My love letter to The Max that is no more

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Media: Tomas Gonzalez

The Max is laid out in a one-way format, utilizing the traditional back exit as an entrance to accommodate for social distancing in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

Obviously, a lot has changed on campus because of the pandemic. But what bothers me the most is not the online classes, nor is it the frequent testing, social distancing, or mask-wearing. 

What I miss most is The Max.

“But The Max is still open!” you may say. “You can still get the same foods at the grill—chicken tenders, burgers, curly fries. They even added quesadillas. Quesadillas! The C-store is open too. You can still buy peanut M&Ms and ice cream!” Yes, I know. I am aware The Max is open. I know I can still buy a pint of ice cream to eat in a single sitting. I know I can order chicken tenders and curly fries. But I didn’t just go for the food. I went to The Max for the experience.

The Max Mutchnick Campus Center, more commonly known as “The Max,” used to be, as the name suggests, a center for campus life. Whenever I went to The Max, be it for the midnight ice cream runs, the quick lunches, or the casual dinners, I always ran into familiar faces. I could sit at The Max for hours and see friends walk in at regular intervals. I enjoyed just sitting there and chatting in line or in the seating area with people I knew. I know not everyone feels the same way about The Max. For others, perhaps, it is simply a place with average food and interactions with people you are trying to avoid. But for me, every person I ran into made my day just a little bit better.

But now, The Max feels a lot emptier. I first noticed the emptiness when I showed up at 10 p.m. one night and not a single other student was there. In previous semesters, The Max would be buzzing with activity at that time of night, but it was silent.

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I miss the little things about The Max. Seeing someone in line for the grill and saying the obligatory “Oh, hey.” Sitting at the tables and giving those you know a subtle nod and hand wave. Saying hi to someone as they walk in and again as they come out with their food. Running into that friend who you just never see outside of The Max, saying “We should totally hang out more,” and then not seeing them again until you run into them at The Max again a week later.

Going anywhere as a large group is discouraged, especially a confined space, like The Max. And even when I go to The Max now, I don’t stay for a long time like I used to. I no longer linger by the grill, so I can make space for others. I don’t sit for hours at the tables, because it just feels more sanitary to eat in my room or outside. The Max staff is still friendly, and I do still run into people occasionally. But the run-ins are far and few between each visit. Maybe I’m just going at the wrong time. 

Still, at the old Max, there was no “wrong time.” I practically always found people I knew.

I have extensively thought upon the reason for the new state of The Max. The obvious reason is that it’s yet another casualty of the pandemic. Fewer people are allowed in the space due to COVID safety restrictions, and there are fewer students living on campus. However, I theorize there is a deeper change going on. This semester, Emerson  partnered with several dining establishments near campus that accept board bucks—restaurants that provide new alternatives to what is offered at the Max. In addition, the dining hall has transitioned to take out only. The DH offers more options than The Max at around the same speed. So between that and the new options, The Max’s niche as the fast option on campus is virtually gone.

Perhaps after the frequent trips to Tatte drain students’ board bucks, they will flock back to The Max, but maybe not. 

The hard truth is that as long as necessary social distancing restrictions are in place, The Max can never be the hub it once was. That’s alright with me, because there are other options available that replace both the food and social aspect. My friends and I have begun taking our suppers and other such meals to the Boston Common, or as we have dubbed it, the “New Max.” Whenever I go to the Common, I almost always see people I know, and it’s a great place to hang out with friends and grab meals at a safe distance. While I do miss the constant stream of people running through the old Max, the New Max is a space where I can enjoy good friends, good food, and the same sense of community that made The Max so special.

Robby Gessel is a marketing communication major from the class of 2022. If you would like to respond to this thought piece in the form of a letter to the editor, email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for style and clarity.