Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"End of the road and back"

Ever since getting to NJ, I haven't had much interaction with... people. With my husband, yes, who's most definitely a member of our species, and our now-not-as-new, adorable but challenging miniature poodle (to be discussed more in some later post), but the outside world, not so much. The driving thing, yes, dealing with it, and happily I now know that my husband, at least, is a great driver, the first step towards our getting a car.

 Today, however, was a spouses-and-partners meet-and-greet, which I'd worried might be my first step into full descent into 1950s-dom, or some kind of intimidating association of the women behind the Great Men, but which was low-key and reassuring in many ways - some of the partners are men, and all that I met, at least, male and female alike, have impressive careers in their own right. Some even have spouses/friends who work on French Jewish this-or-that. One is a grad school classmate of one of my favorite commenters here, Britta - although as this came up, I had to explain that I don't know someone in this woman's department in real life but via first name and blog, which as I was saying it struck me as a good way to come across as odd, unless blogs are so assumed at this point in academia that it would not.

 Most everyone had precisely the same concerns as I did - where does one get groceries without a car, and how does one remain sane when writing a dissertation in the woods? (The answers are take a shuttle/get a car and by meeting others in the same situation, respectively.) A couple of them even like poodles! Key, because Bisou needs some socialization so she doesn't grow up into a yippy lap dog. A sweet lap dog getting adequate exercise is just fine. And now I know both how things work a bit better around here, and even found someone with a bike pump! I can go somewhere further away than the laundry room! Although that's actually kind of far, and a bike will come in handy.

 And, biking is a good baby-step towards driving. After navigating in traffic just now, for the first time since who even knows (thus the completely flat tires, thus my continuous sense of doom the entire way), I find the concept of being a non-pedestrian somewhat less daunting. My first attempt here was a quick loop on a near-carless street, reminding me very much of Edina Monsoon's one attempt at jogging in the episode "Fat" - I was plenty winded after that ride, even though it was, as Saffy would point out, to the "end of the road and back." This told me that "like riding a bike" is a cliché for a reason. I still had the mechanics of it down, but navigation? With cars? The very idea of a left turn in rush hour reminds me too much of those Chinatown driving lessons, so even though heavy traffic here is not much of anything, eep, eep, and eep some more. But I appear to have made it back intact, and now have new lights and a kickstand and everything.

The town of Princeton itself, Nassau Street at least, seems chock full of Life's Winners - at the post office, I overheard a conversation between two men - grad students? postdocs? - about only applying for academic jobs at (insert elite universities in pleasant locations here). And I was completely sure it would work out for them. All the undergrads and vaguely undergrad-aged sorts seem like they're both super-intelligent and on some kind of athletic scholarship. Everyone exudes confidence and looks like they wouldn't have such trouble lifting a bike, a miniature poodle.


Jacob T. Levy said...

Princeton: yes, just get a car.

Phoebe said...

I know, it must be done. My husband rented a car and it immediately became clear that living here without one, especially at such a remove from the town center (which, if largely about cutesy boutiques for I can't figure out which audience, at least has pizza, coffee, CVS...), is a terrible idea. But biking is still a major improvement over walking an hour for some mediocre Chinese food, only to walk the hour back and realize one is hungry again from the workout.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

One of the living giants of Argentine literature teaches at Princeton

If he crosses your path feel free to throw yourself at his feet on my behalf :=)

Britta said...

Ok, I am very curious. Who is this? I am trying to think of who I know with a partner at Princeton. Can you drop names? Obvious hints?

Anonymous said...

I must admit that I find the whole car angst thing very alien.

Then again, I'm from the North Coast and my old man worked for Ford Motor.

Not driving would have been un-American! And damn cold in winter.

It also might be a hangover from dealing with an ex-friend who turned non-driving into a learned incapacity.

Phoebe said...




Since I'm not aware of you having a blog-email address (or other one that wouldn't widely identify you) I can't just tell you, but hints... in Princeton but not at Princeton, and husband and wife were both in your dept, now just wife.


It's not affectation, which seems to be what you're implying - if you grew up in a home without a car (one that was fully American, I assure you, in that both my parents are American and it was located in a place so American that anti-American terrorists opted to attack it a decade ago), you may well never have learned this skill. And even if I'd had it initially, it's unlikely I'd have much used it - friends who moved to Chicago for college or NY for grad school after driving in high school pretty much stopped, give or take stopped knowing how. It's not something I'm proud of, and as readers of this blog might remember I did take lessons a few years back and failed not one but two NYC driving tests. But it's also not something I chalk up to anything specific about my own inherent skills or lack thereof - I was almost never in a car as a kid, and while I sometimes was in college, and would not have minded having one at all, I'm not exactly sure how I'd have gone about buying one with the money I made at the jobs I worked back then.

Is it cold in the winter in cold-in-winter places without a car? Yes, but in walkable cities, one manages. This need-to-walk-or-bike-regardless is supposed to partially explain where there is and isn't an obesity epidemic.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the cars-and-ultra-urban-environment thing not going together like peanut butter and chocolate.

I also used to go cycling in cold weather when I was a younger man and outdoor exercise in winter didn't lead to instant bronchitis (those were the days!).

Also, my bad if you took the affectation comment wrong; this ex-friend left some really bad memories, particularly when she was depending on me to get her around.

Anyway, good luck on the car front; though I do think you exhibit more worry than you should. It's just the impression you give off.

Phoebe said...

"though I do think you exhibit more worry than you should."

I failed not one but two road tests, only a couple years ago, and haven't driven since. If I weren't worried, that might not be a great sign for myself or other drivers/pedestrians I'll encounter.

Jacob T. Levy said...

The target markets for those boutiques: wealthy Princeton BA alumni/ae; and the stay-at-home spouses of the Wall Streeters who use Princeton and its environs as a bedroom suburb; Christine Whitman.

Phoebe said...


That sounds about right! At least the men return from that long train ride to find new eco-friendly knick-knacks waiting for them every day. I guess it's like a less progressive/self-righteous Park Slope? Either way, if there's good cheese/coffee available, I'm not complaining.

kei said...

Bisou!!! Good luck with challenges, they are temporary and worth it!!! I type this as Mitsu angrily chases her tail, yips loudly and in a high & shrill voice, and begs for treats and probably a walk.

Phoebe said...


This is reassuring! I'd wanted to have a post full of unadulterated new-puppy enthusiasm, but things were really rough at first (for reasons that will require another post if not several). They've calmed down a bit, and I can tell how much more fun it is once you're past that first week or so.