A deserted volleyball court remains unused on Princeton University's campus amid the coronavirus outbreak on April 9, 2020. (M. DiPaola/Zenger)
This is the way Ivy League students live now: just like the rest of us. Pestilence, the great equalizer.
Princeton, the nation’s fourth-oldest university, has coped with COVID-19 the way its younger cousins have, by shuttering, watching and waiting.
A stay-at-home order forced New Jerseyans indoors March 21. Student dorms, the shelter for the remaining few who can’t return to their permanent homes, are crowded only with echoes and shadows.
The library is locked; so are the gyms. “Eating clubs,” Princeton’s 141-year-old answer to fraternities and sororities, serve only silence. Graduation will be an online ceremony this year.
Nassau Hall stands like a sentry over an empty Cannon Green, whose vibrant color almost no one sees. A lonely volleyball net will sit out the season, its sand undisturbed by footprints and strewn with unraked cherry blossom petals.
A rare sign of civilization: a frozen parade of pricey bicycles. Students left them behind, locked in place, helmets still hanging from handlebars.
Some want to ride but must stay indoors. Others left these artifacts behind in their rush home. They had planned to be here, not there.
Trains still come and go more than 30 times a day on a tiny branch that ducks away from the main tracks between Trenton and Newark. The famous Princeton “dinky” still makes its rounds.
Some commuters, with permission to move during quarantine, have entire rail cars to themselves.
The stranded can still walk to grocers and pharmacies. Many eateries have hung polite placards on their locked doors, or signs of defiant optimism. Panera is open for carry-out. Customers eat alone, even outdoors.
For mail carriers, it’s business as usual: letters for the ramen shop, the cupcake factory, the tandoori restaurant. Letters through the slot, letters on the floor.
And across Stockton Street, gothic towers and 5,000 missing undergrads.
Some 500 acres of promise, put on pause, just like the lives students used to live here. Just like all our lives.