Pittsburgh!

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My parents lived in Pittsburgh shortly before I was born, so I was raised on occasionally told tales of its preponderance of bridges, windy streets, and magic intersections containing one way streets that only go away from it. Honestly, we’ve only done a little bit of driving, and (probably thanks to google maps) it’s been fidgety, but not quite the nightmare of missed turns and wild reroutes I was told it would be. Will had the worst of it; the only thing I really had to do that didn’t go well was parallel parking, or to be precise, parallel parking with other people watching. I used to be able to do it, I swear! The problem is, when you don’t live in a city, you never practice these things, and then you completely forget how to do them. And maybe it’s just me, but anything that I have any kind of trouble with is always several hundred times worse when someone’s watching.

But enough about the downsides: bridges may be a pain to navigate, but boy are they beautiful. We came into the city out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and saw this cinematic concoction of bridges, rivers, streets, and overpasses. If it hadn’t clearly been built in the past century, it would look futuristic.

Helen, my friend whom we’re staying with, basically lives at the bottom of a ravine, so they have to walk up 100 steps to get to a major street. It’s pretty cool: there’s a park down here, so it’s very green, and trains pass through a few times a day. I know it’s probably because I haven’t dealt with the realities of them, but I have fascination with hilly cities. I just dig something about all those stairs and different levels. I’m sure if I actually end up living somewhere like that, it will become much more annoying than romantic, but walking up a bunch of stairs a few times in one week has yet to dampen my enthusiasm.

Packing and the End of the Semester in College Towns

The real reason I’m back in Oberlin (perhaps against my better judgement) is to see one of my close friends, Becca, graduate. Unfortunately, since I’ve gotten here, I’ve realized that such a magnanimous gesture of support is actually kind of a lot to deal with for someone who just finished their final finals (woo!) and then has to immediately pack up their apartment and vacate it in less than a week. I was in this position last year, but none of my relatives were, you know, literally sleeping on my floor, so I had some more time with it.

An indispensable aspect of packing is the getting rid of objects one isn’t taking on one’s move. My favorite aspect of helping other people pack is that sometimes, they give you those objects. Becca in particular has been very generous with clothes that don’t fit her that well anymore (thanks, Becca!!!), and now I have like 3 new shirts, yay!

It’s possible I’m unreasonably drawn to free stuff: it’s great when a friend is getting rid of cool clothes, but I’ve also been known to accept things I definitely wouldn’t wear otherwise (I’m looking at you, bright purple Victoria’s Secret PINK sweatpants from Avery!), or that have some other problem. This tendency is particularly put to the test in May, when college towns are full of free crap, piled up everywhere. Having grown up in a small college town not dissimilar to Oberlin, there were many time when young me begged to bring home sagging couches and dented ikea tables.

Of course, given my thorough understanding of this aspect of packing, one might think that I would, you know, actually get rid of a reasonable amount of my own stuff. One would be wrong. I’ve accepted that once something has actually ceased to function for me, it has to go, but things that are merely unused, it is completely reasonable to hang on to forever and ever. Part of the problem is the fact that my parents haven’t moved for most of my conscious life, so I’ve always had passive storage space for all this stuff. Yes, I’ve moved myself, but I’ve only brought the stuff I really used with me, and hung on to the rest of it anyway. My parents have been hoping I’d clean up my bedroom at home enough that they could, you know, actually use it for a few years now (sorry, Mom and Dad!). I have this fantasy that when Will and I move into an actual apartment, I’ll have enough space in there to really sort through things, but I’m not going to make promises I’m not sure I can keep.

Back at Oberlin

I’ve been having a hard time starting this entry. I’ve spent most of the week hiding out in our airbnb room and suggesting to Will that we go to Cleveland. It’s very weird being back at Oberlin, especially when most of the people I’m used to spending time with here aren’t around.

This was the right time to visit Oberlin though: much more greenery than I remembered, although some of that is from staying in residential Oberlin, where there are yards and gardens rather than just quads. I’m sure spring is always like this, but a lot of what I remember is winter, or at least times that aren’t as nice as it is right now. Apparently I convinced Will it was some sort of barren wasteland, and he seems to be pleasantly surprised at its verdancy.

It’s particularly weird because classes aren’t in session, so Mudd Library and the classroom buildings I’ve been in have been maudlinly empty. I remember walking through the empty halls a year ago and realizing I was never going to go to another class there again. I haven’t always been happy here, but I did enjoy more of my classes than I didn’t. And, since I have no immediate plans for grad school, that mode of my life is over for the foreseeable future. I’m sure that will be a much smaller deal when I’m, you know, on to another mode of life that isn’t taxiing on the runway.

Anyway, hopefully something much more upbeat next week, when we go on to Pittsburgh!

