Having lived on Long Island my entire life, I wouldn’t have believed that I would have such an awesome time on the shores of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, hours away from an ocean. When I was a kid, summers meant hot days splashing around at Robert Moses and, a little later, cool nights sketchily drinking at the array of North Shore beaches. My early memories of the warm summer months we love so much are dominated by the salty sting of seawater in my eyes and throat and the pure, unadulterated joy of effortlessly riding a wave into the chaos of children and their parents who line the sand-sea border.
I wasn’t all that thrilled with the prospect of spending my summer in a place that’s known for carousels. Yeah, I liked it here well enough, and I have my own place, which was obviously more than I could say about home, but it was 200 miles away from the ocean, and the prospect of a man-made lake that had sand trucked in as the only “beach” wasn’t all that appealing. Also, it’s Binghamton. Enough said.
But holy moly was I wrong. I thought I was going to be sitting around a lot, rereading “A Song of Ice and Fire” and emptying my Netflix queue. I quickly learned that this forgotten, dilapidated little city that so many of us strictly call the place we go to school has more to offer than my isolated old-money town on the Gold Coast of Long Island. I completely immersed myself in Binghamton and became a “townie.” I went to school at Broome Community College, ate at the Belmar (wing nights on Wednesdays and a pig roast on Thursdays) and drank at Mad Monk’s Tavern, where the guys play darts and the girls get hit on by drunk 50-year-olds. I traveled upstate New York, did some cliff jumping and finally found out why people live north of Westchester. I went to concerts in places like Canandaigua, N.Y., Freeport, Maine and Dover, Del. (yeah bro I went to Firefly, waddup). I went to the Strawberry Festival, Spiedie Fest and Garlic Fest and had an awesome fancy party.
The list goes on and on. It was like I was studying abroad. The culture of the city of Binghamton is so different than what we experience as timorous students, especially if you’re on campus. This city has so much to offer, it has a character of its own. Admittedly part of that character are racist crackheads. But it’s also the extensive Broome County parks system, the Cutler Botanic Garden, First Fridays, Wing Wednesdays and Zona Mondays. It’s coffee, beer and a SUNY Sizzler at Cyber Café West while some weird indie-jazz-house-trance band plays in the background. It’s impromptu road trips because for some reason everything seems closer from here (even if it isn’t).
We all bash this place as a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken shithole that happens to house a school that was both good enough and cheap enough for us to attend — as if we just need to tolerate this place for the next four years while we get our degrees. And I know it’s hard to get to the Belmar for wing night when there’s a three-degree wind chill. But when you can, appreciate this place. Immerse yourself a little bit. There’s a whole culture under the grime that students rarely see. All you need to do is drop your sleeve over your hand and rub at it for a little, and you will see what this awesome upstate city has to offer.