[img id="77118" align="alignleft"] I was heaving my luggage past the sliding glass doors and onto the sidewalk at Midway Airport when two taxis full of U of C students slammed their doors and drove off. “Perfect,” I thought, nixing the notion that I’d be able to carpool and save some money. Then a grubby employee pointed a finger at me accusatorily.
“Hey you. Wanna cab?” There was a scary second when I was sure that this man was a crazy person, and yet I still confirmed that I did indeed need a cab. He stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic, halted it with only a glare, and signaled a free driver to come pick me up.
“Thank you,” I told him as the cab pulled up, to which he just grunted and walked away. At least the cabdriver, who had already begun retrieving my bags, was smiling kindly.
“Hello,” he greeted me with a thick African accent.
“Hello,” I said, and thanked him. We got in the cab, and I gave him my address.
“Oh, University of Chicago,” he said, staring at me intently through the rearview mirror. “I thought maybe Northwestern. You look like that.”
“Hmm.” I nodded noncommittally and looked out the window.
Though he continued to talk and stare, Garfield A. Dawodu was quite as cordial as I could have hoped. He asked the stock questions, like where I was from—“Tucson, AZ,” I answered—and ranted in good humor about why anyone would leave an 80-degree winter for one such as this. “Why,” he asked next, “did you not go to University of Arizona? It’s a very good school!”
“It’s only OK,” I responded.
“No, I know it’s good. My cousin went there for medical school. It’s very good. Not OK.” His eyes narrowed in the mirror. “Good.”
“You just wanted to move away from your parents, yes?”
“Well, I did, but that’s not why—”
“Then say that. Say you wanted to move away, not that University of Arizona is only OK.” He was suddenly edgy; apparently I had insulted his cousin. “Admit that’s why. Say it.”
“All right,” I falsely conceded, testily on the verge of comparing Chicago’s U.S. News and World Report ranking of 8 to Arizona’s 96.
“And what subject are you studying?” he persisted.
“Then why pay all that money?! University of Chicago is good, but it’s not known for that.”
“Well, neither is Arizona.”
The front seat went quiet, and the driver’s dark eyes flicked away from the mirror. “That’s true,” he muttered stonily, and a preening satisfaction rose in my chest. But really, I was baffled: Why would this guy try to throw down with me about Chicago, the school I attended, and Arizona, the school I had researched, lived in close proximity to, and turned down a full scholarship from, as if he knew more about either than me? Why, when he had until then been so kind and accommodating? I couldn’t help but muse, as I had a number of times before, that the U of C is often a victim of the most aggressive kind of ignorance.
It was like back home, where college education is often thought of as the few months of your life after which you decide that your career in hamburger-flipping is more worthwhile and deserves your full attention. It’s a stepping-stone, really—best skipped if possible. The average Tucsonan has heard of Yale and Harvard, but when I mention the University of Chicago, he hears only the name of the city.
“Ooh, Chicago,” he says. “But it’s so cold! Why would you want to move there?”
“Ooh, Chicago. I hope you have a warm coat.”
“Ooh, Chicago. Don’t get yourself shot.”
As if I’d moved 2,000 miles to just sit on a street corner in a bad neighborhood in the dead of winter. Mention, however, that you received a partial scholarship from Pima Community College, and you’re sure to get a hearty handshake and a yeehaw! But it’s not just Arizona. Even Chicagoans like my friend Garfield dismiss the U of C in place of popular mid-tier institutions.
Chicago, I’ve realized, is like the Jan Brady of universities, eclipsed on both sides by her snooty older sister with the famous name and her indiscriminating younger sister with the pretty face. A select few notice and appreciate Jan, but most don’t, and don’t care to. And just as I waited for the middle Brady to secretly poison her more popular sisters, I wait for Chicago to do the same, and rival Yale and Harvard in more than academics alone.
But in the end, Jan disappointed me. Rather than committing murder, she accepted her lot in life and continued on, as I imagine the U of C will too. I’ll have to make due with the world-class education, the bragging rights among the educated, and the knowledge that I can take any cabdriver who crosses me.