Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times
By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times staff writer
Hanging around in Cambridge has its drawbacks. You may stub your toe or splinter a heel on the uneven sidewalks. You may discover that John Harvard smells funny. You may be arrested for obstreperousness inside your own lodging (see Gates, Henry Louis Jr.). And if you spend enough time among these big, old buildings and bright, young students, you may begin to feel old, or undereducated, or both.
But spend the time anyway.
Whether or not you have a prospective freshman in your family, this country's first college town is full of far more American history, smart shops, cool museums, inviting restaurants and all-around entertainment than your average city of 95,000.
Harvard University sprawls on about 380 acres at one edge of Cambridge. Massachusetts Institute of Technology sits on 168 acres at another edge. The Charles River bends around both campuses, and the tree-lined streets should be exploding with red and gold leaves any day now.
An out-of-towner could easily ignore Boston, just across the river, and spend days just digesting Cambridge. So I did, for three days in September, as thousands of students were settling in for the new term -- about 1,700 freshmen at Harvard, 1,100 or so at MIT, plus legions more at Lesley (also in Cambridge), Tufts (in Somerville, next door) and Boston University (just across the Charles). All told, greater Boston boasts about 50 college campuses.
But today's short course is more specific than that. This is Cambridge 101, tuition-free. Your instructor today is a Fresno State alum whose grandfather went to MIT and whose mother went to Radcliffe when it was Harvard's little sister. In other words, I'm still working out whether I should be biased against the place or in favor of it. Class is now in session.