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Ithaca – One Cross-dresser, a Skunk, and Family of Deer – Ithaca, New York, USA

Ithaca – One Cross-dresser, a Skunk, and Family of Deer

Ithaca, New York, USA

In the spring of 1998, I was rejected by every single Ivy League school that I had applied to which included Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Brown. I brushed it off (eventually) as a result of my absence of leadership skills and athletic abilities and went to a school that led the life of the mind. Okay, I didn’t really have a choice. Seven years later, I had the opportunity to visit a friend that was studying at Cornell’s veterinary school by way of catching a flight to Newark from Atlanta and then going by bus to Ithaca. Spurred on by my friend (Ithaca hater that she was) to spend more time in Manhattan or in my case Brooklyn than in her words ‘the dump’, I made plans to caught a bus on a Sunday afternoon and leave the following Tuesday morning. Since it had been a school of interest, I had accumulated impressions from people that went there since my high school years and knew from my surveys that I could expect lots of waterfalls, lots of boredom, lots of suicide friendly scenic routes and lots of students who liked to wear Ralph Lauren. I knew it was so to speak in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t realize to what extent till I made the trip myself.

I only realized Ithaca was a full five hours from Manhattan after I had told a friend on the island that although I was visiting a friend in Ithaca maybe I could come to visit her in the city during the day. I was expecting at tops a two hour ride but I was soon tipped off, that Ithaca was a ways away. I quickly went to the Shortline bus website and found it was a full five hours away and a whopping 70 dollars with student discount to get there.

My round trip ticket to Ithaca consisted of a series of seven tickets with an intermediary destination called Binghamton. It went from receipt student ticket, to NYC to Ithaca ticket, to NYC to Binghamton, to Binghamton to Ithaca, to Ithaca to Binghamton, to Binghamton to NYC, to the last Ithaca to NYC ticket. Just to make sure nothing was up, I called my friend at Cornell and told her that my ticket was stopping by this place called "Big Hampton" to which she had no idea what I was talking about and told me to go back to the ticket agent at which point I realized I said it wrong and said, "I mean Binghamton." After I said it correctly, she recognized the name and told me I had gotten the right ticket and was not going to someplace shady or off the wall before I arrived in Ithaca.

At the Port Authority bus terminal upstairs from the ticket counter, I stood in the long line of what looked like undergraduate students heading back to Ithaca, and when it was may turn to hand over my ticket I tried to hide the fact that I had a round trip ticket so gave what I thought was the first half of my seven ticket series to the inspector only to find him seriously confused. I reluctantly handed over the other string of tickets to which he examined all seven and then finally tore off a ticket thereby blowing my cover as a Cornell student instead of visitor. Having blown my cover, I soon felt the ridiculousness of my trip. I felt about as out of place as a 40-year-old reliving her missed spring breaks on a beach somewhere in Florida.

Within a span of 15 minutes we had left the city, a surprisingly quick feat – we had literally left Manhattan in the dust of our bus. We were soon driving through no man’s land that was the rest of New York and eventually stopped in the dilapidated town of Binghamton or for the phonetically challenged Big Hampton. During the ride, the guy sitting in front of me got a call from a friend that had just got hit by some water balloons on the Cornell campus. The guy immediately asked his friend whether it had been the graduate students, which I thought was odd. I thought to myself, is this a school that had undergraduates being harassed by the juvenile tactics of the graduate students? As the bus ride went into its third hour, I noticed that practically everyone in the fully occupied bus never once left to use the restroom. I could only assume that these students had learned extreme bladder control from the bladder stamina training these bus rides could give one.

As the bus finally started going up the hill to the Cornell campus, one of the first things that I saw was a middle-aged cross-dresser in a practically see through mini shirt on a Sunday afternoon. After wishing I hadn’t looked, I soon realized that Cornell was smack in the middle of a New England hick town, not from the cross-dresser but from the surrounding houses circling the campus. While the houses looked like they’d been transplanted from a mining town in West Virginia, the university buildings of the main campus were Gothic, Neoclassical and Victorian in style with halls named after Greek thinkers such as Socrates and marble statues of the same.

Walking through Buttermilk Falls during a drought
Walking through Buttermilk Falls during a drought

That evening my friend took me on a quick tour of the campus in the dark and pointed to even darker recesses where in daylight, there were waterfalls. As we walked back to her apartment, we came upon an entire family of deer, two parents and three babies, that were loitering on someone’s lawn when a car came approaching the intersection. True to deer fashion, one of the parents decided to walk toward the light on the street and then stopped, turned and froze facing the headlights. My friend and I both yelled ‘Oh no!’ but luckily since the car was going about 5 miles, the college kids had enough time to see the deer, laugh that they could have hit a deer, swerve and drive off. After the car was off in the distance, the deer went back onto the same lawn it came from. I had always wondered about deer, cars, and headlights and how the three were so often intermingled they had turned into a cliche of real life scenarios. Now the mystery had been solved, they’re just attracted to the headlights and hadn’t just been unlucky trying to cross the road, which is what I had originally thought.

The next day as I milled around with the undergraduates on campus at a crosswalk I spied a guy holding what I thought was a ferret. I then told me friend that there was ferret at 3 o’clock at which point she informed me it was a skunk. In shock, I thought should we try to make a run for it into the traffic, at which point she again explained skunks only let out their everlasting gas when they are scared. Ah, the benefits of having a friend in veterinary school. My bachelors degree only brain was thinking skunk – bad smell – must flee. As the guy walked across the street with us when the light had turned green, no one made any attempts to flee from him while we were within eyewitness distance from him which led me to believe that students with a skunk must be a common phenomenon at Cornell or there were lots of others that thought it was a black ferret as well.

Before I had even flown to Newark, my friend had jestingly said as I told her about my wanting to see lots of waterfalls that the area was going through a drought this year. I thought at my desk in Atlanta, sure she’s got to be pulling my leg, how could it possibly be that I was visiting a school known for its waterfalls during a drought. Sure enough, where there should have been gushing cascades of water, I now saw a measly trickle by waterfall standards or nothing at all.

The nature (the waterfalls and gorges), Ithaca (the New England hick town), and the Ivy League university (Cornell) juxtaposition was mysteriously similar to studying abroad. If I was a Cornell student, I could eat in the dining hall or next to a waterfall. I could work out in the school gym or take a hike in a National Park. One option wouldn’t take more time to get to than the other. It reminded me of being in Rome and reading Livy in class and then being able to take a lunch break by the Pantheon. Cornell was like studying abroad in a National Park where families of deer, skunks and the occasional cross-dresser are an integral part of life.

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