Stuff White People Like: Ithaca, NY

After shooting beer bottles, avoiding hippies, following drunk guys on lawnmowers, stumbling through an Ivy League university and chasing whiskey with pickle juice, I realized that Ithaca, in upstate New York, is the ultimate manifestation of the blog Stuff White People Like. My time there captured the stereotypical joys of white Americans as no other place could. I’ve been to Texas and I’ve been to Paris Review readings; both are white in a very distinct way, but each repudiates the other, thus reflecting only half the diversity of white Americans.

Ithaca, on the other hand, was like a white-on-white ying and yang, one of those black and white cookies but with two kinds of vanilla instead of chocolate. My time there accommodated the tastes of stereotypical gun-toting hillbillies and stereotypical P.C. snobs. I was only in town for a weekend, but these few experiences in Ithaca showed me the full spectrum of white like I had never seen it before.

Stuff White People Like: Guns

To this day, every single person I know who owns a gun (all two or three of them) is white, so it’s no surprise that my trip to Ithaca involved guns… of sorts. I was there visiting a friend who’s currently studying in Ithaca. He owns a German-made bolt-action rifle from WWI and an Enfield revolver, but since his permanent residence is in New York City, it’s nearly impossible to get a license for either. That being the case, he doesn’t like to mess around with his actual firearms unless he gets really drunk. So in an effort to let off that three-to-four-beer steam, he purchased a Daisy PowerLine 953. It’s a pump-action pellet gun made mostly for sh-ts and giggles, but apparently it can also take down small game, like squirrels. We took it out with a couple of six-packs and had a nice time on the range (that is, his backyard).

Stuff White People Like: College

What’s whiter than college kids? Ivy League college kids, and there’s nothing that defines Ithaca more than Cornell. The university’s nearly 23,000 students and staff almost equal the city’s 30,000 citizens (many of whom are likely in the service of the school), and its campus dominates the east side of town. It’s all wide pedestrian avenues and rolling green punctuated by fortresses from the 19th century and modernist white buildings reminiscent of enormous restrooms. Cornell kids spill over the university walls into Collegetown, which is a mixture of bars, restaurants and shops. It looks exactly how you’d imagine — except it’s Cornell, so the students are smarter, less fashionable and, to be honest, noticeably more Asian. (For the sake of the stereotype, let’s say they were just visiting.)

Oh, yeah: There’s also Ithaca College.

Stuff White People Like: Microbrews

This one was actually featured on Stuff White People Like, but instead of sh-tting on people for not wanting to drink bottled piss, I’m going to say yeah, I get it. Cheap beer tastes awful. At best, it’s dirty water; at worst, it’s Natty Ice. It’s fine for the end of the night when you’re too drunk to taste or if you’re 16, but to paraphrase what a friend wrote awhile ago: “Cooome onnn, duuude.” You’re not a dumb teenager anymore and, considering that iPhone 4S, you’re not broke. You’re trying to project some false poverty-stricken aesthetic or you’re being cheap — either way, knock it off. New York is full of breweries that make delicious, affordable beers and a lot of them manage to trickle into the City. If your bar doesn’t stock something without an annual Super Bowl commercial, well, you may want to stop drinking at Applebee’s.

Stuff White People Like: Lawnmowers

Besides the constant babble of running water from the surrounding gorges and waterfalls, there’s another ubiquitous hum that permeates Ithaca: lawnmowers. It seems we were never more than a backyard away from someone mowing their lawn. Part of the reason is that real estate is so cheap once you leave New York City, that everyone north of The Bronx owns a three-story house and the five acres surrounding it, so they need to be mowing for half the week or their home will be swallowed up by the encroaching forest. But the other reason might be because folks use lawnmowers as a means of conveyance, like the champ pictured below. I don’t know if this has something to do with D.U.I. loopholes (dude seemed super wasted), but people will apparently take these things to the local market for… more beer, I guess.

Stuff White People Like: Hippies

As home to Ithaca College and Cornell, Ithaca’s a serious college town. Dorm-room politics and progressive sensibilities support local head shops and organic burrito shacks, but culminate in tragedy: with hippies, lots and lots of hippies. Due to the influence of Woodstock, which apparently gave hippies license over all of upstate New York as one giant forest-playground, Ithaca is overrun with dreadlocked shoeless stoners. You see them everywhere, panhandling, milling about waiting to sell pot to college kids or doing something predictably cringe worthy, like creating a 6,000-person peace symbol. Walking through Ithaca Commons, a downtown pedestrian strip of restaurants and stores, we saw a couple of hippies selling cassette tapes. Cassette tapes, dude? What, did you smoke yourself back to the ’80s?

Stuff White People Like: Picklebacks

Growing up in New York City on 40s of malt liquor, it’s tough to get exposed to new drinks. By the time you’re actually old enough to go to a bar, you’ve been drinking Colt 45 for so many years that you believe all booze tastes like a homeless man’s piss and you gotta just bite the bullet, so you order whatever’s cheapest and keep the change. Then you grow up and your white coworker tells you about picklebacks, a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine. A few days later, you wind up at your white friend’s house party, where he’s coincidentally offering up picklebacks. Then it’s a week later and you’re tramping through Taughannock Falls State Park with another white friend, a flask full of whiskey and a Poland Spring bottle full of spicy pickle brine. This doesn’t intrinsically relate to Ithaca, but apparently white people love picklebacks and the drink’s confused origins manage to bridge the great white divide, with its invention credited to both Texas truckers and Brooklyn hipsters.

