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What happens when you return to your college town as an adult

Months ago, I was having coffee with a friend, and we got on the topic of what it’s like to be a millennial — but not necessarily a young millennial — in a college town like Oxford. There’s a noticeable distinction between freshly minted adults and those of us who’ve been doing this for a while, and there’s a simple test to find out which side you’re on.

Be honest: How do you refer to City Grocery in casual conversation?

If you say “the Grocery,” you’re probably among my people, the thirty-something-and-up group of alumni or longtime Oxford residents who’ve spent a lot of time in that upstairs bar. There’s a comfortable sophistication in calling it the Grocery. You grab a drink at the Grocery. Linger on the balcony at the Grocery. Stay until last call at the Grocery, because why not? It’s the Grocery, after all.

If you say “City,” as in, “Let’s go to City,” or “I bet City’s packed right now,” you’re probably in your twenties and significantly cooler than my friends and me, which is fine, but not the point.

I’m not sure when the shift happened. It very well could have started when I was still in school, and I just didn’t notice. And while there’s nothing wrong with it, I can’t help thinking City sounds like some trendy new club with $20 cocktails and a bouncer at the door deciding who is and isn’t on a fake list.

Curmudgeonly tendencies aside, I’ll admit it’s fascinating to watch a new generation shape their time in Oxford into something uniquely theirs, even with something as insignificant as a nickname for a bar. (Of course, that also means my friends and I are becoming the type of people who notice and collect things like that as evidence of our mortality.)

I met a friend for dinner on the Square last week, and the first thing we did was discuss how much busier it was with the students back in town as if we had forgotten not too long ago we were those students. She and I often commiserate over the unexpected effects of leaving our twenties behind, like voluntarily early bedtimes and Netflix and carbs being our idea of a wild night. At the same time, we’re grateful for the opportunity to live and work in a place where we’ve made some of the best memories of our lives, to watch it grow and thrive upon a foundation we know all too well.

“Want to grab a drink?” I asked as we left the restaurant.

“Sure,” she said. “How about City?”

Alex McDaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle. Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com.