We're at the edge of the Earth. On the way to Cornell University from Penn, the straight line of the highway seems endless as the city melts into country and overbearing skyscrapers seem to soundlessly transform into more overbearing mountains. City lights fade out of view and the Philadelphia skyline silently slips from vision. As the highway continues, the sky sheds its nighttime polluted pink as it melts into an upstate New York deep inky indigo, stars that can't be seen in the city shining like fluorescent cell phone buttons in the sky. Upon arrival at Cornell, just the barely audible sounds of worn students' boots crunching on the freshly fallen snow interrupt the eeriness of the otherwise soundless night. Sprint PCS ("Pretty Crappy Service") doesn't work here. Good God, surely we Penn students had arrived at the edge of the Earth. This past weekend, 14 Penn students and myself traveled to Cornell to perform in an a cappella competition. Arriving in the silent country landscape buried in upstate New York was like walking down Locust Walk at some ridiculous hour when no one else is awake and you're alone. The wind rustles the branches, and you turn around anxiously as you've been trained to do in Philadelphia -- but no one is there. In a lot of ways, that same description describes Cornell. It's beautiful, yes, but no one and nothing is there. People at Penn often whine about the University's location. West Philadelphia has never been Penn's selling point as the parents of prospective (and mortified) students on campus tours perpetually ask about "the safety issue." Penn is nestled deep in the thick of "the bad side of town," and despite the changes that have recently occurred in the community landscape, students aren't ready to forget that we're still in West Philly. We can try to take the "bad parts" of West Philadelphia out of Penn -- but we can't take Penn out of West Philadelphia. On top of that, Penn students often claim there's "nothing to do" in Philadelphia: "The restaurants on campus are bad." "There's nowhere to go on campus except for one or two bars." "We need a better movie theater." And the most recent on Papaya King: "What genius thought that beefy fattening hot dogs and fat-free fruit drinks actually go together?" Overall, despite all the improvements that Penn has given us, we often still clamor that it's not enough. So why not transfer to beautiful Cornell? There, students leave their doors unlocked until the last person returns home at 3 a.m. Safety's not an issue. Barbecues sit carelessly on the huge lawns -- no one's going to steal them. Rent for a six-person house not far from campus is $300 per person per month. And it might take some time, but you'll eventually get over the biting cold that freezes your lungs every time you breathe. But will you get over the fact that the town is isolated from any city by hours? That there is a depressing four-foot high "rides" box in the student center into which people drop off slips that beg for rides to the nearest city? That the only city to speak of is "Collegetown," N.Y., where there is less to do than there is at Penn? Crotchety old people on TV always tritely comment, "You never realize how good a thing is until you don't have it anymore." As much as I hate to believe moral aphorisms that could have easily been hacked out by a Full House writer, the crotchety old people are right. Cornell's beauty can't be denied. The feeling of safety that pervades their campus is incomparably better than Penn. But when push comes to shove, maybe it's not so bad to take West Philadelphia over Ithaca. A not-so-fabulous neighborhood over isolated beauty. Something -- anything -- to do, over nothing at all. West Philadelphia may not have the best entertainment options. It may not be perfect. There may be some things that you detest about Penn's location and Philadelphia in general. But we've got a lot more than the Ithacas of the world. If nothing else, a trip to Cornell should remind us how lucky we are to have Penn and Philadelphia. Even if it's not Los Angeles or New York City, thank God it's not Ithaca. As the weekend drew to a close, I hardly minded waking up at 6:45 in the morning to get in the car for the four-hour drive to come home to Penn. Because there may not be much here -- but at least there's something.Comments powered by Disqus
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