Booth City and the Berlin Wall

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--Anyone who has ever visited the Ambassador College campus at Big Sandy will never forget certain aspects of the place. When I came to college in the '70s, there were eight absolutely gorgeous student dormitories. Four were for the women and four for the men.

That is, they were for those who met the requirements to live there. Upperclassmen had first choice as to where they wanted to live, and then everyone else after that. The advantage to living in the dorms was their close vicinity to the library (where many of the classrooms were located at that time) and the dining hall.

Upon arrival, most freshmen were automatically directed toward Booth City, the alternative to living in a dorm. It was built back in 1959 to house brethren during the Feast. When the college opened in 1964, it became student residences.

Booth City consisted of about 200 10-by-12-foot metal buildings that would house two to four people each. They sat on about four acres of sandburs.

(To those unknowledgeable of the East Texas landscape, a sandbur is a native grass that procreates itself by putting forth seed encapsulated in a spiked pod, not unlike a mace used by the knights of old as a weapon of war. Each clump of grass can produce multiple burs that jump out and attach themselves to unwary students who may stray from the path of righteousness and ruin pantyhose and double-knit leisure suits.)

The amenities

Each booth housed one set of bunk beds, two small desks on which to stack Bibles and concordances, two chests of drawers to hold your latest Ambassador fashions, two small closets to hold all your worldly possessions, two teenagers and various rodents and insects.

I loved it. I finally had a place I could call my own.

Booth City also boasted of two (one for the men and one for the women, of course) state-of-the-art bathhouses made of cinder block and concrete. This is where you came to shower, shave, brush your teeth, fix your hair, do your laundry, iron your clothes and, of course, use the rest room.

Rushing out of your booth on a cold, rainy night on a personal emergency to the bathhouse was a little bit of an inconvenience, but there was a positive side to that. Ambassador developed some talented runners during those days as a result of those midnight sprints.

Rock my world

The most notable of Booth City's construction design was the Berlin Wall: the strip of land that divided the men's residences from the women's. Only under extreme circumstances were members of the opposite sex allowed to advance past the block wall that enclosed each side of Booth City. Of course, each of us had to define "extreme."

Because of the strict rules against crossing over to the other side, communication between the sexes could sometimes be a problem. Certain booths had telephones attached to the outside of the booths, but those who were unlucky enough to live in one of those booths frequently tired of answering the phone, taking messages and locating fellow residents.

Sometimes the phone could ring endlessly before someone would finally amble over to answer it. If your boyfriend had a strong arm and a good aim, he would just chunk a rock over the wall. When it bounced on the metal roof of your booth, you knew your date had arrived at the wall ready to pick you up. If his aim wasn't so good, he may have an irate, literally stoned coed meet him at the wall instead.

Booth City didn't appeal to everyone, though. If you enjoyed thick shag carpet and a cozy fireplace on a cold night, you probably would have preferred one of the dorms. The only problem with that was the other 23 students (plus their dates) who wanted to share your cozy space. My boothmate and I got along just fine. We had completely different class schedules and social lives; we rarely saw each other. It was great.

On the other hand, if you were lonely and needed to talk to someone, all you had to do was go out to the Wall. Before long someone would pass by and stop to chat a while. A lot of friendships were built that way.

Freshmen were carnal

Even the best of boothmates sometimes got on each other's nerves. A freshman friend of mine had a senior for a roommate. They got along great until the evening the senior class was scheduled to leave on its class trip.

For some unknown reason the still-carnal, immature freshman climbed onto the roof of the bathhouse and met his well-on-his-way-to-being-a-minister boothmate with a 50-gallon trash can filled with cold water as he exited, freshly poufed and powdered and ready to escort his fiancee to the bus leaving for the senior trip.

The big guy couldn't catch the little one to settle the score. Instead, he returned to their booth, changed his clothes, picked up his carnal roommate's door key and summarily locked the booth door behind him.

On his way out of Booth City he found the largest freshman he could find and gave him the key with instructions not to return it to its rightful owner until the next day.

So much fun

Now, if this had happened between two women, the little one would just have had security unlock the door. But, no, the two freshmen had to wrestle each other like bulldogs until the big one finally succumbed to exhaustion and gave up the key. You just couldn't have that kind of fun in a dorm.

Sometimes there were skirmishes between the residents of Booth City and the dorms.

These range wars could go on for weeks. Groups of Booth City men would attack a dorm and pull some stunt like climbing onto the dorm roof and covering up the chimney stack, causing a horrendous downdraft of smoke in the men's lounge area.

Then, of course, the guys from the dorm would retaliate by wrapping certain booths with toilet paper or kidnapping the ringleader of the previous dorm raid and holding him for ransom.

Yes, an Ambassador education is priceless.

I'll feel forever privileged that I had the chance to do "the work." But most important I'll always remember the friendships I made out at the Berlin Wall.

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