Greetings, students! We welcome you and your debit cards to our fair city. For those of you that are here for the first time, we’d like to ease you through that period of transition when newcomers are feeling their way in an unfamiliar environment. Every place has its own culture, and to help you navigate your way in Ithaca, we’ve come up with ten rules which, it is hoped, like the rules posted at swimming pools, will enable you to avoid awkward and unsafe situations.
Learn How to Pronounce “Taughannock”.
It’s a park and a road and the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Pronunciation: “tug” as in tugboat, “ann” as in ‘Ann Coulter is clinically insane,’ and “ick” as in ‘ick, what is that blue-green stuff in the lake.’ You should practice saying it before going public.
Do Not Speak Ill of Wegmans.
Ithaca is a mostly secular community, but there is a sacred space, open for worship 24 hours a day every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving, where one can shop for groceries without ever showing an ID. It’s a glorious monument to abundance, with an aisle devoted to hundreds of breakfast cereals and a section of gluten-free dog foods, and in the space of any 36 hours, everyone in Ithaca passes through its climate-controlled entrance at least once. Try the Wings of Life Salad! Lose yourself in the cheese caves! Bask in the good cheer of every Wegmans employee! But never, ever take the store’s name in vain.
Someone in the House of Representatives Hates You.
Don’t take it personally. By taking up residence in Tompkins County, your voter registration status is automatically changed to “Extreme Ithaca Liberal.” The NSA determined that Russian hackers altered New York’s 23rd Congressional District voter registration software, but Vladimir Putin himself denies it, so...apparently there’s nothing to be done. As a result, our own Representative Tom Reed reflexively rolls his eyes whenever he hears the word “Ithaca.”
Don’t Touch the Little Cloth Squares.
They’re not handkerchiefs or tear-away towelettes; they’re Tibetan prayer flags. Don’t ask how I know this, but trust me, people can act in a most un-Buddhist way when the issue comes up.
The Weather’s Not Always Going To Be Nice.
There’s a reason campus visits aren’t scheduled during winter. Actually, now that the climate has been reset, it’s not all that horrible until about the ninth week of February, when the sheer relentlessness of scraping ice off your windshield every stinking time you want to go anywhere can become mildly vexing.
Get Used to Dogs.
This is the dog-walkingest town in North America. Dogs have their own park. Purity Ice Cream has a menu item for dogs. Around half the Ithaca Festival parade is canine-themed. Do not be alarmed. In Ithaca, expecting a dog to hold up its end of a conversation is not necessarily a sign of mental weakness. (For the record, it’s not a sign of genius, either.)
Take Your Parents to the Commons.
Ithaca’s recently-refurbished downtown pedestrian space is a bona fide tourist attraction. Sure, there’s a giant construction crane that looks like it’s about to topple over and wipe out downtown, and the fancy fountain is turned off most of the time, but it’s got 19th-century buildings and there are cute stores and a lot of good restaurants nearby. It’s not required that you be looking at a device while walking around, unless you want to fit in.
“Grassroots” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does.
In this fraught mid-term election year, everywhere else in America the word refers to a type of political campaign characterized by collective action from the local level and associated with bottom-up, rather than top-down decision-making. Here, the word refers to an annual four-day festival held in July in nearby Trumansburg characterized by great music, torrential rains and aging hippies engaging in mildly disconcerting dance maneuvers.
Our Mayor Is A Rock Star.
A Cornell grad with a compelling backstory, Ithaca’s youngest mayor ever and a man of charisma and vision, Svante Myrick is the living embodiment of the yin and yang of Town and Gown. Sure, Ithaca’s starting to resemble Dubai just a little bit, especially in what used to be Collegetown, but he’s our guy until he’s old enough to run for president.
Don’t Wear That MAGA Hat.
“I’m wearing it ironically.” It doesn’t matter. Studies have clearly shown that all clothing owned by people born after January 1, 1991 is worn ironically. Still doesn’t matter. Ithaca City Code section 138-3 reads as follows: “The wearing of any hat, cap, chapeau or other headgear colored red and bearing the inscription ‘Make America Great Again’ shall be deemed a microaggression and be subject to public opprobrium including but not limited to muttering, harrumphing and/or the administering of the stink-eye.” Hide it in your dorm room until the Storm•