To be a true proponent of the “local” in Ithaca, perhaps one has to first know what it is that’s not local. Easy answer: Cornell, despite the fact that it is located in Ithaca proper, is decidedly non-local. It’s more like a little air bubble floating around in the ocean. This is not to say that the non-local life led by many students is dull, or has anything to do with bubbles, it’s just non-local. I wouldn’t call it conscious rejection of our town; it’s really just a matter of convenience. And topography, for that matter. There’s a big fucking hill between us and the rest of the community. Don’t think hills don’t come with symbolic, but still palatable, ramifications.
So it’s a matter of convenience, so what? There are consequences to spending your life on the hill. Going out becomes going to collegetown, approximately three square inches of bars and pizza. And while going out to Collegetown is definitely preferable to limiting yourself to campus events or frat houses, one has to realize that the rest of Ithaca resides down the hill a bit. It’s so easy to say, when you graduate, that you went to Cornell. It’s a lot harder to say you lived in Ithaca.
Still, I’m not one to deny that, like most other students, when college isn’t sucking my life out, I’m sucking it back down with a few ounces of rum and a lime. And where more appropriate to initiate the school year than the very place I’ve been trying to avoid for the last three years.
Last Saturday night, I reunited with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and did collegetown. I am well aware that college town is not the quintessential Ithaca experience. In fact, I know many people who will deny authenticity to anything above Aurora Street. I am also aware that collegetown may not be the best place to explore the local culture of Ithaca, but collegetown is where most Cornell students have their first off-campus experience. It starts freshmen orientation week, and ends at graduation. Legitimate or not, students make up about half the population of Ithaca (during the academic year) and can’t be denied their contribution to the local flavor, no matter how reminiscent of a gin and tonic that flavor may be.
As we all know, going out to Collegetown can be more of a procedure than is probably necessary. Especially if you’re a girl. We went out in jeans and jackets, but even on a cold night like last Saturday, we were far outnumbered by short skirts and tank tops. Now I read the occasional Glamour or Jane. I know short skirts are back in this season. I also know it was goddamn cold. Then there’s the whole hair and makeup business:
“Just let me know when we’re leaving, I’ve got to heat my flat iron.”
“Margot, your hair’s already straight.”
“Oh, it can get straighter.”
And then there’s the pre-game. No student should, in their right mind, pay $4.50 for a plastic cup and some ice unless they’re already drunk to begin with. For example, when I got to my friends’ house around 9pm, Kate was already well settled in with a bottle of Strawberry Kiwi Mad Dog. This is not necessarily what I recommend. What I do recommend is strolling down a street like Linden, walking into any damn house party you please, filling up on their alcohol, and heading to the next place.
Still, despite all the drunken fun you can muster up in Collegetown, it is always, in essence, an exercise in self hate. No matter how much integrity you think you have or how mature you act in the library, when you’re walking down Dryden after last call surrounded by people you can’t really see because it seems like some kind of a fog has set in around your line of vision, no one is beyond the stereotype. We spotted a friend we’d been looking for all night down the street. She couldn’t see us waving frantically, so we did what we thought reasonable; we yelled. We yelled really fucking loud. I hate people who yell down the street. I yelled down the street. I officially hate myself.
Obviously, last Saturday was not the only kind of experience one can have in Collegetown; it’s just the easiest, and thereby, the most typical. It’s not about where you go, it’s about how stupid you can act. Hopefully, from now on this column will focus on less lofty adventures than stumbling down College Ave. As for the specific bars, which I’ve neglected to discuss, they all become a blur anyway. One note of advice, though: In the strip poker game at the Bear Lodge, the dude on the screen does not actually get naked. As Peter sadly discovered: “What the hell? He’s got his hands over his crotch! That’s useless.”
Archived article by Thea Brown