December 9, 2020

CHANG | A Love Letter to Collegetown

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Last Tuesday was the last day Apollo’s served its traditional fare of slightly-oily Chinese food at its Collegetown location on College Ave. It was all a whirlwind: I had just found out the sad news about the restaurant and the walls were already metaphorically collapsing around it. Apollo’s wasn’t the first to go, nor will it be the last. Collegetown’s scenery will change constantly and we itinerant students will come and go, but the memories we make will remain tenants forever.

When I started at Cornell in the fall of 2017, Collegetown looked quite a bit different. Dunkin’ was next to Starbucks, Calio’s was not D.P. Dough and Collegetown Bagels hadn’t conquered Sheldon’s first floor. But the vibe hasn’t changed, even amidst a global pandemic and several changes to the landscape. Harried college students carrying their caffeinated beverage of choice rush to class — headphones in, dazed expression on. Delivery trucks blocked half of the street, slowing traffic. An upset driver would be honking without regard to the time of day … or night. 

There is a charm to the busyness that emanates from the intersection of College Ave. and Dryden Rd. As a freshman, I have fond memories of buying bubble tea from Panda Tea Lounge back when I was cheap, U Tea didn’t exist and all I wanted was some sugary goodness during my weekly escapes from North Campus. I’d sit down with the sophomore who had convinced me to come to Cornell all the way from the Indiana cornfields and chat and complain for hours before taking the bus (for free!) back. Those were my breaks from the monotony of classes, clubs and homework. Perhaps freshmen this year haven’t the chance to explore like in past years. But when you do get the chance, do it (preferably with a few friends who aren’t afraid to be a little aggressive in line or waiting for an order). Trust me; it’s so worth it.

As a sophomore, I remember stumbling into Calio’s at Godforsaken hours of the night to order a calzone. I can’t remember a single item on the menu, but I remember that it was an eight minute walk from my dorm in Bethe and I really needed the doughy carbohydrates to warm my heart up in the middle of exam season and dead of winter. My relationship to Collegetown had expanded beyond one of wonder. Now, it was dependency.

Junior year was different. I moved into an apartment with three other dudes for the first time. Although I ate regular meals, I found myself consistently hangry at 1 a.m. It was then I’d head to 7-11 with my roommates to splurge on some overpriced, probably unhealthy but very filling snacks. We’d sit around our living room table eating taquitos as we watched TV (remember Love is Blind?) before heading back to work. Collegetown was where I’d settled.

Now, I’m not hopelessly romanticizing Collegetown. Collegetown has many faults. The rents are high, the landlords not particularly understanding and apparently property developers are not stewards of the environment. The hills are annoying and slippery and finding parking is impossible. But all of these faults have become built into my vision of Collegetown as I’ve continued to live there. It’s not that we residents don’t mind it — just that we now call it home during the school year.

While eating the last supper of pig stomach and pickled vegetables, a wave of nostalgia for old Collegetown hit me. There was indeed a time when eating lunch with a buddy outside CTB didn’t involve interruptions from the construction of the new Student Agencies building. A time when Cafe Pacific was one of the best places to hang out late at night because Fumie wouldn’t kick you out. What would survive of those places would only exist in the memories of Cornellians years past.

I have one last semester to build these memories in Ithaca. Some of you have more, even many more. I have no idea what the next semester will bring or if we’ll even be able to make these memories while socially distancing. But, some day, we’ll come back to our beloved Collegetown and wonder how the new have overtaken the old reminiscing with our (hopefully) fond memories in hand.

Darren Chang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Thursday this semester.