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Mackenzie Patel

Hello all. By this point, my readers already know what a bizarre character I am: a Waffle House weirdo that writes too much. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that I dawn crawl my campus quite often—about twice or three times a month. There is something so attractive about slinking around campus, alone and without makeup, at 6:00 a.m. It sounds serial killer, but the silence of the sidewalks and the neon of the lights creates a deserted movie set, a school grade diorama without the people. The Florida heat hasn’t crept into my shirt—my hair is frizzy with the morning damp—and the Gatorade trucks are unloading their juice. Backpack on and laptop cradled: it looks like I’m walking to class, except every student is asleep and the classrooms are black. I’ve never seen Night Crawler before, but I imagine I resemble Jake Gyllenhaal with his bruised eye bags, twitchy mien, and hoody. I don’t haunt mainstream campus; I skulk in those crevices of UF that normal students don’t know about. Also, 6:00 a.m. is the optimal time for nighttime exploration and maximum isolation. The drunkards are passed out, the pedophiles are reading Lolita, and the lovers are between sheets. I’m safe and alone as I stake out my cove, open my laptop, and write stories until dawn breaks and Humans stir. Below are the locations I’ve prowled, usually on a Saturday or Sunday while most Gainesvillians are snoring.

  • McKethan Baseball Stadium

This stadium is the hipster’s dream: it’s the runty version of Ben Hill, less flashy and more intimate. I’ve been there 4 times (2 a.m., 10 p.m., 5 a.m., 6 a.m.), although seeing a baseball game was never on the agenda. I don’t even like baseball; it’s monotonous and dusty.  The first two times were forgettable nighttimes, but the third and fourth times: exquisite. That Sunday of the 15th was silence of the black; even the Gatorade trucks were missing. The sunrise percolated through the atmosphere, dumping blush and lilac and peach into the sky. The clouds streaked into a gator head as the sun peeped out of Ben Hill stadium into McKethan. The day after—MLK Day—I hiked the bleachers again, settling into the scorebox crevice with my laptop and fennel tea. Stillness, the comforting kind in which loneliness is needed, settled between the concrete and plastic seats. The wooden desk in the top row was made so I could type on it. Shower towel down, lid opened like a box of donuts. And I wrote an essay about how fantastic Gator Basketball was—jingoistic and sappy, but I was feeling free throws and Alberta swag just then. When the sun was properly awake (and in my eyes), I left for Starbucks, damp hair and burned tongue but content. This sentiment is hard to articulate: when creativity is pulled out of thin air during unusual hours. The best part was, I was 100% safe because if someone wanted to attack me, I could see them sprinting up the bleachers in advance. Go Gators, Go Stalker Safety.

  • Rawlings Parking Garage

This was mildly sketchy. Parking garages in and of themselves have rape, theft, and drug deals etched into them, but I felt safe with my pink bottle of mace and Gator1 ID. I was sick and frozen, but “do it for the article” was in my thoughts. The top floor was deserted except for a few UF service vans and a black pickup truck near the staircase. The whole situating/car/and/myself was problematic, and I drove around like an idiot for ten minutes, seeking the optimal spot. I ended up backing my car towards the railing, opening the trunk and nestling myself in fleece blankets and reusable Publix bags. Except the horizon was obscured by concrete….and my fingers froze to the keyboard…and I still had an hour until sunrise. The sketch level was skyhigh as well, for nothing was visible behind me and I couldn’t turn my neck to check. Silence was punctuated only by the rumble of Interstate trucks on Museum Road. I caved, okay? This was a dawn crawl fail, a lesson-in-being-alone masterpiece. Admitting defeat, I drove home around 6:15 p.m., ate tea and biscuits, and reluctantly bused to class at 8:30 a.m. The garage was a peaceful kind of paranoia, and the O’Connell Center curiosity is the next one on my list.

  • Secluded Staircase of Ben Hill Griffin

Signs such as “If you climb this railing, you will be arrested” and “No point of entry: access denied” are mere suggestions to me now. If you don’t get caught, it’s ridiculously legal. Ben Hill Griffin, the monster stadium that defines UF, is a vantage point for everything boozy and beautiful. It was the Sunday before Spring Break started, so campus was a ghost town and I was a braided relic left behind. The stadium was shuttered closed—except this one stairwell with the above signage tacked to the prison-like doors. I craned my neck—breathed faster—and scanned the concrete around me; I didn’t see anyone, so I flitted up the nine flights of stairs. Bird droppings and ice cream cups littered the stairs, but the chinks of sunrise begged me to go higher. And higher. Until I was burning-thighs and panting but faced with a painted sky.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”

–Sylvia Plath

The world was exquisite. Everything, from Century Tower to the lopsided crosswalks outside Gator Dining, was pinkish and blue. I didn’t bring my laptop to write, mostly because I needed a quick getaway if I got caught {I didn’t}. The bleachers below were dwarfed by the skyline—and the silence lurked while I Snapchatted. Paranoia appeared at 6:55 a.m., so I quit the stairs in a tizzy and ran to the O’Connell Center parking lot. The top floor was empty; not one car or UF service van or fornicating couple stained the complex. So, I ran a few laps. And climbed concrete railings to taste tall air. I could envision myself twirling on the lined pavement—next dawn crawl?

  • The observation tower at the intersection of Gale Lemerand and Mowry

Being this keen on heights should be illegal. Climbing this transformer-like eyesore might also be illegal, but I skipped up the stairs either way. It was a Friday morning of Archer Road traffic, but I roused myself at 6 to witness the day saying hello. Except it was cloudy. I waited for the sun to scatter the clouds like the Teletubby Baby, but it never happened. The gray became angrier as the traffic became louder. And there I was, a dark-haired acrophiliac with leggings and a laptop, perched atop this tower like one of Gandalf’s eagles. Scribbling away at a journal entry, I hardly noticed when dawn slipped into day and Starbucks was officially open. One side of the tower faced Gale Lemerand; the other confronts a forest of bare tree trunks, hunched so close together they resemble a twiggy quilt. The boardwalk underneath was humming with bicyclists who’d occasionally look up. And I typed and typed, 1300 words about kissing and accounting recorded in the overcast. Century Tower is historic and pseudo-ivy and Carillon crazy, but you can’t climb it.

*Update: I revisited this Tower the morning of the Ben Hill Griffin rendezvous. Clarity and chill transformed this tower from a cloudy outlook to an aluminum lighthouse.

The four o’ clock alarm is heinous, but after the initial ‘I’m a goddamn idiot,’ I relish the peace and silence of the roads, the crosswalks, Turlington Plaza. Writing to these Tequila Sunrises are surreal, like I’m narrating a Dalí canvas. The rest of the day is yawning and half-caffeine coffee, online homework, and the dullness of standard hours. I used to adore 2 a.m. but too many people are still awake at that time. But at 4:30 a.m.? Even the insane are dreaming, leaving me three hours of seclusion within thousands.

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