Jami Garnett made his way back to Blacksburg for the William & Mary game for the first time since 2000! He shared his experience with us, and in turn we share it with you as a Voice of the Fan article.
After fourteen years away I finally came back to Blacksburg! In August of 2000, I packed up my car, ate a few wings with some friends and then three of us went over to Lane Stadium. My friends Kara, Chris, and I took a bunch of photographs around the stadium. We said our goodbyes and I took off. That was the last time I was in Blacksburg. This past Friday (August 29th), I finally came back home.
I live in Kansas and my wife is a Kansas State alum. We live an hour west of Manhattan, Kansas (home of KState) and we are there often. Every time we go there, I notice something new or that something has changed. This is usually within a few months or weeks apart, so I knew coming back to Blacksburg things would have changed drastically.
I flew into the airport in Roanoke. As soon as I got off the plane and set foot in the jet way, I had an excitement, an anticipation, for what I was about to see. I caught the Smart Way bus there and started to make my way to Squires. Driving on 81, I had flashbacks to all the times I drove from my parents’ house in Richmond to school. Shortly past Salem, we took an exit I had never seen before. When I left, “The Smart Road” was in the process of construction. It felt as if I was no longer on my way to Blacksburg. I kept my eyes open looking around for a familiar sight, but I could not find one. I got a call from my friend who was picking me up. She asked where I was, and I was lost. My quote to her was “I have no clue. All I know is I am on 460 next to Lowe’s.” She laughed.
On the bus, I continued to make my way to campus. At this point, I was the only person on the bus besides the driver. I told him how it had been awhile since being back on campus and for him to let me know once we were there. He told me we were on campus and at the CRC. None of that was there before. I was starting to wonder if I would feel the same connection to Virginia Tech as when I was a student.
Then all of a sudden, there it was. In the distance I started to see Lane Stadium! The sense of excitement that I had felt getting off the plane had returned. As we crossed Southgate Dr and continued on Spring Rd, Lane Stadium kept getting closer. Wow, the stadium is so much bigger, and pretty! The south end zone, the exterior, the lights, the scoreboard – they are all new to me. As we came to Washington St, I got to see my old dorms where I lived. The first year I lived in Pritchard, and Cochrane my second. My head was on a swivel looking at all of the old places I hung out, but at the same time taking in all the new buildings.
As the bus pulled up to Squires, I finally got my first sight of the bridge off Newman Library. Construction of that had only been going on for a few weeks when I left, so I wanted to make a point of seeing the finished product. Before the bus could come to a complete stop, I was up running down the aisle to get off and step foot on campus. Stepping out the door, I raced down to War Memorial. The smell in the air, the green grass of the Drillfield, people walking around, I felt like I was back in college.
Looking back up Alumni Mall I saw my ride; it was my old friend Kara. Kara and her family picked me up and started driving me around town. As we started to head down West Campus Dr, things all looked familiar until we came up to commuter lot. We really could have used that parking garage when I was a student. Driving down Prices Fork, you could tell how much the town of Blacksburg had really built up. I was not prepared to see so many businesses and corporate buildings around there. I was happy to see my old late night favorite place, Hardee’s, was still there tucked in between all of the new development. We then made our way out to Caldwell Fields where we would camp out this weekend. We were meeting another good friend of ours, Sean and his family, and another friend of their’s who is now a friend of mine thanks to Virginia Tech.
Saturday morning we got up early and headed into town. We went exploring down Main Street. Once again, it is amazing how much that has changed. It was good to see a few familiar places down there: Mike’s, Hokie House, Pk’s, the barber shop I went to, Cook’s Cleaners, and the old Bogen’s building. I know it is no longer Bogen’s, but it was good to see that familiar building. It was a good feeling knowing that the place where I spent a lot of my free time was still standing. I was surprised at how far out Main Street is built out. All of the new shops and apartment complexes really change the look of Main Street, but for the better in my opinion. Main Street in Blacksburg is what a main street in a college town should look like. I loved the fact that the front of Soulvaki’s still has all of the graves of our football victims. It feels easier to walk in front of Squires with how large the sidewalk is now. Seems these days there are a lot more people walking around Main Street going to different establishments and tailgates.
Tailgating is so much better these days. It is all over instead of just the few places around the stadium like it used be. We eventually made it to our tailgate and I can’t thank an old friend, Farley, enough for having us over. He and his family and their friends were warm and welcoming. Everyone had a good time sharing old stories, eating, having a couple of beverages, watching UVA football lose, and there was even an ALS Ice Bucket challenge. His family opened their house to us and a good time was had by all.
Close to game time we walked over to the stadium. With every passing step you could hear the stadium getting louder. My heart raced with excitement in anticipation of turning the corner and seeing the stadium. As we walked up to the gates, I am not sure if my feet even touched the ground. As soon as we entered, I ran up to the fence between the south end zone and east stands. I just looked across the field to see our Hokies out there. This was the first game I had been to since Michael Vick led our Hokies against Boston College in 1999.
We made our way up to our seats. Even though we were near the top of the south end zone, we had a spectacular view of the field. I was stunned to be sitting in a section that was not built the last time I was there. The press box and suites on the west side were exquisite. The scoreboard right in front of me was a thing of beauty. As the team got ready to come on the field, I got to experience my first Enter Sandman. It was good to see that on third down the keys still come out. I had my first turkey leg at a football game, and of course did the Hokie Pokie.
Sunday was the day I flew back, but there was one more thing that I had to do before leaving town. I had driven by the April 16th Memorial, but I had to go and walk by it. I had to take it in, read all the names, and read the dedication plaque. As we parked around the Drillfield, I could feel myself already getting choked up. As I walked around and read all the names, I shed a few tears. It was an overwhelming experience to see it in person. I still remember the day vividly. I was at a conference in Topeka, Kansas. When I got out, my cell phone had so many voicemails from my friends here in Kansas. People wanted to know if I knew anyone, if I lived in AJ, or had I had classes in Norris Hall. The response from the community of Blacksburg made me proud to say I am a Hokie.
Things have changed a lot since I left Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. I may not have recognized some of the new buildings, businesses, or traffic patterns, but there is still one thing that remains same… Hokie Pride. You can see it in all of the new improvements, but especially in the people. Everyone who I talked to, if I knew them or not, made me feel like an old friend. The hospitality and warmth that I felt throughout town this past weekend made me realize how special of a place it really is. I know I took it for granted for the five years I was a student here. I may no longer live in Blacksburg or get back as often as I would like, but Blacksburg and Virginia Tech are always with me. GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!