Reflections on Williamstown
"Don't be scared to walk alone/ Don't be scared to like it
No, your fight is not within/Yours is with your timing
Dream your dreams but don't pretend/ Make friends with what you are
Give your heart then change your mind/ You're allowed to do it
Cause God knows it's been done to you / And somehow you got through it"
This all makes me reflect on the town I've spent the past three years working in.
Of course, I was lucky to get a job when the economy was terrible in 2009 in my chosen field - even one that was temporary, grant-funded, and in a different state around a steep and sometimes snowy mountain. It wasn't always easy though, and I am now even luckier to find a permanent job closer to home. There's research to suggest people who commute long distances are less socially integrated in their communities. The time commuting was realistically 2 hours to 2 and half hours per day that I could have spent exercising, reading, or out for coffee with friends. I actually found New Englanders to be incredibly reserved, and sometimes even suspicious of outsiders. There are also some really unique aspects of the town itself as an elite enclave. People in Williamstown don't see their peers as Pittsfield, Hancock, or Bennington, and definitely not North Adams. They see as their peers pockets of groups in NYC (Upper East Side), Boston (Cambridge), New Haven, or Princeton. I found the stark divisions between small towns that are very close to each other in desolate surroundings very interesting, and difficult to understand in the beginning. It was even harder to explain to my friends when they came to visit me out there. I first encountered these attitudes when I had to gallery sit for an artist who had set out to portray the differences between North Adams and Williamstown. People came in already upset and ready to tell me about all the ways they felt slighted in their daily lives by people who lived in Williamstown because they lived in North Adams. It was unreal, and it sounded like high school cliquishness.
That all being said - it has got what is often considered the best liberal arts school in the country. Its the best of everything taken for granted. Of course your intern took the train down to go to Per Se last weekend. Of course you know heirs to chicken fortunes, offspring of fashion royalty, and kids who say things like "I'm from the kind of family where I'll never have to worry about money". I once saw someone take a limo from NYC to Williamstown. Its a random Tuesday and you might get to see Barbara Ehrenreich or Lawrence Summers speak, and is that Leonardo DiCaprio in the coffee shop? No big deal.
So, for you, I'd thought I'd run down a list of the businesses in town and give my opinion of them.
- Mezze - Widely regarded as the best restaurant in town. The ingredients are all top quality and from farms so close you probably passed them on your way there. Everything is well executed, and its a beautiful spot. With any luck, I'll be back here in the future .
- Saigon Spring Vietnamese Restaurant - I like the Vietnamese restaurant. It is fairly new. I like the Pho and the stir-fry tofu. I really like the Papaya Salad with peanuts and shrimp in it. I think the food is not greasy, not prohibitively expensive, and uses fresh ingredients. Order by the number listed next to the dish on the menu - that'll just make it easier.
- Sushi Thai Garden - I am not a fan of this place. I think it is greasy. I think that the balance of Thai food in sweet and salty is more difficult to do than you would think. I feel like they just cook up a large batch of noodles, leave them in the water all day, and scoop them out when people want them. I do not know if this is true, but I feel that way based on how it tastes. I only went here when other people wanted to. I never went because it was my choice.
- Water Street Grill - This is greasy pub food, which you want sometimes. My coworkers took me here on my birthday for lunch once. I love the onion rings and waffle fries. I love the portobello sandwich and a bourbon chicken grilled sandwich I had once. The fish and chips are legitimately outstanding. The baked scrod lunch special is healthy and tasty.
- Amy's Cottage - Pretty much if you got a gift from me in the last few years it was probably from here. Some visitors don't go in here because they assume it is for old ladies, but I've got some great items from here. I love their scarves, cards, clothing, bath items, and decorative kitchen items. I've been less into the jewelry in about the last year. Sometimes they get items in I think are really great, like the tunic pictured in this post. The staff are super nice, and sometimes they have pretty good sidewalk sales.
- Spice Root Indian Restaurant - I really like the Indian restaurant. It is legitimately spicy. Once in a while when meeting people, I went to the lunch buffet and found it to be a great time. I thought some items were actually impressive. I remember the first time I went three years ago - I was starving on a cold and rainy day. I was treating myself, and I thought it tasted like the best Indian food I've ever had. It never really lived up to that feeling after that, but I think I'll miss this place. Some people are less keen on it, I think because there isn't another Indian choice, but I always liked it.
- Pappa Charlie's Deli - Sandwiches named after celebrities who hang around town for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I love the egg sandwiches. I'd occasionally treat myself to a Lauren Graham (hot turkey, roasted peppers, and alfafa spouts) or a Mary Tyler Moore (BLT with avocado), and they were high quality sandwiches.
- Hot Tomatoes Pizza - Some people don't like this style of pizza with the big chunks of tomatoes in the sauce, but I always liked it. I liked the veggie which had a good variety of toppings (including spinach and olives), and I always liked their mushroom pizza. They also sell gelato, and they just added crepes and paninis to their menu.
- Wild Oats Coop - It isn't cheap, but it offers some of the best food items you could ever hope for. Muir Glen tomatoes, Cricket Creek Farm cheese, beef from Ioka Valley Farm, Vermont Smoked Pepperoni, Maplebrook Farm Mozzarella, great bulk items, and local produce. It is a dream if you just ignore what all that is costing you. I go here and then make the best pizza ever.
- Tunnel City Coffee - Some people don't like the coffee. I know students who hated it so much they stopped drinking coffee altogether. I like the pecan turtles, pistachio French macarons, iced coffee, and espresso. I also have a coworker whose toddler goes crazy for the decorated sugar cookies. Most important though: What kind of coffee shop closes at 6pm when it is the only one in a college town? Really? It is a problem.
“The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.” –Tim (Martin Freeman), the UK The Office finale