Local Went There: SUNY New Paltz

Sometimes, when the air is right and Bobst has sucked too much of our youth, we need to get out of the city and venture to other college campuses. Whether to debauch with high school friends, be disgustingly cute with a long-distance partner, or bother a younger sibling for a while, it’s always a nice change of pace. We rode a bus upstate to SUNY New Paltz, one of the grand public universities of this fair state of ours. And if there’s one thing that we took away from the experience, it is that it’s weird being anywhere else.

While some of these observations may seem simple and obvious (huh, we live in a city and they’re in the middle of nowhere), it is still a odd thing to experience–that someone else is having a college experience just like we are, but that it’s so radically different.

1. Anyone can walk on to campus, and no one cared. Walking up from the bus station, the group of NYC travelers figured what kind of clearance we would need to come on campus. Show an ID card? Call a friend who attends the school? Get swiped in through a round-about series of card scans and signatures? In the middle of the discussion, we realized we had walked right to the center of campus, and no one cared. We’re strangers! How is this not a big deal? We then took advantage of the situation, and ignored the students trying to get us to donate to a charity.

2. New Paltz is 2 miles across. True story.  Wikipedia says, “According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 1.8 square miles (4.6 km²), of which, 1.7 square miles (4.5 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (1.70%) is water.” Not even classified as a town, the proper term is “village.” As of 2010, the population was 6,818; that is less people invited to the last Amanda Sarah party. On the other hand, we’re also the pompous jerks who need an entire baseball stadium to graduate in, so maybe there’s not great perspective.

3. Food establishments were surprised that we were eating there. Walking into a deserted Subway on a Friday night, you’d think that the sandwich artists had never seen a customer before. Same thing happened later at a Burger King, and again on Sunday morning at a Starbucks. With five people on line, it was revealed that there was a shortage of grande iced coffee tops that day. The barista said, “Our day is going to be so unfortunate because of these iced coffee tops.” So true. The thing is, it felt great, like we were appreciated customers or something. Much better than No Soup For You.

4. Been spending most our lives, livin’ in a 5-0 paradise. There are cops everywhere in New Paltz. First, there are the college security guards, who have legit cars and are everywhere. Then, there’s the village police. On top of that, the Ulster Country police and the state police roll through the village from time to time. How much crime is going down in the village that there has to be such a prevalent police force? Is the number of drunk bros promoting disorderly conduct needed for reinforcements? Is New Paltz secretly The Wire and we missed it? We see the NYPD everywhere, but we also live in a city that celebrates when someone doesn’t get murdered for nine days.  And that only happened because it was really, really cold outside.

5. Driving is fun. Yeah, there’s no joke here. We all miss driving a little bit.

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  1. Steve Greenfield says

    As a transplanted native New Yorker living in New Paltz for the last 12 years, I’d like to make a couple of observations on your observations.

    1. If you’d visited any of the neighboring towns surrounding our oasis, you’d have seen that NP is the Greenwich Village of the Hudson Valley, with Rosendale perhaps our East Village. But you tried to eat at three chain fast-food stores (get back to that in a minute), and spent your time on campus instead of on Main Street, whereas when I walk around NYU, I walk around the streets and Washington Square Park. You should have tried to walk around the SUNY area in the way you walk around NYU. You would have come away with very different impressions of the place.

    2. Yes, as a matter of fact, it’s safe here. We all walk around with the ability to keep our ID in our pockets, and very low levels of fear that anything bad will happen to anyone because of it. That’s one of the traditional differences between urban and rural areas. My opinion is we’re over-policed, as you observed, but many others around here think that’s why we walk around safe, and without having to show ID to anyone. Chances are anyone who’s interested in acting badly notices how over-policed we are just as much as the nice people, and do their bad acting elsewhere. We don’t have people being thrown up against walls and frisked, like you do in the city. Our cops pretty much just drive around, sometimes pulling over a speeder, drunk driver, or red-light runner, and generally making sure drunk young people don’t break windows. We have a substantial police presence, but we’re not a police state — like you are in Stop And Frisk City.

    3. About the restaurants: our actual restaurants are always full, with some having lines on the sidewalks. We eschew chains here, particularly crappy, toxic fast-food ones. They only stay in business because of tourists who don’t know better. We like local businesses that use local ingredients and keep their profits in the community. That’s just how we roll. Had you gone to The Bistro at brunch time, or P & G’s at dinner time, you’d have gotten fed up at waiting, and grabbed a slice of pizza. The reason the restaurants you chose were surprised to see you is because they were surprised to see you. At the very least they knew your weren’t from around here, because practically nobody who lives here goes to those places. How many towns like ours do you think there are where there are three Japanese restaurants, a Thai place, a Middle Eastern place, a Greek Place, a Turkish place, over a dozen varieties of locally fermented beer, two Mexican places, several organic restaurants, three specialty bakeries, a cheese shop, a gourmet olive oil shop, at least a half dozen specialty clothing stores, not one, but two hand-made chocolatiers, and a 4 AM closing time? Again, this is not a backwater. Most of our residents are college students, college teachers, and transplanted New Yorkers.

