Breaking bubbles

Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER
Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER

When the carillon in the Bell Tower rang out at 11 a.m. last Friday, signalling the end of classes for the hour, first-time and veteran students alike flooded out of their classrooms. Some were heading home for an early weekend. Others made their way to the HUB for an early lunch — or late breakfast. And a few unlucky souls were forced to sprint to the University Village to make it to that one class in time.

Some students had a different destination in mind, however: the Student Recreation Center. No, not the newly-opened, years-in-the-making, protest-generating one. Instead, it was the old recreation center that was the newfound target of students’ affection. And the reason? To make history, one sheet of bubble wrap at a time. Or to put it more accurately: many sheets of bubble wrap all at the same time.

The Guinness world record for the most people popping bubble wrap simultaneously is 942, when an elementary school in Minnesota gave its students an awesome response to the eternal question, “What did you do in school today?” In celebration of the grand opening of the brand-new student recreation center, UCR set out to beat it.

“Popping bubble wrap for a minute is the same as a half-hour massage,” Dusan Stancic, a programmer for the recreation center, said of bubble wrap’s cathartic properties. Stancic has been planning the event for a year, and said the event was chosen not just to beat a world record, but to help students de-stress and show that the recreation center was a fun place to be.

Many of the students seemed to agree. Kara-Leigh Helmrick, a first-year chemistry major, proclaimed she was attending “for the love of bubble wrap.” Justin Schwartz, a first-year biology major, said he “wanted to be part of a record.” Standing next to him, Amber Quezada, also a first-year biology major, agreed and added that the event “brought out my inner child.” Everybody’s eagerness to get popping was plain to see as the staff began handing out sheets of bubble wrap.

Perhaps the staff at the event could have used some of the bubble wrap to stress-bust themselves. As students streamed into the cramped entrance, harried coordinators prodded students over to the set-up of tables, where participants would agree to be used in promotional video. Another seemed to be handing out a promotional T-shirt every second as her compatriots did the same for Tootsie-Roll pops and raffle tickets. I asked her what the raffle tickets were for. “It’s a gift, honey, don’t ask,” came the curt reply.

It was easy to see why stress was high for coordinators. It became readily apparent that there were simply not enough people to break the world record. Even as the crowd of students grew and grew, by around 11:30, only about 400 people were standing by and ready to pop bubble wrap — event organizers were hoping for 1,000.

As they prayed for more attendees to show, the minutes ticked by. To break the anticipation, the raffle was started and a few winners were announced. The volume of the music was amped up, and a group of cheerleaders performed acrobatic feats to pump up the crowd. The biggest cheers were drawn when coordinators started throwing free stuff into the assembly.

Still, to break the world record, the crowd would have to double in size, and noon wasn’t coming any slower. A few stragglers trickled in, dressed in workout clothes and a sheen of sweat still covering their bodies. They looked like they had just come from the gym, and stood off to the side holding their bubble wrap with bored faces. Meanwhile, the other attendees spent the time anxiously chatting, wondering when the popping madness would start. A few, disappointed, left the event for class.

Then — finally — the sound of an air horn pierced the music. A wave of crackling erupted in the recreation center. Students were popping bubble wrap as if it was the one place they could get rid of their stress, furiously mashing the plastic circles to a pulp or twisting the wrap together with force that would shred a sponge. Others decided the best way to de-stress was to have fun with the bubble wrap and came up with inventive ways to raze their sheet, throwing the wrap to the ground and stomping on it; others danced atop it, their feet pulverizing the sheet of plastic. One person even decided to do handstands to take out his sheet.

For two minutes, the popping, snapping cacophony filled the arena. The emcee’s voice was drowned out as students lost themselves in the sheer childhood bliss of popping bubble wrap (except those last-minute attendees from the gym, who indifferently squeezed the individual bubbles between their fingers). Even though there weren’t enough people to break the record, it seemed as if the noise and enthusiasm of the crowd should be able to topple the record all by themselves.

It wasn’t to be. The final tally of attendees: 599. The record remained unbroken.

Still, a cheer rang out after the time was complete. Students hugged each other and laughed with their friends. A few continued popping the bubble wrap while others plopped down in piles of the plastic as if they were piles of leaves. As students left behind the bubble wrap in the old recreation center and exited the building, nobody seemed to regret it. Many of them moved right next door to the new recreation center to appreciate the rock climbing wall, gaze at the pool, or use the Internet on the new treadmills. Crowds with Pop Till You Drop-emblazoned T-shirts gathered around representatives from various campus organizations as they talked about health and fitness. Numerous students decided to brave a punishing military-style workout of two minutes’ worth of push-ups and sit-ups followed by running a mile in the indoor track.

Maybe nobody ever expected UCR to break the world record, or maybe everyone rebounded from the loss quickly. But nobody seemed depressed after the result. Whether they were content with popping massive amounts of bubble wrap, or excited to try out the new recreation center, students took it all in stride. Perhaps there will be another chance for UCR to break a world record someday. Perhaps UCR even will. For now, though, everybody seems to be happy to have had the opportunity.

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