With everyone returning to school, a very funny story from my past came to mind. It is a story of ingenuity and the fulfillment of the old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” It also points out how much things have changed since it happened.
It was 1975 and I was a sophomore at the University of Maryland. Although most everything was still done with pen and paper, computers in their primitive state were beginning to become part of our daily lives. They were huge and had great spools of tape. And cards, lots and lots of computer cards that were fed into the machines. After pre-registering for my spring classes during the fall semester, I forgot about it until one day when my computer card, which was supposed to have my class registrations, arrived in the mail. Besides my name, it was completely blank. I was registered for no classes!
In a panic, I called the school, and was told that I could just go to “drop-add” and add all my classes. Instead of relief, my panic worsened. Drop-add was the one thing that struck fear into the heart of every student. For two days at the beginning of each semester, the Armory at Maryland was transformed into a carnival of students dropping and adding classes. There were several thousand people inside at any given time during a two-day frenzy. Every class was represented, so there were hundreds of tables. People were running around, waiting in lines — it was the closest thing to Ellis Island that most of us would ever see.
And there was more. To make it fair, entry was determined by a lottery of last names, and kommeh tzuris (woe unto me) — the letter S was dead last! There were some special situations where you could get inside around the lottery, but how was I going to be able to add the classes I needed? By the time I got inside, they would all be filled and closed!
I couldn’t figure out what to do. The place was guarded like Fort Knox and ID’s were checked and scrutinized. Winter break came and I was working in the chicken market in DC for my grandfather. With tuition only $348 per semester, a month’s work gave me all the money I would need for school, including books. The money I made working for my father was my spending money. For a 19 year old, I was pretty self-sufficient!
And then, one morning, it hit me and a plan began to develop in my head. I remembered that downstairs in the Armory was a commercial kitchen. I figured out the way in. The morning of drop-add, I had one of the drivers put five boxes of chicken on the truck and we went out to Maryland. Pretending to be making a delivery, we went right in, not subject to any check. As the driver waited with the chickens downstairs, I ran upstairs and added every class I needed. They figured if I was inside I was supposed to be there, and as they say in Yiddish, “Mir macht nisht vissen dich” (make like you don’t know). The deed done, I went back downstairs. We put the chickens back in the truck and headed back to DC, mission accomplished.
The years passed and I graduated from Maryland in 1978. Drop-add is long gone, along with the 18-year-old drinking age, Cole Field House, and being allowed to smoke in class. Forty years later, the University of Maryland and the world in general are so vastly different. Now you can register on your phone.
In 2016 our son Matthew graduated and his departmental graduation ceremony was held in the same Armory where drop-add was once held. Confident that the statute of limitations had passed on my subterfuge, I went inside. How things had changed.
Once, I saw a bumper sticker that sums it all up. It said: “Be nice to me. I graduated college before the internet!”
NEXT TIME: To Mike or Not to Mike
By Larry Shor