Howe to Park in New Haven

The New Haven Green is fully restored following damage caused by the Occupy New Haven encampment.

The night noises this fall haven’t changed much from previous years. Falling asleep with the window open, I still drift off to Dopplered police sirens, snippets of late-night drunk talk, motorcycles drag-racing down empty streets and nineties pop ballads murmuring from a party nearby.

But this year I wake up to garbage trucks rather than lawn mowers or jackhammers. Coming home after class, I’m more likely to hear the whining of the colicky baby a few doors down than the muted rant of another Berkeleyite through the fire door. And in the evenings when I’m getting ready to go out, the smell that wafts in underneath my door is strong curry from a neighbor’s dinner instead of cheap marijuana from the football players downstairs.

These new sounds and smells aren’t better or worse, just different. But what is better is that this year, finally, I am living off campus.

Before classes started, one of my oldest Yale friends came over for dinner. It’s a short walk from his house on Park to my apartment on Howe. Over improvised spaghetti and a little too much wine, we congratulated ourselves on eschewing the dorms in exchange for the semi-adult high life and commiserated over the epic journey required of a grocery store run. “I was looking at places on Dwight,” I told him, “but that was a little too far from Yale for me.”

He laughed and said, “You’re brave. I thought Park was almost too far.”

I laughed too and didn’t think much of it until Ronnell Higgins informed the Yale community about an “incident” outside Pierson just one long block from my apartment and I realized that I feel safer in New York’s East Village at three in the morning than I do on Edgewood at nine o’clock at night. I joked to my boyfriend that I’d learn Krav Maga.

And still, despite the crime, I’m much more excited than scared. In Chapel West, my new neighborhood, there are five discrete coffee shops that are all closer than Starbucks. There’s a jewelry and home goods boutique on Chapel that’s far better for buying birthday presents than Laila Rowe or Urban Outfitters on Broadway. There are at least two bars with decent happy hours and great craft beers on tap and in less than a one-block radius I can find falafel, sushi and Indian food.

Besides, it’s not as if I’ve moved across town. Here’s a little perspective:

According to Google maps, it’s a 10-minute walk from my apartment to Sterling. Cross Campus to Science Hill is about 12 minutes, depending on where you’re going.

For contrast, I commuted 35 minutes this summer each morning in traffic to get to my job in downtown Charleston and the summer before that I spent 40 minutes (if I was lucky) on the New York subway to arrive at my Upper West Side internship.

So to me, 10 minutes is nothing. Ten minutes is a Metallica song. It’s the amount of time you have for each problem on a MATH 220 midterm. It’s how long you wait for your triple-shot latte during Reading Period at Starbucks.

The sad truth is that we Yalies rarely wander off campus. Admittedly, we have little need to, what with the dining halls and the dorm parties, the a cappella concerts and the spoken word shows. In fact, there’s so much to do on campus that each year seniors find themselves composing long bucket lists of Yale traditions to check off before they graduate.

I have a copy of that list. But I’m also starting a new kind of bucket list because, less than 10 minutes away from Yale’s borders, there’s an entire city to explore and in just nine months, I’ll be leaving that behind too.

Shortly after Camp Yale as a freshman, I had a light-bulb moment that I still remember viscerally. I was walking up College Street to an early German class on one of those crisp fall mornings before the leaves start turning. It was beautiful and breezy and I must have passed a sign somewhere that put the words in my head because I started thinking about what “New Haven” really meant. Not the proper noun, but the words themselves.

New Haven, I promised myself, was going to be my new safe place, my refuge, my home.

After three years – with pepper spray in hand and Yale Security on speed dial – I’m finally going to make good on that promise.

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