_____

In all honesty, my assessment of Ithaca could be off. As you might be able to tell from the above, I spent much of my time there enjoying the region’s beer, whiskey and pickle juice, and that can blur the vision, tamper with understanding. What I took away from the place is that it’s magical, part haven for academics and families with well-manicured lawns, part playground for stoners and outdoorsmen. A consolation for brothers on the opposing sides of the Civil War, the comments section of YouTube and New Yorker cartoons, it’s a meeting place of popular white culture open to all comers. And boy, is it something to behold. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EUL6B7WZUNAHGMO5KRCKZTGP54 Damen Handle

    There isn’t anything about Ithaca that makes it unique compared to other well known college towns that share all these characteristics, like Ann Arbor or Madison.

    • Mandy

       Seriously?  Ann Arbor and Madison have plunging gorges and more than 100 waterfalls within 10 miles, including one that’s taller than Niagara?

  • Alex

    I go to school twenty minutes outside of Ithaca. I’m white. Your assessment is spot-on.

    I hate Ithaca.

    • cayuga waters

      then why don’t you go ahead and stay “twenty minutes outside of Ithaca…” …given your insightful and nuanced opinion, i’m certain you won’t be missed

    • M90999

      Probably goes to TC3…

      • Courtney

        I go to TC3 because I can’t afford to go anywhere else right now. I’m new to Ithaca and I love it here, but this Ivy League snob bullshit has to stop. 

  • kc

    Ithaca College deserves more than a sentence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      “Ithaca is gorges. [Just don’t jump from the bridge.]”

      • kc

        White men can’t jump. (on south hill, anyways.)

  • Rich Pulvino

    Flower Power IPA and Cascazilla by Ithaca Beer Company:  Mmmmm

  • Sarah

    As a white Syracuse native, I’ve taken countless trips to Ithaca, and they have almost always been for one of two occasions (repeated over 10 years or so)

    a) NYASTA Orchestra Camp at Ithaca College. Literally all whites and Asians. Always preceded by a trip to A&W and a last minute stop at Wal-Mart.

    b) Trips with my dad to the two used book stores, which may or may not have names. If my mom gets dragged along, we have to go to the kitschy jewelry stores too. When I get my way (usually) we go to Simeons. Their lobster BLT is incredible. 

    One time I also went to the Hotel Cafe tour and saww Cary Brothers, Ingrid Michelson, and Joshua Radin. Preceded by diner at the vegan cafe. 

    Oh, and sometimes we’d venture down for Urban Outfitters, but now there’s one in Armory Square, so fuck that trip.

    Summarily, I am extremely white and Ithaca is the whitest city in NY by far. Spot on. 

  • ithacan

    you sure did miss a whole lot of other things that personify both the “typical” white subculture and ithaca, ny. your blog post effectively left out an entire beautiful culture that is ithaca, ny. 

    for instance:#132 Picking their own Fruit-nothing compares to the joy this area embraces every fall & the bliss of chomping into a freshly picked, crisp apple from one of ithaca’s many local orchards
    #100 Bumper Stickers-have you seen the spectrum of politically surged stickers? it’s like a portable activism art museum.
    #102 Children’s Games as Adults-any of the local coffee shops will show you that the uninhibited fun that ithacans value, as well as the large stacks of board games.
    #48 Whole foods and grocery co-ops
    #51 Living by the Water-rather than talking about one person who is toting a gun around whilst drunk (which is remarkably terrifying) maybe you could remark about how beautiful the surrounding area is
    #36 Breakfast places-northstar french toast, anyone?
    #16 Gifted children
    #5 Farmer’s Markets- really, you didn’t even mention this? really?
    #3 Film Festivals- fleff? hello?
    #1 Coffee- ithaca runs on coffee (and of course, locally produced beer), but you failed to see one of the true cultural connectors that this area prides itself.oh, and maybe the fact that christian lander visited and spoke at ithaca college, not cornell.

    • Anonymous

      re #48, did you mean Wegmans? There’s no Whole Foods in Ithaca.

      • ithacan

        do you live in ithaca? have you been to green star?

      • Anonymous

        Yes and yes. I thought you were referring to the Whole Foods chain.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        Going to jump in here… Wegmans is a fucking paradise.

  • Anonymous

    There are black people in Ithaca. Had you taken a break from drinking with your white friends you might have seen some. There’s Martin Luther King Jr Drive, or State Street downtown, a couple black churches and some community centers that are primarily black (though not exclusively so). You’ll find guns, lawnmowers, whiskey & beer (maybe not microbrews) in every town in America. At least you mentioned the state parks and gorges, probably Ithaca’s most unique features.

  • Kelly

    stupid.

