The Turnkey Desk at the Great Hall

Ten years ago, on a warm, sunny day of August, I was running from one building to another at the University of Waterloo. Davis Centre, Needles Hall, Hagey Hall, Dana Porter; I mumbled the names and reached everywhere feeling frazzled. A friendly representative at the International Student Office told me to go to the Turnkey Desk, at the Student Life Centre, for any campus-related information. What is Turnkey? I never asked him and went to pick up my student ID at the Great Hall of the Student Life Centre. By the time I reached, I had forgotten about it.

Whenever I went to the Great hall, I noticed there was always someone sitting behind an L-shaped desk at the corner. That person had the answers to everyone’s questions. “So, this is what that representative meant!”, I thought to myself. A Turnkey had all the information! From directions, cheap food joints, maps, bus tickets, to campus jobs, clubs, groups and activities, nothing was an off-topic query. One turnkey told me in detail about tutoring jobs on campus, another about the campus dentist; one became a life-long friend when we discovered we are both Bengalis. The Turnkey desk was always open, twenty-four hours a day, 7 days a week, twelve months a year; even on Christmas Eve. Before Google Maps, residents of Waterloo relied on a clunky Grand River Transit website or carried bus schedules. It was not a complicated process at all.  For someone who never used maps and could not tell her left from right, it was an agonizing task for me. The first few weeks, I almost always got on the wrong bus, missed my stop or got off at the wrong stop. And when I did get on the right bus, I was always thoroughly confused about which way to go once I got off. At the Turnkey Desk, they often drew a small map to show me exactly which way to go. I clutched that recycled piece of paper and went on my adventures.

At the Great Hall, the lights were dimmed around midnight but never switched off. The coffee chain, Tim Horton’s, closed for a few hours, but there were hot coffee and cheap snacks at the Turnkey Desk. Like hundreds of students, the Great Hall was my meeting place with friends. Sipping extra-large French Vanilla coffees that could kill a diabetic person; I spent countless hours on the sofa, at the café, in the study rooms. Turnkey Desk at the Great Hall was a true embodiment of a trusted, wise friend. When I reminisce about my first year in Canada, I often wish I could go back to the Turnkey Desk at the Great Hall. I wish I could ask them some stupid questions. I wish someone gave me answers and direction; drew a map on the back of some recycled paper and handed it to me like they used to. I wish I could clutch that piece of paper and start a new adventure.

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