Last weekend was Cornell’s Homecoming Weekend. I’ve been to Homecoming for each of the past four years, and in those four years I could have never imagined what it would be like as an alumnus coming back for the weekend.
One of the many great things about living in New York City is that there is never a dearth of Cornellians to travel with. I drove up to Ithaca Friday afternoon directly from training in Secaucus, New Jersey with one of my coworkers and fellow Cornell 2011 alumnus. Another Class of 2011 coworker was going to head up Saturday morning with her parents, coincidentally both of who are also Cornell alumni. There’s no escape from the university.
Four hours later we hit Exit 8 on I-81 North and I could start to feel the excitement of being back start to bubble up inside. Exit 8 is the exit for Whitney Point, a very small town that I am convinced exists solely to serve motorists passing through. There is no economy except for gas stations and fast food restaurants. But, Whitney Point in a way signifies home because it is the last waypoint on the journey up from New York.
Ithaca is a small city in the middle of nowhere in a world off to itself. After coming off the interstate, we still had to drive a half hour on a winding, unlit, backwoods road passing farm after farm and barn after barn before finally reaching the “Cornell this way” sign pointing up Pine Hill Road and to the back entrance to campus. On this never-ending drive we got to chatting about how Cornell’s physical isolation from the world contributes to the fierce loyalty of alumni and makes the campus feel special in a strange way. Traveling on the route between Whitney Point and Ithaca (NYS Route 79 for those looking for geographical specificity) is like walking through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s 1950 novel. The university becomes all-consuming, and “real life” tends to fade into the background. I’m not sure if you can truly understand it without actually living there.
Before I digress too far, I’ll return to the post and talk about what actually happened while I was there. I’ll break it up into two categories.
Moe’s – I was not welcomed to Moe’s, but my friend I was staying with brought a chicken quesadilla back up to the apartment for me. This was a must-have Friday or Saturday night dinner back when I was living in the fraternity and we’d all trek down the hill together.
CTB – This is Collegetown eating at its finest. We went for breakfast (or technically a brunch now that I’m in the working world) both Saturday and Sunday. CTB – or Collegetown Bagels for the uninformed – bagels pale in comparison to Long Island or New York City bagels, but their Bronx Bagel is a breakfast food worth a five-hour drive. It’s a toasted bagel with egg and sausage. Oh, how I’ve missed my CTB foods. I’d be a near-instant millionaire if I opened a franchise in Manhattan. There’s enough Cornellians to warrant good business. Just, please, don’t take my idea.
Bear Necessities – I’ve never been a fan of the colloquial “Bear Nasties” term because I actually like the bad-for-you food they make there. The best piece of grease-laden sustenance they serve is the Southwest Chicken Sandwich. It’s a foot-long sub with fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and some sort of southwest-flavored dressing. I couldn’t resist driving up to North Campus and ordering one for lunch on Saturday.
The Nines – I’m not sure if The Nines is a true definer of Cornell/Ithaca food, but nevertheless it is worth mentioning because they have great deep-dish pizza. It’s also a great place for a date or a radio show that pitches Cornell-based bands head-to-head against one another (WVBR Battle of the Bands plug; Tune in for Season 4 in the spring!). The one caveat is that the service at The Nines is very slow. Saturday night I got lucky, though, and caught the tail end of a dinner with my friends and snagged a piece of pizza without the wait. Cha-Ching.
Wegmans – Sadly I did not make it to this most awesome of grocery store chains. The store is so good that I used to mention it on Cornell tours. The parents from the New York/Middle Atlantic region always knowingly nodded in agreement as I attempted to describe what cannot effectively be described in words. I intended to get a Wegmans sub on my way out of Ithaca, but I was running late and didn’t have the time.
I’ll keep this part brief, because there’s just so much to write about. Here’s a picture to sum up the weekend:
In addition to hanging out with old friends and reconnecting with some fraternity brothers, I took some time to catch up with WVBR folks at the Greek tailgate. As always, WVBR was contracted out to play music and provide the entertainment at the event. It felt like I was back at home. Of course I grabbed the microphone and made an announcement about the music. I couldn’t resist. It felt like putting on an old coat. My radio voice was dusty and worn out for sure, but it did the trick.
After WVBR I got to head up to the main tailgate event outside of Schoellkopf Field. I walked around with my friend and fellow ex-WVBR staffer Liana Passantino ’11. We ran into countless random alumni and I was surprised with and grateful for how liberally the different groups assembled in the parking lot were giving away their food and drinks. I was also introduced to Matthew Nagowski, the editor of the MetaEzra blog at http://www.metaezra.com. I recommend reading and subscribing.
Homecoming ’11 turned out to be a great weekend, and I couldn’t have asked for a better time. I miss Ithaca, but I’ll be back again in just a month for WVBR Symposium.