In the last days before first-year move-in, when my dreams of Yale were still fanciful and blurry, I watched Mystic Pizza. The rom-com follows the lives and loves of three young waitresses — Jojo, Kat and her sister Daisy — on the threshold of girlhood. But the main character of the movie is the quaint seafaring town of Mystic, CT itself. The rustic parlor perched atop the hill, where the girls begrudgingly sling pizzas and buss tables. The docks where Jojo spars with her on-and-off-again fiance as his boat pulls out of the canal. The shingle style seaside cottages where Kat prances around with a married architect; the tree-lined, one-lane parkways through which Daisy and her fling drive his daddy’s red Porsche. The place itself is scintillating with the sort of New England life that makes you want to throw on flip flops and head downtown on a Vespa. 

The film locked me into a dream of quiet seaside life that was quickly deconstructed by New Haven — albeit lovingly. Instead of seagulls, sandy toes and beach runs, I got pigeons, emergency blue lights, life-threatening jaywalking and lots of homework. And I’ve learned to love New Haven in its own way: for its diverse community that reminds me of my own home in northern New Jersey. Yet sometimes, when Yale pushes me to the ends of myself, I yearn for the quaintness of a New England town. 

If you find yourself romanticizing a slow life or just merely wanting to remember what it’s like to be a human being, I have the place for you. About an hour’s drive from campus, Mystic offers the lively mundanity of a coastal Connecticut town.

The trip started later in the day, around 2 p.m. My friend and I rented a car, a slick Chevy Malibu with the classic window cracks and a trunk that didn’t lock. We rode down Merritt Parkway, lined with naked trees and un-intimidating mountains, bopping to folksy road trip songs.

Quickly off Exit 89, we pulled into the vast parking lot of Olde Mistick Village. Shed the eighth grade history nerd in you. This is a shopping center, with barn-style houses and a church that vaguely evoke colonial era architecture — enough to make a middle-aged dad go “that’s pretty.” But any traces of history are hollowed out by an odd commercial scene: country stores selling expensive jars of pickles and niche fruit jams, a store dedicated to Ireland and seasonal holiday shops that can only survive year-round in such a dystopian economy. We even encountered a Manga store, drawn in by a ginormous inflatable Totoro bobbing in the wind. We exchanged glances — the we-are-the-only-Asian-people-in-this-store look — which cued us to the exit. 

Our Chevy Malibu then headed downtown: one short, hilly street facing the water. After a victorious parallel parking job, we strolled up and down the narrow pedestrian walkway, giving way to big dogs on leashes and strollers. We window shopped clothing boutiques, bookstores, craft stores, an ice cream cafe hovering over the water and the quintessential establishment of every New England town (I’ll let you guess: there is a dog and it is a specific color). We even meandered around the quaint neighborhood, picking out our future houses and discerning the line between rustic and too rustic. It was spectacularly underwhelming.  

At the top of the hill sits Mystic Pizza, which is an actual storefront opened by the Zelepos family in 1976. The quirky spot caught the eye of screenwriter Amy Jones while summering in the area. Now, the exterior has been slightly renovated, but the mahogany wooden tables and dim overhead lighting transported me back to the early days. My friend insisted on trying a slice, so we did. Don’t expect a thin crust, sauce heavy New Haven slice. Think thick crust, cheese-first. Places like Mystic soften your heart to tourist traps. 

The end of the street gives way to a harbor tucked into a quiet canal, populated by some rich people’s sailboats. The water reflects it all, creating paintings on a canvas of rippling blackness. We crossed the famous bridge, the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, where Kat drives her moped every morning to work at the family lobster business. We walked along the docks where the three girls laugh, drink, and cry.

If you are seeking more stimulation, there is of course the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, apparently known for its beluga whales. If I was a maritime history nerd, I’d also shell out $30 to explore Mystic Seaport, self-proclaimed as one of the premier maritime museums in the world. It is the home of four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the oldest merchant vessel in the country.

But my friend and I opted for a public beach with a shoreline no longer than the 100 meter straight of a track. We perched on the life guard’s seat as we watched the sun set behind a jagged line of trees. The harsh wind whipped our faces, testing how long we could endure before racing back to the car and slamming our hands onto the heaters.

As we lingered in the parking lot of a Target, relishing the last minutes of our trip, I sighed: “I’m not ready to enter the real world.” My friend responded sharply: “But this is the real world. What we are going back to is not.” 

At 20, I don’t know exactly what is real. Yale doesn’t feel like it, but simple living might just be another fantasy too. Throughout the trip, I remained oblivious to the fact that “missi-tuk” is actually a Pequot term, and that the Pequot Nation had stewarded this land for centuries before forced removal. Then there were the English, and now ice cream shops and pizza parlors. 

Yale teaches us to critique, a toolkit essential to creating a better world. But these critical goggles through which we view the world can feel burdensome, if not out-of-touch. Maybe what I desire is not really simple living, but mere existence in this world without feeling like I need to change it. To buss the tables, sling the pizzas and pay the taxes.

Michaela Wang is a member of the Class of 2025 in Berkeley College. She majors in Anthropology and is involved in the Education Studies Program. She loves writing about places, Asian America, immigration, and food. You can read her work in the Yale Daily News, the Yale Herald, and her secret diary which she keeps very, very hidden in her room.