Springtime At "The Beach"

When temperatures rise, this is the place to be at Hopkins.

Maryland Journal

April 25, 2005|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Forget the groundhog or daffodils. The true sign that spring has finally arrived, at least on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus, is the magical transformation of a lawn into "the Beach."

As soon as the temperature rises above 70 degrees, Hopkins students flock to a sloping grassy knoll near 33rd and Charles streets to sun themselves, play catch, and do something they aren't known for: relaxing.

"It's good to be 19 and not have class," said Sabrina Must, a freshman from Detroit, as she took a break from throwing wobbly football spirals with her friends.

Yes, it must be good to be able to lie in the sun at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday without a care in the world, besides maybe finals or term papers. Students gather on the lawn, clustering in small groups around brightly colored blankets. Those in shorts lie in the sun while students in jeans cluster in the shade.

Jocks circle at the bottom of the hill, throwing footballs and baseballs, long-haired students toss Frisbees, a guy strums a guitar, while a few women rub suntan lotion on each other. Students walking to class look yearningly at the scene before lowering their heads and plowing ahead.

Most Beach lovers say they like the scene because it's so different from Hopkins' classrooms and labs. "People come here to relax. There are no rules here," says Doug Polster, a freshman from Bernardsville, N.J.

Technically, there is one. Students aren't supposed to drink. Hopkins officials banned outdoor alcohol consumption in 1997 after several acts of vandalism and a few fights in the area. But a few students still furtively sip from brown paper bags and, after bars close on weekends, some converge on the Beach to howl at the moon one last time.

There are also a few unwritten regulations, students agree. While everyone is welcome, few pre-med students or science majors come to the Beach. On a recent sunny day, all of the students interviewed, except one, said they were international relations majors.

And for a beach, there's surprisingly little skin. A few shirtless boys flex while throwing a football and a handful of girls sport bikinis, but most students are on break between classes and are fully clothed.

"We'll say: `Oh, that's kind of weird, a girl in a bikini,'" says Betsy Maragakes, a senior from Doylestown, Pa., who, true to form, was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Experienced Beach-goers also have learned to come prepared, especially if they live in an off-campus apartment.

When the weather looks warm, Stephanie Leaman, a junior from Grosse Pointe, Mich., puts on sunscreen in the morning and packs a blanket along with her books. "I also bring my sunglasses, not just my reading glasses," she says.

Maragakes packs another set of clothes and changes between classes in the library that lies at the top of the Beach. "You need to be comfortable," she says.

And therein lies the Beach's only drawback: With finals fast approaching, it's hard to ignore the library looming on the horizon, like a giant cloud threatening to blot out the sun.

Most stubbornly fight the urge to study. "I know I should be in there," says freshman Casey Branchini of Buffalo, N.Y., jerking her head toward the library. "But I think I'll study better after a break."

Freshman Must even brought her Spanish textbook to the Beach, but it stayed hidden in her backpack as she frolicked on the grass and talked with her friends. "I'll bring my bag out here and intend to work, but it never happens," she says, wiping away a thin sheen of sweat on her forehead and adjusting her nylon Detroit Pistons shorts.

Must describes herself as a "beach bum from the Midwest" and has an impressive tan already. She studies after the sun goes down and even makes an honest effort during the day, Must says. Sometimes.

"I was in the library Sunday for 20 minutes before I came out here," she says.

Of course, Hopkins students being Hopkins students, not everyone can resist the siren call of the books, especially since the university's wireless network extends to the Beach.

"It's too nice to work inside," said senior Nathan Cho of New Haven, Conn., as he fired up his computer to write a biomedical engineering paper. "But I still have to work."

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