  • guest

    Ithaca College, while not as “prestigious” as CU, is still a great school.  The music school and the Roy H. Park School of Communications are amongst the best in the country, and they have exceptional programs for health sciences and theatre.  So while Cornell may be an Ivy League school, it doesn’t mean that the college should be placed on the back burner. There is a whole list of incredible alumni from the school such as Disney CEO Bob Iger, David Borenez of the TV shows “Bones” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Broadway star Kerri Butler, Ricki Lake, and Rod Sterling, the creator of “The Twilight Zone”.  Perhaps instead of simply saying “oh yeah then there’s Ithaca College” y0u should take the time to see the beautiful campus and learn about its history.

    • GUEST

      PARK SCHOOL PRIDE

  • Lili1928

    this is a ridiculous article.  as somebody who lives in ithaca, ny, i can say that none of this is accurate and they clearly know nothing about the area.

  • Guest

    As an Ithaca College grad (and 4 year campus tour guide), I find this article offensive.  First of all, IC definitely deserves way more than a sentence. Second of all, you didn’t do your research – and you clearly only experienced the tiniest sliver of what the area has to offer.

    Next time you want to stereotype an area – really experience it first. Because now, you just sound like an idiot.

    • Guest

      Seconded.

    • Guest

      Dear IC grad, 

      Bag my groceries.

      Sincerely,

      Cornell

      • Guest

        Dear Cornell Grad,

        Do you need an escort as well? Across your footbridges?

        Regards,
        A dick, like you

      • Other guest

        Dear Cornell,

        What are you doing in my store? Don’t you have a bridge to jump off of?

        Sincerely,
        A non-suicidal and happy-with-his-life IC grad.

      • Guest

        What a sad, pathetic, and unnecessarily aggressive response to a comment meant to defend a community both Cornell & Ithaca students share.  But don’t worry, you’ve made your point: for all the Ivy League status, some of those who associate themselves with Cornell can still be seen as the equivalent of middle school bullies (equally idiotic, equally unimpressive, and equally ridiculous).

      • Atrebla

        Really? It was a joke. I say this as someone who went to both schools. (yes, we exist)

  • Bro Derek

    Other things white people like in Ithaca:

    Hiking
    Picking your own fruit
    Wine Tasting
    Frat Parties
    Farmer’s Markets
    Crafts
    Book Stores
    Record Shops
    Hockey
    Vintage Clothing
    Water Skiing
    Fishing
    Smoking
    Locally Roasted Coffee
    Locally Made Anything
    Sorority Chicks
    Breakfast Burritos

  • JuliusTLeisure

    Young Arv, it’s me. JTL. I’ve visited Ithaca at least three times a year for the past 15 years. My wife and her fam are part of the Cornell mafia. They have three gens of legacies and a 50 year prof in the mix.

    Ithaca is dirty, poor, and pretentious. Townies are somewhat more fun than the gownies (and I grew up in a college town and lived in Santa Cruz for years, I know pretentious).

    You’re pretty accurate in the assessment that Ithaca is basically what white people like, defined. I’ve never had a bad experience there, but after two or three days I get fairly homicidal. I mean how many Suburus can have “Coexist” stickers? The concentration must be the highest, nationally.

  • http://mrianmbelcurry.tumblr.com/ Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    racist! j/k… I’d like to mention that all races can be rednecks, and like shooting guns. I know hispanics, blacks and whites who like to shoot guns in the woods and drink beer. Though that’s not all races, and this is a comedic piece. Embrace your inner redneck cultures of the world!

  • Big Red

    Simply perfec description. Well done.

  • Guest

    There are a lot of ways Ithaca might be cast as “white,” but this completely misses the mark. I have been living here for 6 years, and I have not once seen a gun, a pickleback, or, in all honesty, a lawnmower within the city limits.
    Instead, I think this should be titled “Stuff White People Like: How I Spent My Weekend”

  • Cyberroulette

    As someone who lived in Ithaca for many years before moving away for college, this is really pretty offensive, especially considering you openly admit to spending such a miniscule amount of time in Ithaca itself.  Ithaca, on the surface, is not exactly the pinnacle of racial diversity, but Ithaca, and really any city, is a lot more diverse than can be encapsulated in a list of six things or in a single weekend.

  • Meghan

    Also see: Burlington, VT

    minus the guns, pickle backs and lawn mowers. Friendlier white people, if you will. 

  • LDN

    I never knew Ithaca existed until I watched ‘Road Trip’. True story.

  • Waicool

    yep, i’m not racist!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1354080581 Joyce Wu

    I would like to agree with Guest, who wrote a very valiant paragraph defending Ithaca College. In addition to IC being a pretty solid school academically, the students are much better looking. 

  • man

    Thats my rainbow car behind the van!

  • Atrebla

    #THAT’SRACIST.

    Sounds like an article a white person wrote upon visiting Ithaca. I thought it would be funny, and maybe political, or in good taste. But no. It is the impression of Ithaca that someone who is white, hanging around white people, who doesn’t go anywhere but where the rich new yorkers go when they come visit. loser.

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