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.