Mohegan Lake and Other Suburbs

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This week, we’ve been staying in Mohegan Lake, New York, which is a suburb of Peekskill, New York. Probably people commute into the city from here, but it’s not a short trip. We’re staying with a friend of Will’s in what was his grandmother’s house until recently. It’s kind of an odd place for some 20-somethings to be living: all the neighbors are families, or at the very least, actual adults, and there are no coffee shops, bars, or brunch places within walking distance. It’s also probably the only time we’ll crash with a friend who has an actual spare bedroom.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know me, and if you know me, it’s not unlikely you’ve heard me go on and on about the American Urbanism class I took last year (American Urbanism with Greggor Mattson, if you’re at Oberlin). Really great class; will probably quote it at cocktail parties for the rest of my life. In particular, the class covered the growth of American suburbs, a topic that I find peculiarly intriguing. I didn’t grow up in a suburb–despite what Manhattanite Oberlin students will have you believe, there is a difference between a suburb and a small town–so I didn’t have much personal buy-in to them. I suppose I thought they were the height of inauthenticity and I was a much more interesting person because I was from a real place (the kind of person who’d make arch comments pointedly distancing herself from them, maybe?), but the opinion was both passive and unexamined.

The neighborhood we’re staying in has an interesting (to me) mix of house styles. The one we’re in is an old one–a split level with one bathroom. I’m guessing late ’40’s or ’50’s, though I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. Many of the other houses on its street are along the same lines: Sears catalogue homes, probably, or other comparatively small, older houses. Today, we noticed a line of them that were from the same design, with a long, asymmetrical roof. Then there are a couple of cross streets with much newer (and bigger) development, which Will characterized by “his & hers sports cars,” although I’ve also been seeing a strong contingent of large, shiny, black SUV’s. They haven’t been made on the same designs, although they share a lot of features, notably one enormous feature window with a rounded top that I imagine looks into some kind of grand foyer. I’ve seen at least one chandelier near the top.

One of the chief reasons I want to drive across the country is to see parts of the country I either don’t know or haven’t seen in years. In short, I’m going to be a tourist for the next few months of my life. And yes, that does mean seeing cities and mountains and national parks and unsettlingly large versions of household objects, but it also means overpasses and gas stations and grocery stores, and yes, suburbs. Anyway, next stop is Oberlin, which I’m sure will be an interesting ride in many ways.

Day Trip to Pine Plains

On Thursday afternoon, we drove up to picturesque Pine Planes, just ’cause we won’t get a lot of chances to drive this year. It was a great drive, north from Red Hook up state route 9G. Not to downplay my appreciation for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, but driving on high-speed surface roads always feels joyful in a quite different way from driving as fast as I possibly legally can. I’m sure we’ll drive on highways a lot on this trip, but I hope we’ll take some alternate routes, especially on the shorter drives like this weekend’s.

We wandered around A New Leaf Used books for a while, but didn’t buy anything. Since we both brought a box of books with us for the year, it’s probably going to be a while before we buy too many new books, but I doubt that’ll stop us from browsing used bookstores everywhere we go. As an overgrown couple of unsocial, bookish children, we both have a tendency to gravitate to bookstores, especially used ones, regardless of whether we have any intention of buying books. Will often actually buys something, but I usually just wander around with a vague sense of sadness that I don’t read as much as I used to.

A New Leaf was really delightful: it’s clearly been made in the downstairs of a functional house, with little or no renovation beyond the addition of perhaps more bookshelves than the average lifestyle would necessitate. My favorite aspect was a room that had formerly been a pantry or possibly kitchen, that still had a functional-looking sink, with books piled on the counter next to it. (I didn’t test the sink. It seemed rude.)

And we’re off!

Finally, after months of route-planning, car-hunting, stuff-packing, and notice-giving, we’ve done it! We drove off on the first beautiful day of spring, mostly on county roads and state routes, and it was perfect. I was reminded of Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves, setting off on their ponies in the May sunshine, except that we have a car instead of ponies, and no wizard other than Google Maps. Our first stop is Rhinebeck, NY, near Bard College, Will’s alma mater. And guys, the Hudson valley is seriously gorgeous. If you have some vacation days this May, or future Mays, I recommend it. If you have any interest in lying on a grassy hillside looking at mountains in the distance, it’s a great place to do that. Being from New Hampshire, I didn’t think things would look all that different here, except being a few weeks further along the muddy, frost-heaved road to spring, but I was not correct about that. There are no pine trees, for one, and (probably because there are no pine trees in the way), there are views you can see without climbing a mountain or tallish building. Also, the roads are winding as all get-out. Seriously, it’s like being on a rollercoaster, except without any tracks to make sure you don’t plummet to a gruesome, fiery needing-to-call-triple-A-because-your-car-is-in-a-two-foot-ditch. Also, there are bunnies. We’re staying in an air bnb with a minifridge, but no kitchen access, so we’ve been going out to eat a lot, supplemented by sandwiches. Naturally, Will has a roster of must-dines, and so far, we’ve been to the Red Hook Curry House, the Golden Wok, and the Burrito Stand, all of which were excellent. The Burrito Stand just opened for the season today, and we waited in a moderate line to mill around in a much less moderate crowd for our guacamole burritos (always worth it to pay extra). It’s been a great week so far, and I’m looking forward to more beautiful walks and delicious food before we head to our next destination–Mohegan Lake, NY.