Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
It was 10:20 p.m. when I left Willets on Friday night — 20 minutes after I usually try to get to sleep. As I stepped outside, I was affronted by the brisk temperature of 22 degrees Fahrenheit and the spitting of wet snowflakes. This weather was, perhaps, the most heinous crime of the night.
I had been invited to ride along with a Public Safety Officer by Director Michael Hill, so I lumbered towards the Benjamin West House and entered the warm building at 10:22 p.m. With Pub Nite occurring for the second time that week, and officers transitioning between second and third shifts, the room directly opposite the door was packed. Walking up to the window, I explained why I was there between shivers and was greeted by Corporal Joseph Theveny. After turning in a waiver requiring me to keep all student identities anonymous, I left the building with the officer and entered a Nissan kept at a toasty 74 degrees right outside.
Theveny was lucky to have a car, as there were eight officers on duty but only three vehicles. We made our first stop behind the Matchbox. Flashing his lights, Theveny aimed the car towards the athletic fields, revealing an empty expanse. He explained that this is a favorite place for local high schoolers to perform “illicit activities” and then leave behind their garbage. Apparently, they either do not respect Swarthmore’s athletic traditions or are unconcerned with the environmental consequences of not recycling beer bottles. Whatever the case may be, they clearly cared about the temperature, as there were no frozen high schoolers on the fields that night.
Driving around Swarthmore Borough and Nether Province, Theveny pointed out Swarthmore’s property in both towns. I saw Mary Lyons for the first time, as well as rows of houses staff members can rent from the College. Entire blocks, even neighborhoods, are owned by Swat; however, many of the properties seem to be abandoned and appear to be deteriorating.
At 10:53, we completed our first loop and parked outside the heating building near the Matchbox. As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Theveny examined various gauges inside to make sure everything was running smoothly. If it were not, he explained, the boilers could malfunction and explode. I started to get a little antsy as we meandered through the building, but was temporarily distracted from the fact that I was standing inside a bomb when Theveny he pointed out the entrance to the steam tunnels which, purportedly, run all the way to Parrish Hall’s basement. He noted that, when it snows, one can see the outlines of these steam passages where the snow melts. I wanted to know how to get up high enough to see this, but Theveny declined to offer any advice.
After another brief loop around campus we arrived at Clothier Hall at 10:59 p.m. We first stopped in at Pub Nite to make sure everything was safe—this was my first time at Pub Nite, and nothing about the situation personally appeared normal, but we let the partygoers be. We continued to close and lock open doors throughout the building.
We started a circuit around the campus again at 11:12 p.m., during which I learned about Pub Safe’s system of zones. Within Delaware County Sector Two, the entire campus is divided geographically into its north and south sides, which become zones one and two, respectively. Officers are assigned to these specific zones, so, if you knew the rotation, you could probably greet the person who responds to your call by name.
Driving behind the Science Center, Theveny and I agreed that there was a need for signs about beehives located right outside its doors. I had no idea they even existed until then, and will definitely not be rushing out of the building through any exits I haven’t used before.
Continuing, we reached Olde Club at 11:41 p.m. No events were registered that evening; however, in one of the windows, a light was on. Theveny stopped the car and we got out into the night (still cold), the eerie song of an electric guitar wafting through the air. It felt as if the two of us had stepped off Swarthmore’s campus and onto the set of 1950s detective movie. We started to climb the rickety stairs and I began to wonder what could possibly be going on, but we left the building almost immediately after entering — the “culprit” was a student with permission to practice there.
A tad upset there was no secret party to bust, I was intrigued when Theveny offered to show me the Olde Club basement, which I did not know even existed. After tripping down the concrete stairs, I stumbled into a dark room. Theveny flipped a couple switches, a few of the lights stuttered to life, and a large wooden ladder I was just about to stub my toe on came into view. The empty space was unsettling — the walls covered in drawings, the ceiling painted by mildew, and the stark emptiness fostered an atmosphere of forgotten nostalgia. I could almost hear the music, smell the beverages, and feel the liquids dripping from the ceiling, as Theveny claimed occurred, but felt also some strange melancholy at being in the place where these things would happen no more.
On that note, I left the basement, tripped going back up the stairs, and got back into the comfortable car. Circling around, we were called back to Ben West at 11:48 p.m., soon after which a fire alarm went off at Worth. I couldn’t help but sympathize with those who had to leave the comfort of their rooms so suddenly — if for nothing else, living in Willets has conditioned me for that. I followed Theveny and other officers in, and was immediately confronted by the aroma of burned popcorn. All of the microwaves were empty and the popcorn had been mysteriously removed from the kitchen before we got there, so the alarm was deactivated and we sauntered back to Ben West.
And with that, at 12:05 p.m., my ride-along ended. Exhausted, I collapsed in my bed and fell asleep as Theveny continued his shift.