    3. Last call here is at 4 AM. You can’t match that in your neighborhood. Rudy Giuliani’s successful war on nightlife is one of the reasons I moved here when I was 39. I’m a musician. You’re too young to know how many live music clubs within walking distance of your campus shut down (many of them demolished to become highrise NYU dorms, BTW), and how late they used to saty open. When I was your age (I love being old enough now to use that phrase, and have it genuinely refer to a long time ago), we would fist hit the shower around 11 PM with a target time of getting to the subway (at that other college uptown at 116th St. and B’way) around midnight to head down to your neighborhood. A headliner going on before 1 AM was unheard of back then, and going to bed after sunrise was common. When I do a gig in New Paltz, I’m still playing at 3 AM. You’re in college. You have the right to live that way. If you went to college here, you could.

    4. We are not nearly so physically tiny as you described. It would be a complete waste of your time to try to explain why the section of New Paltz in which the college sits is called “Village of New Paltz,” vs. just plain New Paltz (most of us don’t understand it ourselves), but you were in New Paltz before you even got off the Thruway. We have around 34 square miles, not 1.7. The 1.7 is a boundary around our downtown business district that was created to facilitate its administration and public services. Our total population is 13,500, and half of that kives downtown, making the small area as densely populated as most urban areas, although not as dense as your neighborhood. The beautiful cliffs you saw up in the wooded park to your west are in New Paltz, and climbers come from all over the world to climb them — most famous American climbing area outside the Rockies, and the best-attended, with an estimated 50,000 climbers per year. They really know how to party.

    5. As to aforementioned restaurant “The Bistro,” which you may wish to return to whenever you give New Paltz another shot: It’s owned by a guy named Doug E. Beans, original drummer of NYC’s founding Lower East Side hardcore punk band, Murphy’s Law. Speaking of punk, The Dictators, which was the seminal NYC punk band before The Ramones and CBGB’s (a legendary place where every legendary band since 1974 has played, but NYU students can no longer enjoy thanks to your college’s land policies), actually started up here when its founder was going to SUNY New Paltz and invited a couple of his friends to live with him. Not so much the backwater you describe, New Paltz is largely a haven for up-all-night city kids like me, and Doug, who find that much of what has been lost in downtown Manhattan is still available, on a smaller, but much more sustainable scale, up here “in the middle of nowhere,” and from where we can be in Manhattan in 90 minutes — not much different from when we were kids in Queens and it took that long to get downtown on the subway.

    6. Another thing you might like if you give us another shot is to walk a block north of the intersection of Main Street and our small (rare north-flowing) river and see the historic district. We have the oldest original colonial houses in America. Tourist traps like Plymouth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburg, and St. Augustine are all recreations. Ours are the real thing. Some of them are still lived in after 300 years, but most of them are open for visitors. But we still make history here, including one recent event that changed life for all New Yorkers, and probably even for people you know. In February of 2004, our Mayor, a SUNY New Paltz grad, not an NYU grad or Michael Bloomberg, who was still in his mid-20’s at the time and working as a house painter, conducted a number of illegal same-sex weddings outside Village Hall (I was the soundman that day, and the media contact for the NYC press). That was the launch of the marriage equality movement into the public’s consciousness that made it finally worthy of above-ground political discussion. He could have gotten thrown out of office, or even sent to jail. We had a media circus here that went on for months (some of it orchestrated by me to great effect, something in which I will always take pride) that rivaled the Michael Jackson trial. Now gay people in New York — and in many other places, growing every year — have the right to marry. While you are probably too young to remember these events, 2004 is not so long ago that New Paltz’s historic is to be relegated to colonial times. Your Village is living today with the benefits of the actions of our Village, and your college students with the benefits of the actions of ours. Plus if you head over to the Union Square Farmer’s Market during the season, you’ll be surprised at how much of the organic goodies are brought to you by New Paltz farmers.

    Greenwich Village, or Village of New Paltz, we’re all in this together. Come back and visit us again some time. Eat and drink in our real restaurants; take a rock climbing class; walk around like a free, safe person who never has to show ID; and stay up and party with your peers till 4 AM. As many of us who were just like you found, you just might not want to go back home…

  2. Amy Mosbacher says

    Well said Steve! You hit the nail on the head at every point. Those are all reasons that I feel at home here and fell in love with this place after living on Long Island and in Queens my whole life and traveling to the city to find my culture. When I was college age, my friends and I spent many weekends here in NP and found all the good stuff. Mountain Biking, Hiking, Bars and great Music, Art, etc… Some kids these days can’t see past their iPhones.