I went to Mecca last year.
I skipped out on a couple of Friday classes, packed a backpack with a change of clothes, and hopped on a train to New York. I helped a man whom I had never met before pick up his son and rode up to the Bronx with the two of them. I waited on line for a good 45 minutes until the gates were finally opened to me, and I was able to enjoy the rites of the millions of other worthy pilgrims before me. I sat with my hot dog and Diet Coke, enraptured by one of the last three games ever at the old Yankee Stadium.
Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I’m from Los Angeles. I’ve been passionately and undividedly a Dodgers fan since before my two-year-old self thought that the right fielders looked like ants from the bleacher seats where I spent my first game. As a fan of any team, though, going to Yankee Stadium was a duty for me on par with studying for exams; the place is a collection of concrete and steel and memories, one of the few buildings that can have a “Monument Park” without a stigma of being pretentious or seeming like a war memorial.
The stadium is a shell now, an official relic that awaits the wrecking ball. Its replacement stands across the street, ready to open tomorrow with its first exhibition game. However, I’m not fooled, and I have no pressing urge to visit this new $1.6 billion palace with its sparkling limestone facades. It’s got the same dimensions as the old park, the same famed scalloping above the upper deck, but it’s ultimately a beautifully constructed statue, an echo of the living, breathing field of New York dreams that will soon cease to be.
There is an obsession that people have with the shining and the new, an unwavering belief that a fresh coat of whitewash on the walls (or, in this case, an entirely new set of walls) is better than the grime and age. But dirt and decay often come only with the accumulation of years and the history they contain. It’s so easy to misinterpret when the ghosts that roam the halls are more valuable than the halls themselves, but when it happens, it can be irreparable and unforgiving. It’s the same reason why Penn has renovated Fisher and the Palestra, but we’ve been content to let other buildings fall by the wayside. Newer school buildings like Skirkanich or the dental school may look good on their own, but they’re garish as a part of the larger campus. They simply don’t fit with our aesthetic; we’re the Quad, not Huntsman, graceful in our proverbial gray hair and the experiences they’ve come with. Our brick spires speak of our own stories — we don’t need a shining artificial mimicry to gleam.