Follow the spiritual journey (and gradual mental decline) of Caroline O’Daly as she narrates her journey remaining inside Leo J. O’Donovan Hall for fourteen hours straight. This tale is not one for the faint of heart; if you think you’re prepared, read on…
On the Sunday morning of Halloweekend: Part 1, campus is dead. Not as dead as Georgetown’s attempts to support female students, but still pretty dead. I wait outside of Leo J. O’Donovan Hall for the doors to open. Another student—Liam Scott (SFS ’23)—joins me. “I always get to Whisk at 8:30 in the morning on the weekends. I just like to start early,” Scott says. A wakeup call before 9 am doesn’t trouble him, not even on a Sunday. I cannot relate in the slightest. An alarm going off before noon will crush my soul on any day.
The doors unlock and I hold them open for Liam, allowing him to take the coveted spot of “first person in the dining hall,” because I’m a woman for others. However, I’m so tired that I forget to savor my last breath of fresh air—air that’s free from the smorgasbord of Leo’s scents—when entering.
Liam places his order at Whisk. His spinach breakfast sandwich christens the oven. The next girl orders oatmeal, and I seriously consider trying oatmeal too, but I can’t succumb to my food cravings this early into the day, so I keep observing.
“Are you having a pastry ma’am?” My presence at a nearby table, sans quiche or iced coffee, clearly confuses the Leo’s employees. “Oh no, I’m just chilling here,” I assure them.
Five people have come in to grab breakfast. Good for them. The thought of eating a quiche seems nice, but I once again stop myself from an impulse meal swipe. It’s too early to know what I truly want, other than sleep. However, I know that I really respect the Leo’s decorating committee. There are some high quality gourds adorning the Whisk counter. They definitely improve the overall autumn vibe of the dining hall. They’re enough to remind you that it’s Fall, so you can go for that apple cider donut, but also subtle enough to prevent the feeling of drowning in pumpkin spice lattes.
One girl ignores the barricade of chairs blocking the stairwell to lower Leo’s, and descends to the depths of the dining hall. No one is there to swipe her in though, so she comes right back up. Accepting defeat, she orders from Whisk.
Another kid tries his luck at downstairs Leo’s. This student is more determined than the first girl. He loiters when no one swipes him in, and tries waiting on the steps to attract attention.
He quickly accepts the undesirable truth—no omelettes unless he sticks it out for another four minutes—and comes back upstairs. The Leo’s employees really stick to a strict schedule here.
An employee removes the first chair from the blockade. It’s very satisfying to watch in a “reverse putting in the last puzzle piece” type of way.
A student swipes into downstairs Leo’s a minute early. I’m impressed.
I decide to check out lower Leo’s before the crowds of students arrive. I tell the Leo’s employee who swipes me in about my plan to spend the entire day in the dining hall. He gives me a look of pure shock and possibly terror, but, before he can question my motives, a girl wipes out on the stairwell, which is already glazed with rain water. He sighs, and informs me that there will be plenty of falls on the stairs today.
There are no french toast sticks out yet, and I’m sad about it. One employee offers me and another girl a “good morning ladies!” that’s far too energetic for 9 am, but it’s a nice sense of camaraderie to start the day—even if I don’t have any overcooked french toast bricks on my plate.
I’m one of the first people to use the fruit salad bar, so none of the fruit has trespassed into other sections. It’s really liberating to grab a ton of pineapple without dodging stray pieces of cantaloupe, like the rare walk through Leavey where I don’t have to avoid eye contact with anyone.
There’s a light hum in lower Leo’s. I notice that a lot of employees chose a breakfast of bananas and coffee, but I head straight for the freshly-fried french toast sticks. I sit down with some girls who I’ve never met before. They give me some decent career advice when I mention that I’m interested in becoming an art history major but should probably pursue a more lucrative career because Georgetown costs more than $50,000 per year.
My newfound friends finish their meal. I head back to the fruit salad bar for more pineapple. Although I’m eating alone now, I don’t feel weird about it. I know there’s a lot of pressure to eat with other people in the dining hall—at least there is for freshmen—but I’m content with my bowl of fruit and solitude.
In general, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and it’s my favorite meal at Leo’s too. I’m a big fan of the fruit salad station and the omelette bar, which are both exclusive to the morning. However, I think that they would thrive as all-day options. After all, the dessert section is open right now, so Leo’s employees are clearly open to culinary risks. I really wonder about the students who eat dessert at 10 am. However, I do enjoy ice cream on waffles. Hot french toast sticks would complement the cold ice cream really well.
