About five years ago, I graduated from Cornell. I picked up my diploma from the economics department, took another walk around the Arts Quad, and drove 4.5 hours back to MA with stinging eyes. My undergrad days were over, I was cast out into the cruel Real World, and nothing would ever be the same.
But you know what they forgot to tell you in college? Life is even more awesome AFTER college. After spending Labor Day weekend at Cornell, I can confidently say I have no desire to go back to my college days.
One major change: you’re no longer stuck on a student budget. Now, I was never eating ramen for meals (unless I wanted to) or really strapped for cash (thank you slightly-above-minimum-wage chimesmaster salary), but I did have to be pretty conscientious about money. I still am, but having worked for a few years now and become accustomed to New York-level prices, many things in Ithaca that once seemed luxurious are now quite affordable. $9 cocktails at Stella’s? You can easily pay double that in Manhattan. Appetizers, drinks and an entree at Maxie’s? I used to limit myself to just a po’ boy because I was a um, po’ girl. Shortline Bus for $107 or the snazzy new roomy, wifi-enabled Campus-to-Campus bus for $160? You get free snacks and drinks on the latter; the choice is clear.
This change in perspective is especially opportune because at this point, I don’t know any of the undergrads on campus, and even my grad student friends have finally left the Hill. That necessitates paying for housing in Ithaca (gasp!) for the first time. (I suppose I could show up at a marching band house and sleep on a random couch, but that might be infectious.) Alex and I ended up spending $200 on a room at the Best Western, but if the Statler hadn’t been sold out, we might as well have splurged on a $300 room there.
So we trekked back to Ithaca on a whim, and didn’t really do much while we were there. If there had been more time, maybe we would have kayaked to the farmer’s market, gone to see Buttermilk Falls or hiked Six Mile Creek. But let’s not kid ourselves; all we really wanted to do was soak in Cornell and reminisce about things we did as students. Simply sitting in Duffield with a couple pounds of Wingz and Mountain Dew was entertainment enough.
The clocktower is still open to me with an ID card swipe. (Once a chimesmaster, always a chimesmaster.) I hunkered down in the practice room on Saturday night and tried to remember how to balance on one foot while playing with my other three limbs. There was a ton of new music in the files, and a burgeoning stack of proposed pieces, including the themes for My Neighbor Totoro and Firefly. With limited time and rusty chiming skills though, I figured I should stick to rehearsing pieces I knew well. For the Sunday morning concert, I played “Arrival in New Haven” and Bach’s “Little Fugue in Gm” with Jen, chimes advisor and longtime Ithaca resident. It was great to play with an old friend, though I’m sure it would have been fun to meet one of the current undergrad chimesmasters too.
One downside about college towns is that I get carded constantly. Seriously, I’ve never had my ID scrutinized so hard in my life. Part of the problem is that my driver’s license has me photographed with long hair and no glasses (they made me remove them due to glare), while I currently wear short hair and glasses. The bartender at CTB gave me a long, hard stare for about two minutes before finally handing me a glass of sangria. I swear, I’m not using a fake ID or borrowing it from someone else. Don’t they know that Asian women don’t age? I never get this kind of treatment in NYC.
The Avenue Q song says, “I wish I could go back to college.” I don’t. Not that I was unhappy in college, but it was highly stressful and I have a lot more flexibility now on how I spend my time. I’ve progressed in the last five years, I’ve done a spot of traveling, I’ve collected more ironic t-shirts. I have the means to go back to Ithaca any time, and the power to end the fantasy whenever I want to return to reality.
Now if only I could find an NYC equivalent of Wingz Over Ithaca.