Each morning, either the sound of garbage trucks picking up trash at the Lord Jeffrey Inn or the early morning construction next door at Garman wakes me up. Yes, I understand that trash collectors and construction workers have work to do, but I’d much rather be woken up by the sound of the godly annoying alarm on my iPhone at 8 am than by loud construction or dumpster bangings at 6:30 am (for obvious reasons). Early morning awakenings of this sort seem to be a commonality among Amherst students, especially among certain first-years living on the first-year quad, but they luckily haven’t affected me until this year.
Living in Porter has amplified my understanding of how loud the town of Amherst can actually be, which has made me think of my own emigration out of New Jersey’s densely populated suburbs to attend college in rural Western Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, I hear much of what goes on in Amherst and on the Town Common, but surprisingly, it’s a lot more than I had expected. Every Saturday brings the Farmer’s Market and some sort of festival with music that plays for hours; two weekends ago featured some very out of tune singing, too, which was just a delight to listen to. But throughout the week I hear more sirens than I’d expect from a town that has five colleges in and around it, along with a litany of other noises (including an incessant beeping that has just begun outside my window as I write this) that I’d expect to come from the happenings of a larger town or city than Amherst.
Perhaps growing up in New Jersey has forced me to make certain assumptions about rural areas, and consequentially create certain expectations about sparsely populated locales. Since New Jersey is, for all intents and purposes, one giant suburb situated between New York City and Philadelphia, all I had ever known when growing up were developments and cul-de-sacs in townships connected by the New Jersey Turnpike or the NJTransit train system. I never really had too much experience going to rural areas, since my weekend trips to see my grandparents and extended family brought me into New York City, and family vacations, more often than not, took us to Disney World, which in and of itself has two kingdoms, an international community, and a downtown larger than Amherst. It was only after I transplanted myself from New Jersey to Amherst that I even noticed a difference, or noticed that I noticed a difference, between the community in which I had lived and the community in which I was planning to live.
But from my time so far in Porter, which marks two short months next week, I’ve observed that the bustle and goings on of the town of Amherst make much more noise than that of the community in New Jersey in which I grew up. Now I’m not complaining at all about living right on the edge of town – I actually just recently realized the beauty in my dorm being a two minute walk away from Pasta E Basta – but being able to clearly hear all that goes on in town has warped my expectations about small towns in what I consider to be the middle of nowhere, especially since, on some days, I hear more outside my window in Porter than I’d hear if I spent a day with my grandparents in New York City.
What’s funny, though, is that I grew up to expect that “city noise” only came from larger cities and their surrounding towns, much like what I would expect to hear in New Jersey or New York. Technically, Amherst is a “surrounding town” to a city; Massachusetts defines a “city” in a list of 55 locales, and one of those cities includes neighboring Northampton. Also on this list are Boston and Springfield, as expected, but another includes little North Adams, which I had driven through on my way to a water polo tournament at Williams last weekend. Even with a whopping 13,533 people, the City of North Adams, with a population only four times the size of that of my high school, is still considered a city. And while stopping at a North Adams McDonald’s to grab some food on my way home, I heard a fair amount of “city noise” there. Given Massachusetts’ rather loose definition for a city, perhaps it’s time that I rethink my expectation for “city noise,” since it’s clearly also coming from smaller towns such as Amherst and North Adams.
As I make my way back to New Jersey for fall break on the now familiar route that the Peter Pan bus takes, and take a break from the hustle and bustle that is Amherst, Massachusetts, I’m looking forward to being back in the suburbs in which I grew up. I’ll enjoy the quietude at home, but I’m also looking forward to the second half of the semester, no matter how loud it may be outside my window in Porter.