I decide to check out Whisk again and it’s not crowded at all. The grab-and-go setup definitely makes Whisk a better option for the weekdays when students must rush to class. I notice one girl—Nina Gulati (COL ’23)—who ate breakfast downstairs and then came up to Whisk for a hot drink. “I either do oatmeal upstairs from Whisk or downstairs—the omelette bar is pretty good—and then if I do go downstairs, I always end up coming back upstairs for the coffee. I like the atmosphere around Whisk. I think it’s a good place to just sit with a cup of coffee” Gulati tells me.
A kid comes in decked out in a bloutfit (“blue outfit”). He even has dark blue crocs. An excellent choice because the staircase is very slippery and crocs are a great all-terrain shoe.
I experience the beginning of lower Leo’s breakfast rush. There’s a noticeably loud hum in the dining hall, but it’s not enough to distract me. However, the dirty cups and dishes scattered across the tables bother me a lot. Students have so few responsibilities in the dining hall. They must grab food, eat it, and then place their dishes on a revolving tray. It’s embarrassing that students at Georgetown—a school that prides itself on Jesuit values—don’t respect the employees at Leo’s enough to clean up after themselves.
The crowd of late-night revelers really starts rolling in now. One girl sports pajama pants with a tropical fish pattern, but she has the confidence to pull them off, so no one really notices. Another boy walks in looking like the grim reaper. He even has the hood, which he only removes to proudly display his hickeys to his friends. There’s a strong turnout from freshmen frat guys too. I’m surrounded by so many backwards baseball hats that I’m starting to question my bare head.
I notice that Leo’s is a big supporter of sriracha. There are so many bottles. They almost surpass the number of backwards baseball hats. Almost.
The party crowd eating brunch slowly disappears as I enter lunch territory. The backwards baseball hat to head ratio has decreased significantly.
“If you’re driving down the highway, blasting music, what music are you playing?” “Country. It’s obviously country.” I strongly disagree. It’s clearly late 2000s/early 2010s pop hits. Don’t do “American Boy” dirty like that. I decide to move spots before I start arguing with this diner.
Even with three minutes until closing, the omelette line is still going strong with six people awaiting their personalized pocket of egg, cheese, and assorted toppings. I eat omelettes from Leo’s at least four times a week, so I’m a big supporter of making the omelette station an all-day option, and it seems like I’m not the only one.
The midday lull at Leo’s—the two hours where diners can only eat salad, light sandwiches, waffles, cereal, dessert, and leftovers from lunch—takes its toll on me. I’m very tired, and my foot has fallen asleep.
I risk collapsing on my foot that fell asleep and walk to the back of lower Leo’s where there are windows. I can’t access fresh air, so sunlight must nourish my body.
A group of Leo’s employees gathers at one of the long tables, which are usually dominated by student athletes or the running club. I see most of the Leo’s employees taking their break right now. Most of them use the salad bar, which teams up with some loose corn and a few hot dog rolls to comprise the current dining options for a “light lunch.”
I spot three girls eating salads. “I had a lot of club meetings today, so this is like the only time I had in-between to catch lunch. Salad is the only thing open right now, and Chick-Fil-A is closed, so this is my last resort,” Adora Terezi (MSB ’23) says. Although they enjoy the salad bar, all three of them agree that Leo’s should provide more afternoon options. “I usually have the salad bar every time I come, but also, I don’t like it how they confine meals to certain times and confine when they have different things open, because right now I could really go for a sandwich, but they don’t have any paninis,” Lea Frawley (COL ’23) explains.
Leo’s is dead. It’s a different “dead” from this morning. There’s no excitement leading up to the breakfast rush. Just exhaustion and loose corn.
Upstairs Leo’s opens, and nearly all of the dinner options at downstairs Leo’s are ready for students. Although it’s almost 4 pm—far too early for my regular dinner—I grab a grain bowl from Olive Branch because time doesn’t exist to me anymore.
The crowds pick up at upstairs Leo’s. Most people have Olive Branch’s grain bowls or flatbreads on their minds, but I can’t get the upstairs Leo’s design aesthetic out of my head. There are so many types of chairs: old wooden ones, sleek metal seats, brightly colored stools. The string lights and star lamps create a whimsical vibe, but the huge VW camper van table offsets the entire aura with its rustic energy. I think they might be going for a “road trip” theme where the diverse food options represent the different cities along a highway, but maybe they just had to buy a bunch of different chairs.
A lot of people seem to come alone to upstairs Leo’s to do work. It’s a similar vibe to the section behind the stairs to lower Leo’s, but this space actually has natural light, which is nice.
I regret my previous observation. Like a frat party, there is too much natural light. The large windows of upstairs Leo’s assist the sun in blinding me, so I move to a shadier spot.
