by Ashley Duong
Aldrich Park, the heart of UC Irvine, bustles with activity throughout the school day, with thousands of students rushing across the grass to get to class, taking naps under the shade of the various eucalyptus trees and strolling along Ring Road to enjoy some fresh air and take a breather from the hustle and bustle of life as a college student. In the light of the day, the park is brimming with life and color, but as night closes in, it is often forgotten and abandoned.
What is Aldrich Park really like when classes are done for the day and students have gone home? To answer that question, I spent a night out in the park after dark, in an attempt to uncover the secret night-life of the campus.
The park has settled down for the night. With winter leaving the campus covered in darkness by six in the evening, the 19-acre park is devoid of activity and eerily lit up by the numerous lamps that dot across it. The torrential downpour from earlier in the day has left most of the ground slick and muddy, with the smell of dewy grass permeating the air. The benches seem to be the only viable options as a place to sleep for the night.
A patrol car drives through inner Ring Road, searching for potential squatters; a hard feat, especially in the dark, since they never step out of their car and the large eucalyptus trees within the park provide ample coverage for anyone attempting to hide from the patrolmen. The headlights from the car disrupt the calm darkness of the park, putting a brief, momentary spotlight on areas of the park that they drive by. The patrolmen take one-and-a-half laps around the park before driving off, probably viewing the rain to be enough of a deterrent to keep people from lingering in the park. They leave as quickly as they came, and the park is once again still and shrouded in darkness.
A pair of students walk through the park, engaged in a serious conversation about their relationship. A few minutes later, another group of students walk through, laughing loudly and calling out into the darkness. One screams, “Is anyone there?” as the rest of his friends continue to obnoxiously laugh. Their voices dominate the park as they walk through, amplified by the empty space and trailing off into nothingness as the students walk out of the park.
The temperature has dropped significantly into the mid and low 40s. Two sweaters, a rain poncho and a jacket do little to combat against the cold. Accompanied by a slight drizzle, the park is absolutely freezing, reaching its lowest temperature of the night: 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The middle of the park is pitch black, with no lamps around to provide any light. The rock structure towards the engineering buildings provides a nice cove area to rest and potentially sleep, if not for the used condoms that litter the ground and the nearby bushes. Apparently, many other students have also enjoyed a night in Aldrich Park.
Several owls fly from tree to tree, hooting to each other in a rhythmic pattern. Aldrich Park is the home to various species of nesting birds, many of whom make appearances during the day. Some (like the owls) make appearances during the night. The owls’ hoots, hidden in the night, make the park seem creepier and larger than it already is.
The park has truly been deserted. There are no more patrols or students, just the trees and the darkness of the night. Every small sound is amplified by the emptiness and lack of activity. The rustle of bushes from squirrels and raccoons sound more threatening than they really are.
The sun slowly begins to rise over the Social Science Towers. From within the park, the sunrise itself is obstructed until it reaches over the buildings. The sight is still magnificent, especially from the hill area by the Student Center, where the sun slowly illuminates all of the campus and the park, inch by inch. The park begins to come back to life, the presence of the sun spreading warmth and energy.
The sprinklers have come on in the park and maintenance workers are walking around and canvassing what needs to get done for the day. Their quiet chatter seems less intrusive than that of the students from earlier in the night.
Students have arrived on campus and are rushing through the park, attempting to get to class on time. A new day has begun in Aldrich Park.