Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
June 5, 2002:
town that isn't
Why isn't Princeton more like Ann Arbor, say?
By Hugh O'Bleary
"You call Princeton a college town? Ha!"
My friend Kilgor was obviously in one of his moods,
standing on the platform at the Dinky station early on a recent
Monday morning, alternately glowering at the front page of the New
York Times and scowling down the line of the tracks as if trying
to will the little train to appear. It was hopeless, I knew, but
I kept my nose buried in my book, thinking that maybe he would just
"Ha!" he said, and I think he had inched closer to my
shoulder. I sighed and looked up.
"Well," I began, knowing it was going to be a long Monday
morning, "isnt it?"
"Ha," he said. He clearly had a good
thing going. "I know college towns, OBleary, and Princeton
is no college town."
"What about...?" I made a half-hearted sweeping gesture
in the direction of what was, after all, the large, prestigious
and undeniably collegiate college surrounding us.
But Kilgor, who had spent his undergraduate years at Ohio State
and had gone to grad school at Michigan and, I think, Arizona State,
was not about to relent. Perhaps, I thought, he was suffering from
some sort of retroactive spring fever.
He said, predictably, "Ha!" then folded his paper and
stuffed it under his arm.
"College, yes, but college town, no way." He was off and
running. "First of all, didnt Princeton just win a national
"Right," I said. "Womens lacrosse. That was
"So, where were the riots? Where was the looting? Do you realize,
not a single car was torched on Nassau Street?" He smirked.
"College town. Ha."
I started to say that I hardly thought that postvictory mayhem was
a worthwhile measure of a university communitys character,
but he cut me off.
"And what about those Girls Gone Wild videos? You never see
any of those advertised on late-night TV with blurred-out shots
of Princeton coeds flashing on Prospect Street."
"Well, no, I certainly havent," I said, "but"
"Underground newspapers!" he practically bellowed. "You
cant walk 20 feet in Berkeley or Ann Arbor without bumping
into a vending box full of seditious rags. And what about head shops?
Piercing parlors? Kids camped out on the sidewalk in front of Ticketmaster?
Live Music, for gosh sakes? Wheres the street lined with loud
He was just taking a breath when, mercifully, the
Dinky arrived, groaning and screeching to a stop at the station.
I gave a cheerful shrug and a smile and, as soon as the doors opened,
darted for a seat.
"College town," I heard him call after
Kilgor may be nuts or just a frustrated former frat boy
but I began to think he had a point. Here was Princeton, the school,
a world-renowned university, top-ranked every year in U.S. News
and World Report, the place Hollywood comes to when it wants
to convey academia in all its glory; and then here is Princeton,
the town, a what, exactly? A rather quiet, historic little burg,
with a lot of trees and a lot of money and one movie theater.
Sure, if you know how to look you can spot a Nobel
Prize winner or two passing on the sidewalk. Einsteins house
is cute, and Nassau Hall is picture-postcard handsome. There is
a nice, unpretentiously hip coffee shop and a terrific independent
bookstore. But, really, very little of the university dominates
the town. Even the P-rade is confined to campus. It is a far cry
from Kilgors Animal House-Meets-MTV vision of two-and-gown.Then
again, I thought, as the train rolled on toward the Junction, would
I have it any other way?
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" firstname.lastname@example.org