I love seeing people at dinner who I also saw at breakfast. They’ve done so much during the day while I’ve rotted away in Leo’s like a dead mouse on the VCW stairwell.
I understand where Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining was coming from now. I give it an hour until I start hallucinating and see a pair of international students in matching Balenciaga sweatshirts and Golden Goose sneakers. That’s way scarier than some twins in a hallway.
There’s a scent that I can’t quite describe. It smells like the combination of my best friend’s natural musk and some tomatoes from Olive Branch. It’s comforting and unnerving at the same time, like when I think I’m walking back from Lau alone, but realize the rats are keeping me company.
As I approach the peak dining hours at upstairs Leo’s, I really sense a “family meal” vibe. Everyone’s back on campus after a weekend out and about, so people gather in big groups with their friends to eat dinner. They’re like the Sunday night Italian family dinners I always hear about from my friends, but I assume the food isn’t as good.
Upstairs Leo’s is packed. Olive Branch still attracts the most students, but there are decent lines at Bodega and 5 Spice. Sazon probably feels left out, but that’s what happens when a dining establishment relies solely on guacamole for their “wow factor.”
My Co-Star app reminds me that “you are not your thoughts,” which makes me feel better about how much time I just spent thinking about the pizza section at Leo’s, especially the “breakfast pizza.” I think they just take the pizza from the day before and put eggs on it, but where do they draw the line? Could the left-over turkey patties or mashed potatoes make it onto a pizza? Could they take old pizzas and cut them up to create a pizza-ception type of situation? I have so many questions.
My eyes feel so dry, dryer than the garlic knots downstairs. They’re also burning. Is this the fire that St. Ignatius told me about? Nothing makes sense. My head is empty.
A line for Launch starts to form, which, in my opinion, seems unnecessary for some overly greasy and underwhelming food.
The line for Launch never dies down. There is always a constant stream of students coming in to satisfy their late-night cravings, which makes me think that Georgetown needs to expand their dining options after 8 pm.
A lot of workers leave for the night. The line at Launch temporarily dwindles, but then a group of students from the track team come in. Several girls in very nice outfits get on line too. Maybe they’re coming from Sunday night mass.
My friends, Gabby and Gemma, come visit me before I combust from overexposure to fluorescent lighting. They decide to grab some food, and I decide to give Launch another chance. Although I’m not the biggest fan of the food, I think that providing students with menus that they can mark up for their order is a good idea. Once they can nail down the delivery method—the long wait time at Launch completely counteracts the dining spot’s convenient ordering system—and expand the food options, I think I’ll support Launch.
I go for the grilled cheese because it’s hard to mess up heated cheese and bread, and wait with my friends by the counter. The woman calling out names wears one AirPod, which I respect. I think “Stir Fry” by Migos would be an appropriate choice for the culinary vibe.
The woman calls out “Jimmy” several times. Gemma realizes that she is “Jimmy,” and accepts her meal. I hear my name moments later, and claim my grilled cheese. I take a bite, and realize that I’ve been too hard on Launch. The grilled cheese is good.
I laugh at a joke. It’s the first time I’ve felt joy in hours.
The cashier processes the final order of the night. Although Launch officially closes at 10 pm, there are a lot of people still eating who don’t show any signs of stopping soon.
The staff at Launch seem to have a great dynamic. They’re all laughing as they clean up for the night. I bet that a sitcom about a group of employees at a college dining hall could do well. The chemistry is definitely there.
The last meal of the night is ready. A girl accepts the bookend to Liam’s spinach breakfast sandwich: a cheeseburger.
The girl comes back, the Launch employees forgot to give her bacon, but it’s an easy fix. She procures her pork. All is well.
I witness two Leo’s employees kiss. A workplace romance would work well with the rest of the plot for the Launch sitcom I’m envisioning.
I’ve been here for thirty minutes longer than I intended to stay, and I’m quite ready to leave. I’ve been making strong eye contact with one of the employees, hoping that he will kick me out, but my plan has not worked yet.
I decide to do math homework until they kick me out. I’m the only student here, but the employees don’t seem bothered by my presence. One employee tells me to keep up the good work. I try my best to follow his advice.
I ask an employee about when they kick students out of Leo’s because I cannot bear another second in this building. After chatting with me about my 14.5 hours at Leo’s, an employee tells me that students need to leave at 11 pm. “So now?” I respond. He nods his head and utters a “yeah.” Call me Cinnamon Toast Crunch because you won’t find me at Leo’s for one second longer.
As I walk out the door, the same employee shouts a declaration of love for college newspapers, and that, to me, seems like the perfect way to end this journey.
Total Time at Leo’s: 14 hours, 31 minutes
Image Credits: Voice Archives