New York, New York vs Oberlin, Ohio
When my parents drove me to school this semester we dropped by a Trader Joe's to stock my new kitchen. They were delighted at the prices and brought a few bags home for themselves; BPA free cans of organic beans at 1.99?? How could we not?? They commented on the hassle-free, sprawled-out store in wonder. When we checked out, the cashier commented on our many bags of frozen fruit that would most likely melt on the way home.
Where are you all from? He asked me, carefully nestling my soy sauce in between the basmati rice and the red lentils. I looked back at my parents, checking in that it was ok to talk to strangers. They conceded with their eyes that as long as I was in Ohio it was also fine to get into windowless vans and take candy from old women in tall pointed hats.
New York. I answered, trying to keep some air of anonymity just in case. But I go to school here. At Oberlin? Something about my voice talking to adults makes about every third sentence into a question.
That's a great school. he chatted amiably. Must have been a long drive up here. Here, take a freezer bag on me. Special New Yorker discount so the berries don't melt.
We left with our bags of store brand health food expressing our delight and our concern. What do you suppose he was up to? We asked one another. He was so friendly, is that normal here? What's a New Yorker discount? That's not a thing. We would know.
I spend a decent amount of time talking to prospective students and their nervous parents. When I share that I'm from New York, New York, they frequently have the same question. Do you get bored not being in a city?
To which I respond: What do you mean? Oberlin is a city!
Just kidding. To which I respond: Of course not. There is a certain amount of shock when you go to a town where people give you free freezer bags, from a town that feels the need to say its name twice to get its point across. I miss home when I'm at college, and also miss college when I'm at home.
But bored? Of course not. The best example I have here is that I know that Lena Dunham lives in NYC. But have I seen her there? Never. I saw her when she came back to her alma mater to give a free talk. Sorry to namedrop there, but I told you I was a New Yorker so really you should have seen it coming. Also I'm wearing all black right now.
Oberlin is definitely an exciting place as a college. You probably know that already. And as a town? The hardest thing to get used to is probably people being so nice to each other.
Here are the things that I miss from home:
1.Taking the subway. I did a winter term project where I went home and rode the full length of the 6 train writing down thoughts and overheard dialogue because I'm the kind of person who loves the things that most people hate.
2.Getting takeout food. You can definitely do it here, but when you order at Slow Train they ask you if that medium coffee is to go or to stay and I'm starting to think that they're being serious.
3.Eating my takeout food as I walk. When I walk down to Agave to pick up takeout dinner with some suburban-born friends they all tuck the boxes under their arms and put the plastic forks in their pockets. They turn to look at me when I open the box and start eating as soon as we leave the store. What? I ask. Eating while you walk isn't a thing here?
Over fall break I lie around my 20th-floor apartment and gaze out at the skyscrapers' twinkly windows that I think are stars. I eat my bagels untoasted and watch the pigeons growing up on my terrace and walk quickly around my neighborhood on my way to nowhere, enjoying being in the crowd of varied people who are all ready to tell you why their life is the most important.
Then I take a 55-minute flight or a nine-hour drive and I am in Ohio, and I drop my bags in my room and walk slowly down to the coffee shop, smiling at everyone who passes, and I order my coffee to stay so I can sit by a window and look out at a carless street and do some reading.