Late June & early July have been cool and rainy and we've slid past the halfway point of the year, and the summer solstice already. Half of mainland America right now is either in severe drought or burning hot, or both, and yet we live in the temperate greenery of a chill, lush jungle. I am not complaining...I'm just noting the difference between our climate and elsewhere. We are neither flooding like Texas nor baking like the west coast, but the upstate resorts, golf courses, marina operators, and boat-owners are not exactly rejoicing yet either. But the summer will get better, starting now.
Me, I still got my head down, working, trying to catch up on everything. Real estate and my career. Forgotten blogs. A novel brewing. Clients to tend to. Family to care for and worry about. Rainy days, somebody once told me, are good for writing contracts and writing stories so I should be glad either way. I have been distracted, sorry, but I am back.
Today I am thinking of those who are superior to me in a multitude of ways, and admit that lately I am humbled when in the presence of men such as these. My friend we shall dub To-Mahss for instance, living off the grid on a largely wooded 96 acre self-sustaining estate only 12 miles or so in a straight-line from downtown Saratoga Springs. Solar panels and generators and enough wood to harvest and burn efficiently for a thousand years in his perfectly aligned passive solar home, built without a loan but lots of love and labor, over the course of years. Gardens abound and he and his ladylove are stocked, so to speak. To-Mahss and his wife are at the top of the charts for self-sufficiency in lifestyle among all my local friends.
Not far behind are my fertile organic friends & clients Robin & Benji who have recently brought forth a child-- Jules Valentine-- less than a full year after closing on a 23 acre spread a mere 15 miles from Skidmore College where he works. They are running that farm virtually by themselves, in addition to his teaching and writing career, plus sporadic travelling. I applaud them for pulling it all together so fast-- now attending Farmer's Markets with their products already, while tending to a newborn!
Another gentleman I am privileged to work with has a perfected 4 acre spread on a scenic side-road outside of Saratoga-- a retired guy who always has a smile on is face as he renovates and polishes his project in town during full eight hour days while still having time to mow his own acreage and tend to the healthiest looking box gardens he has created as a vegetative landscape all around his property-- thickest asparagus plants I've seen-- and all manner of experimental growth from beets to potatoes to kale. His garage apartment-- after salvaging a tilting barn building-- would go for half a mill by itself if transported to an in-town lot. There seems to be not a thing out of place in his universe, and says he has been happily, almost gleefully, married for 43 years. Coincidence?
Then I saw and showed a Maple Sugar Farm on 5+ acres in Charlton, which perhaps might have been the most immaculately manicured property I have ever walked upon. The gravel pathways looping the property-- for a "third-of-a-mile" we were precisely told-- did not have one stone out of place. The barn building which housed garage, workshop, storage, and sap-making headquarters looked like it had been dusted and shop-vacked to perfection-- never saw such a clean barn floor-- painted plywood sheathing. Every inch of the house, same thing, including the basement. Anything stored was neatly in place, labelled, arranged. There was no random matter, no space where mess was hiding. The man who owned the place was not known to me, I was showing it to some fine young buyers who want to create a similar set-up, but for horses more than maple syrup. But from diplomas on the wall I figured out he was a longtime Nuclear Engineer, and I guess it is reassuring to know that someone so orderly with their own home environment is (or has been) in charge of the Kesselring site. But the point is, in addition to his daily and weekly work duties, he had the energy to maintain this impeccable property and produce untold gallons of high-quality maple syrup in his spare time. His woodshed and the prefect stacks of stored wood within were a work of art, as was his syrup-cooking shed-- an engineer's delight with labels & instructions on the equipment and pine cabinetry. Even the man's shooting practice range was a perfectly situated sandbank-with-enclosure. From the evidence in the basement workshop he seemed to have woodworking and metallurgy skills, liked to hike and kayak and camp, and I'd call all that a well-balanced life which was reflected in a property that was destined to-- and did-- sell quickly. Turnkey, indeed.
