Web Exclusives: On the Campus

December 13, 2006:

A night at the Prince; a day with the rowers

By Elyse Graham ’07

Some nights, Chanakya Sethi ’07, the genial and adroit editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian, snatches sleep on the office sofa. Election night 2006 would be a sofa night, with data streaming in from reporters around campus, editors madly researching, and – a practice begun this year – Prince bloggers filing from campaign sites.

In the small, bright first-floor newsroom, students answered phones, scanned copy, and fired quips from table to table. Layout staffers huddled around a large PC, preparing two designs for the next day’s front page: if the Democrats won, “BLUE AMERICA”; if the Republicans won, “RED AMERICA.” As stories arrived, the layout staff “flowed” them onto the inside pages, holding the front page as long as they could.

Sethi paced the room as more phones rang. News editor Tom Senn ’07 talked to a writer at the campaign headquarters in Bridgewater of Tom Kean Jr., the Republican Senate candidate in New Jersey: “Definitely write about that – all the different kinds of food and kinds of alcohol they have, and what happens when they – can you partake? Oh, you’re probably too young.”

A sports editor slouched at a PC, tuning out with an iPod while he tightened a feature on hockey. Associate news editor Christian Burset '07, neat in a side part and sweater, groomed an article on professors’ pay. Jennifer Epstein ’08, a senior writer, instant-messaged a journalist in Washington.

Mike Shapiro ’09 posted a blog entry from Kean headquarters. The races were tightening, and Sethi decided to bump the election stories to 800 words. Phones rang. From Frist, a student photographer e-mailed photos of an election party. Staffers fired text messages to one another.

“Why did you just send me a text message?”

“It wasn’t supposed to go to you. It was supposed to go to Tom.”

“Well, I’m Todd.”

At 8:30, a big box of donuts appeared. At nine, a quarter-donut sat alone.

Staffers pressed around a laptop, watching election coverage. Phones rang. In East Brunswick, Jonathan Zebrowski ’09 interviewed Dick Codey, the New Jersey Senate president, and put up a post. Exit poll information poured in.

As 1 a.m. arrived, the lead story was being assembled. Sethi headlined the front page “BLUE AMERICA” using a font called Din 126. The quarter-donut had disappeared. With a dozen students still at the office, the sky outside graded from black to blue. The newsroom windows glowed until dawn.

WARM AUTUMN SUNLIGHT blessed more than 200 students as they gathered for mid-November practice at the boathouse on Lake Carnegie’s shore. Princeton’s rowing teams often practice separately, but on this day the varsity teams came together, men and women, all weights.

Since the start of classes, the crew teams have met almost daily, rowing outside while the weather is good. The teams were preparing to move inside for winter training – a real loss for rowers like Christopher Nagel ’07, since the lake is a special world that rowers share, with beauties that trump its pains.

“A bad row can never take away a good row,” said Nagel. “Because you have that moment with you forever. And you go back to the water thinking, ‘Today’s the day, maybe I’ll get that moment back.’ ”

The rowers pushed out under a clear sky and stroked downriver. A motorboat followed, bearing two coaches in black windbreakers and sunglasses. The trees luxuriated in rich leaf, their crowns flush with the water’s green face. “It’s a pretty nice office,” said Curtis Jordan, the lightweight coach.

At the Kensington dam, the shells turned and sprinted to the Washington Street bridge, a distance of 2.2 miles. Stroking hard, the white shells resembled swans flying low, necks outstretched and wings beating a steady pulse. The coxswain growled encouragement in a lyric rhythm, shouting each time the oars released. As the shells passed under the bridge, Jordan snapped his stopwatch. Coach Greg Hughes jotted names and times on a notepad.

The teams ran the drill a second time, shirts darkening with sweat and spray. Rowing works every large muscle group, and when the body is aching most, clean technique is at its highest importance. “It’s like trying to hit a golf ball perfectly while your heart rate’s 180,” said Peter Ryan ’07. A breeze softened the warm air but, as Jordan said, “Wind is not our friend.” Wind pushes or drags on boats, shifting the finish time by precious seconds.

“The experience of rowing can be rewarding, but it can also be anguishing,” said Nagel. “If the boat is running, it’s beautiful. You can hit that point where you can hear the water trickle under the boat” – he purred softly, to demonstrate – “and then you can tell you’re riding on the water, instead of plowing through it. But if you have trouble getting going, and it’s crashing from side to side, it can be painful.”

At last, in approaching darkness, the coaches led the rowers back to the boathouse. On several boats, the rowers divided the journey home, with two pulling oars while another two rested. The breeze was brutal, the athletes said later, but the next day, they’d be back. It would be a long winter before returning to the lake.

ELise Graham '07Elyse Graham ’07 is an undergraduate fellow at Mathey College.

Photo by Hyunseok Shim ’08