When we at U.S. 1 develop a profile of someone, we like to ask where they are from originally, what their parents did while they were growing up, where they went to school, and what are the milestones on their career path. If they happen to live in our greater Princeton community we are also curious about what brought them here.
One of our freelance writing contributors, Linda Arntzenius, is building on that last question for a book she is writing, tentatively called “A Slice of Princeton.” Arntzenius asked me to answer a few simple questions about how I came to live in Princeton, what led me to stay here, and what I like about the town and what I would like to see improved. I had so much fun answering it that I asked Arntzenius if she would send her informal survey to readers of this column. She would indeed — her contact information is below. Meanwhile, here are my responses:
When did you come to Princeton and why? My first term in town does not really even count: Four years as an undergraduate from 1965 to 1969. I probably got off campus more than most undergraduates, but the forays into town were few, far between, and mostly limited to consuming food and drink.
My more substantial arrival in town was around 1972, and I was taking some time off from professional journalism. I had a one-semester job as an assistant for a professor at Princeton who was teaching an expository writing class. By chance I was living for free in some under-utilized university office space at 48 University Place.
When the assistantship ended, I decided to stay, which essentially meant squatting in a two-room university-owned office. It seemed like the perfect low-overhead place from which to launch a freelance writing career. I had a half-sized refrigerator, a hot plate, and a mattress on the floor. When I wanted to take a shower I walked across the courtyard to my old dormitory. If I encountered an undergraduate I just said hi and introduced myself as “just an alumnus, passing through town.”
What do you most enjoy about the town? Princeton’s cosmopolitan but still small town setting, surrounded by suburbia, and yet still within easy reach of two major cities, has always appealed to me. And early on in my freelance career, I wrecked my car, could not immediately afford to replace it, and still managed to survive — I came to appreciate the beauty of a walkable town!
What would you say is the most significant positive change you’ve observed in Princeton in recent years? The increased density of the downtown has added some new life to Princeton. When I first moved here in the 1970s the place was pretty dead when the university wasn’t open. There’s a lot more to do now, both on the campus and in the town.
What’s the most significant negative change? The inexorable gentrification has really hurt the town, especially in terms of income diversity. We can talk all we want about the great mix of races, colors, and creeds that live in this town, but increasingly all these diverse people still have one thing in common — lots of money.
In the 1970s there were two places in town that exemplified the town’s economic diversity. One was the Annex restaurant, in the basement under the retail space at the corner of Nassau and Tulane streets. Owned by the Carnevale brothers, Henry and Lou, the Annex prided itself as the place where town and gown met. It was even more than that — it was also where blue collar guys hung out with college professors and business people, where college students could afford to eat a sit-down dinner, rather than fast food or takeout.
The other was Rosso’s Cafe on Spring Street. It was a true workingman’s bar, a place for a shot and a beer and a pickled hard boiled egg if you wanted one. Even more important, it was a truly integrated bar. Blacks and whites talked openly with each other about any and all topics. Cops hung out there, as did the waiters from the Nassau Inn. The owner, Henry Rosso, lived a few blocks away on Madison Street. He never learned to drive. He didn’t have to.
On the plus side in terms of economic diversity, the really rich people in town are really part of the town. They stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone else in community activities. And they do not live in gated communities. When I visit some of these fenced in enclaves I wonder what items of value are being protected. Large screen televisions? Or perhaps valuable jewels? On the other hand, if you did some due diligence you could walk down some streets in Princeton and pass homes where the household net worth is easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars. No fences, no gates.
What would you most like to see develop in Princeton in the future? More affordable housing, and more housing of all types in the central business district. In the Princeton of my dreams there would be no parking requirements for new developments, whether they are residential, commercial, or retail. The car would no longer be king; people would reign.
And one other thing: A bar where you can dance to live music.
Editor’s note: Princeton-based researcher and independent writer Linda Arntzenius (author of Arcadia’s pictorial history of the Institute for Advanced Study) is currently collecting material for a history of Princeton for Fonthill Media. Tentatively titled “A Slice of Princeton,” the book will focus on contemporary Princeton with flashbacks to the mid-20th century, especially the period from 1968.
She welcomes considered thoughts from local residents on the most significant changes (positive and negative) they have observed in Princeton during that time period and on future changes they might welcome. To participate send a brief e-mail to email@example.com. The deadline for responses is Monday, July 16.
Addendum I: Several readers thanked me for my lengthy critique, printed May 30, of the new arts and transit neighborhood on the Princeton campus. Most of them did not want to be quoted. It would seem ungrateful to criticize a project that is otherwise so benevolent, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the arts.
I disagree. To say that something could have been (and still could be) better is not to say that it is bad. “Better” is the comparable to “good.” I’m hoping my ongoing work on William H. Whyte will encourage constructive criticism of public spaces, including those that are privately owned.
Addendum II: Thanks to all the readers of my June 6 column who shared thoughts regarding their memories of June, 1968, and the Robert F. Kennedy funeral train. Remarkably I heard from one Princeton neighbor who was also at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on the funeral train. Susan Wilson and her husband, Don, who died in 2011, became close friends of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy after Don had served in the administration of John F. Kennedy.
As Susan Wilson wrote in a recent e-mail: “I remember every moment with the same clarity as you, and my most vivid memory was wishing that the trip would never end. I kept thinking that if it never ended and the burial wouldn’t happen that somehow Bobby would remain with us.
“Other than you, Don, and I, I don’t know how many others in Princeton today were part of that long, slow, sad, memorable journey. Last week I went to Washington and attended the memorial celebration of the 50th anniversary and was privileged to be among the thousand or so who came. It was a beautiful, joyful occasion built around RFK’s eloquent, inspiring words that are, as President Clinton said, ‘as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.’ The tone was joyful, not at all sad. Unquestionably I believe that RFK’s legacy will continue to grow over time.”
Addendum III: If we kept statistics on marital success rates, then I would be 0 for 1, and certainly would not want to pass judgment on someone who was 0 for 2. I did just that, however, in my June 13 column that mentioned Fox News analyst Pete Hegseth. I was peeved because Hegseth, speaking on a panel at Princeton Reunions, had accused journalists of practicing a double standard, going after conservatives but cutting breaks for liberals. So I called Hegseth out, noting that his preachy memoir had called for a public policy that made it difficult for parents with children to get a divorce. It turns out he has had two marriages and two divorces, with three kids by his second wife and a fourth by a woman who is not (not yet, apparently) his wife.
I did not call Hegseth out for failed axe-throwing attempts, even though I knew that he had thrown one errantly in a 2015 television show stunt that hit a bystander. But give the former Princeton basketball player a break — he never moralized about axe-throwing.
Sadly, the incident is back in the public spotlight. On June 12 Hegseth and Fox were sued by the injured party in the incident. So Hegseth is now 0 for 1 in axe throwing. I am 0 for 0 and intend to keep it that way.