk. Going to the games is as much about the act of going as it is about the games themselves. This isn’t because the trip to the Garden is always perfect, but because I love the games so much—when I set out, I know that the destination will be worth it, which frees me to appreciate the journey more.

These memories are all from last year, though. I haven’t made the pilgrimage yet while at Tufts. The dynamic will be somewhat different: there will be the long subway ride under the city and over the river, and the hope of catching the Joey back up the hill tempered with the underlying realization that it’s never there. On one level, this change seems unwelcome, and with good reason: do I want to trudge across Boston in the dead of winter, especially if my team just lost? Even after a victory, do I want to sit on the train until the second-to-last stop, as people disembark and leave me alone in increments? One thing of which I am confident, among all this change, is that pregame excitement will always trump petty problems like weather or traffic. Perhaps the most depressing thing about coming back from the games isn’t the material result, but rather the knowledge that I am executing a sort of dénouement. However, it must be made clear that the excitement of going almost always outweighs the bleakness of returning.

Amongst all that optimism, though, the distance remains somewhat daunting. Tufts orbits Boston at an awkward distance, close enough to be with the city, too far to be part of it. If Tufts is England, Boston is Europe; if Boston is the Earth, Tufts is the Moon. It is near and distant in a way that is simultaneously tantalizing and disenchanting. Boston is where Tufts students go on the weekend—if there’s nothing better to do on campus, if it’s not too cold, if the Joey runs on time.

It is important to note our geographic barriers from Boston when talking about the Tufts Bubble. I already mentioned the river—the storied Charles—and the hill. I haven’t yet mentioned the miles of city between Tufts and the heart of Boston, the hours of walking, the inefficiency of the trains, the traffic, the simple fact that cities are constructed in such a way to make blocks into continents and rivers into oceans. On some level, there is a bubble due to the rigid calculus of distance and time. In fact, forty-six out of sixty-seven of my peers agreed on social media that the Tufts Bubble has its origins in simple distance.

I can’t help but think, though, that distance doesn’t explain all of it. The distance to Boston is, after all, what we make of it. The journey is shorter, or at least seems that way, when I have something to look forward to at the end; this stands in stark contrast to the interminable length of a mundane shopping trip undertaken over a much shorter mileage. There is that slippery element of perception at play here, one that seems present in much of the student body. The Tufts Bubble may arise from geography, but it is strengthened by the perception of distance and separation from Boston.

So what can we do about this? First, we should see the Bubble as what it is: a perception. Then, well, do to it what any conscious person can do to a restrictive perception: try to change it. If Boston is Europe or the Earth, then build a tunnel through the Channel or launch the Apollo rockets. This isn’t a complete solution—the geographic distance still remains, and the power of positive thinking is hard to pull off when the Joey is late, or the train is slow, or traffic is unbearable. But it is crucial to take away that since perceptions are involved, that means the Bubble can be changed on a personal level. Tufts as a whole is certainly wrapped up in a big bubble, but I’ve got my own little Tufts Bubble, and you’ve got yours, and those are a little easier to deal with. Getting out of the Bubble and having an adventure across the Charles can be as simple as convincing yourself that it’s worth it.

It all goes back to the pilgrimage, for me at least. I expect I’ll get to go sometime soon, hopefully in the next few weeks. I have the ideal scenario sketched out: I’ll walk down the hill along my familiar route. I’ll bump my wallet against the card reader, marvel for a moment at the world wherein rubbing plastic against plastic lets me magically pay for a subway ride. I’ll ride over the river, meet Dad with the tickets, get dinner, complain about the team; watch a valiant loss or maybe a close win, and feel ambivalent either way, the internal debate being between ooh the draft and wait, winning is fun. Afterwards, I’ll ride the train back, and it will feel slower despite my best intentions to view it otherwise. The next day, my mind will shift Tufts back into orbit around Boston, but hopefully I’ll remember that it’s not a truly vast gulf separating them, just a river and a few city blocks.