133 Belchertown Rd
A REVIEW BY
Like its sudden insertion into our lives, Alpine Commons appears quickly and out of nowhere as I drive down Route 9 towards Belchertown. Just as quickly, I hit the brakes and turn into the parking lot. The green sign on the left, covered in white cursive, welcomes me with open arms. The scene in front is as serene as an eleven o’clock Valentine luncheon in the new Grab n’ Go era. There are picnic tables and pet play areas and parking places. There are snow embankments and staircases and silence. There’s real people housing. For Amherst students! What hath Biddy wrought?
Perhaps Residential Life should have taken a route similar to this in promoting Alpine Commons. Instead, they tried to pull a Johann Tetzel and save us from the sin of on-campus living. They described a “wonderful off-campus housing option exclusive to seniors.” They revealed a special meal plan that saves you $1,000 and around 90 Val s(h)its per semester. They demanded two on-campus references, both of which must be Amherst College faculty or staff (1). They gave interested applicants a March 1 deadline. Three days later, they announced an open meeting to be held February 25. The next email, sent on February 28, suggested that their expectations for a thriving Alpine community had been tapered. “Small” replaced “wonderful.” March 11 replaced March 1. Imminent visits for intrigued juniors were promised.
I went to Alpine Commons with the intention of independent investigation. I walked into the leasing office and made the huge mistake of being (almost) honest. I told the lady working there that I was a Lord Jeff interested in joining the off-campus revolution. She refused to show me a unit. “I’ve talked to Torin,” she said, “and there will be visits for Amherst students in the coming week.” Not only did the fact that she was on first-name basis with “Torin” disorient me (2), but it also seemed illogical to not let me look around. I thought about bringin’ da ruckus and taking the situation to its logical extreme: how can you refuse me a tour? Is it because I’m white? Where are my rights? Attica! ATTTTICCAAA!!!
Instead, I just left. This may seem a counterintuitive course of action for someone writing a review on Alpine Commons. But, like Dave Chappelle describing Michael Jackson’s penis, it’s not hard to guess what each apartment will consist of: four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen area, some pre-furnishings, a window, a questionable stain or two. It’s the same type of apartment that occupies suburban sprawl from Amherst to Anchorage to Albuquerque. It’s not the apartments themselves that are fascinating, but rather what they represent.
Indeed, the only thing Alpine Commons has in common with on-campus housing is its monogram. Your living situation will be the complete opposite of the living situation of almost every other Amherst student. In a recent class, a professor told us that Amherst is an inherently infantile environment, “in the sense that people cook for you and shit.” Moving to Alpine Commons will take you from the stir-fry pan to the fire via the frying pan. “Good luck learning to cook, children!,” snickers Dean Moore as he twiddles his fingers Montgomery Burns-style, sits back, and watches the destruction of the Science Center. Worse than the inadequate sustenance is the isolation. While it may be pretty useful to be within walking distance of Cumby’s instead of Converse, Amherst students must investigate the depths of the bureaucracy from time to time. At least the PVTA can get you closer.
More importantly, however, many Amherst students must investigate the depths of the debauchery on campus. Students are going to simultaneously drink on campus and live in preordained off-campus suites. How will the college reconcile this? Will Safe Ride go to Alpine Commons? Will the Alpiners just have to fend for themselves? The last thing this school needs is problem-causing seniors (Sexual Respect report’s words, not mine) causing problems up and down Route 9.
Let’s take another example: if someone is playing music too loud or ripping a few too many bongs, Amherst’s finest, instead of Amherst College’s finest, will show up. This limits both Alpiners’ opportunity to banter with the boys in blue (3) and, in all honesty, their freedom. They will be judged by a different set of standards than every other student, despite the fact that Alpine Commons is in most respects treated exactly like Mo Pratt or Lipton.
The problems with alcohol and police are mere symptoms of the biggest problem with Alpine: the creation of more sites for dubious jurisdiction. Welcome to the grey-zone fraternity, Alpine Commons! DKE, Chi Psi, The Fraternity formerly known as TD, club sports, underage drinking, and the randomly closed Mezzanine would like to extend our warmest regards. We have matching jackets and meet on Wednesdays. Perhaps the college has given the necessary thought to these unintended consequences; my cynical self doubts that that’s the case.
My cynical self also believes that the college has no intention of filling Alpine Commons…yet. Speaking from the perspective of a King resident, the construction on campus is already bad and will only continue to get worse. I imagine people will emigrate like 19th century Irishmen to the quiet commune once their alarm clock sound changes from “Marimba” to “Heavy Machinery.” But you know what? They’ll have a solid option to fall back on. These apartments may not represent Amherst at all, but some of the things that most represent this place (Macbooks, a cappella, Rubinoff, etc.) will lose their salience after college. Alpine Commons, on the other hand, reflects the real world. Time to grow the fuck up.
1. Let’s put this absurdity in perspective: I only needed one reference to apply to an internship to teach English in Spain through the Spanish government.
2. Why are they on such astoundingly good terms? Does Dean Moore use his dashing good looks and housing acumen to manipulate the good people at Alpine Commons into discount prices? Does she gleefully giggle when she picks up the phone and it’s Torin? What does it all mean?
3. The college’s police may ruin the occasional banger, but I also have the sneaking suspicion that if I go to the right Northampton bar on the right day off, I’ll see Officer Sullivan (though everyone there knows her as “Sully”) slamming back Irish Carbombs and singing Four Non-Blondes on karaoke. On the other hand, the town cops are just plain scary.