The Hotel at Oberlin’s Retail Space: This is Not a Metaphor?

 Last Friday, the Review missed an opportunity to report on a truly remarkable piece of sensationalism: a gold Prius, driving through three panes of glass at The Hotel at Oberlin on Thursday, May 2. Here were all the makings of a great story: drama, action, intrigue, no one getting hurt — and yet my colleagues at this publication let you down. For the sake of “not enough facts” and “come on, this isn’t a story,” we settled on something like “a picture speaks a thousand words.” You can see for yourself the grainy cellphone image of the incident, published last issue. Technically, it gets the point across.

But in the crash’s immediate aftermath, something struck me. As I stood there watching the broken glass being swept away, the car being removed from the sidewalk, listening to scattered Doc-Marten-wearing onlookers murmuring into their iPhones that something, uh, weird has happened — but no don’t worry, no one was hurt — I realized that it was all wrong. The goldfish-bowl main lobby of the Hotel itself was untouched. It was the mysterious “retail space” that had been shattered, picked open like a hideous, gilded scab.

The wall of glass that separates the retail space from the outside world is particularly useful as a mirror to side-glance at yourself and wonder if you walk weirdly. (Too much heel-toe? Not enough? Should my arms be moving more?). But until the Prius pierced the veil, I had given very little thought as to what could be lurking behind its serene, glassy surface — lurking beneath my very own reflection — until now.

And as it turns out, it’s nothing short of ominous — a strange, cavernous dungeon, gravel-floored, cement-pillared, emanating odors of mystery and deceit. The truth of it was only exposed for one glittering moment before workers came to board it up, but I resolved to fix it into my memory for the good of the people. Is this something that we paid for? It’s a well-known and well-grumbled urban legend that some portion of student tuition went into building the Hotel. Could it be possible that we are complicit in this eyesore? If so, can’t we get, like, a Chili’s in there or something?

When I did my extremely minimal research into the space, I could find no listings for it — not even any indication on the Hotel’s website that it exists. And it only becomes more disturbing the more you think about it. What kind of retail space doesn’t have a door to access a popular, well-trafficked street? Seems like any hypothetical business would be in trouble if no one could get in — or, I would argue, out. But maybe that’s the point. What could they be hiding from us?

Now, my walk past those panes of glass has taken a sinister turn. No longer do I give myself a quick scan (cute socks) before heading across the street to Slow Train Café, Tank Hall, or wherever the rest of the world may call me. Now that I know what hellish dungeon lies behind those walls, I have to wonder: What does it mean that we have been kept in the dark so long? Could a Prius smashing through the façade of a profitable storefront to reveal its decaying skeleton be a metaphor for Oberlin College, or even the future of the liberal arts in America?

Of course not. That would be a total bummer. Instead, I would now like to offer a list, still ongoing, of possible uses for the empty space:

A Chuck-E-Cheeses’; a Dave and Busters; a Chili’s; a Chili’s To-Go; a mirror maze like the one from Us; a large indoor pool shaped like my face; a permanent, 24-hour pie-eating competition; a BDSM dungeon (we’ve already got the dungeon part); an aviary; an underground fallout bunker; an Anthropologie but it’s only the clearance section; endless fields of strawberries and wheat that can rustle against your bare legs as you await your gladiator husband’s return from war; an empty retail space that isn’t a metaphor for anything.