Then there's my friend (and someday, client)--let's call him Lorenzo-- who owns perhaps the most scenic property of all these I depict in this blog. Whereas the others I mention were somewhat wooded or bounded by woods in some way, this industrious gentleman farmer's 90 acres encompass a sweeping open view looking southwest to mountains 30 or 40 miles away. Surrounded by recently-hay'd fields and neatly demarcated tree-lines and stone-wall'd tillable zones, the view just made you sigh deeply and take it all in. A sense of space and openness and life on the contemporary frontier came to mind. His home has a 35 foot wall of glass looking out on that scenery, facing dead south of course. His kitchen, even though it sits 30 feet back from that front wall, sees the panorama of the ridge in the distance. That is what I call well-designed. The tour of his land via ATV-- much less walking-- takes an hour or so. He owns deep woods that are half-a-mile from any road-- plus wetlands, deer habitat, five open fields where he could grow anything from potatoes to hay to vegetable crops or corral horses or livestock. He raises chickens in expert fashion, closer to the house, with a high-tech, fox-proof chicken shack his hens love. One rolled out an egg in appreciation as he showed me the place. He just replenished his stock of honeybees with a purchase of 3000 new imports from a place in Greenwich, after losing most of his colony due to the brutal extended winter. He and his lovely wife-- both from the City to begin with-- also maintain a lush veggie-and-perennials garden, plant fruit trees, and keep their rustic grounds and paved driveway impeccably clean. Like my first-mentioned buddy To-Mahss, Lorenzo was personally involved with every aspect of the construction process of his own passive solar home, and does not tend to pay anyone to do anything he can and does do himself, in terms of maintenance and upkeep, which is what distinguishes each person on this list. Lorenzo allows a local dairy farmer to hay the fields and take it away as needed, but this is just rural symbiosis as he doesn't need the hay himself.
My life, and home, similar to other lives and homes forming roughly 60-70% of what I see in the real estate world, reflects a different reality than the 5 productive, scenic, and precisely-managed estates I describe above -- one with a more lived-in look, a bit of chaos here and there, and somewhat murkier boundaries, but a modicum of care and f'eng shui. Another 10-20% are either cluttered to the max or rundown a bit or in some way not what you would consider to be ready-for-inspection at any time soon, or even fit for visitors. That leaves a fairly small chunk of the market and culture at the top of the charts in terms of immaculateness.
But the upper echelon of perhaps the top 10% reflects an outward mastery of life that in some ways puts us middle-class lifers to shame. I don't necessarily envy condo dwellers or suburbanites on a perfect-third-of-an-acre-- or people who pay for a lawn service to do their work-- though it is pleasant to show their properties-- but the country squires who aspire to self-sufficiency of one-sort or another, draw my interest and admiration.
So here I sit and type, on a suddenly beautiful Sunday afternoon-- I've taken so long to finish this that the weather has changed in the meantime-- wondering whether to mow my lawn or weed-whack or repair the worn deck steps or order some aviary supplies for out back. I think of all the imperfections I still need to correct. All the projects I still need to get done this summer... Or maybe I'll just take a walk to the stream and dream some more of what could be...
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2 on Saratoga.com
Early Summer, 2015
I don't ever mean to give the impression that my life is idyllic, far from it. I am striving in that direction, but it's an ongoing quest. Whether it was car repair issues I had last Monday or trying to finish prepping my taxes Tuesday then cursing myself for procrastinating so long again, I don't know... or Whether it was post-winter expulsion of collective angst between everyone in the family or what, I don't know, but it was a conflicted week even halfway through it, and I was distracted from my business and ready to freak. So what does one do? I don't have a handy shrink, no father-confessor to talk to, and in fact only rarely rely on a few close friends to vent to, but in the late morning wouldn't want to bother them with my massive and petty troubles and traumas and dramas...they've got work to do too. So I left a terse text message first for my friend Carl, then a phone message to my younger sister down in Decatur, thinking she was no doubt doing something more important than me, or, having a normal lunch perhaps. I was digesting stress for lunch.
My assistant Beth or favorite lender rep Kristin, who both teach it, would suggest Yoga as an appropriate therapy, but I've never had the patience for that in the middle of a workday... Others would suggest a jog or a workout-- my daughter's favorite therapy-- but I was not in the mood for getting sweaty, with pending appointments ahead of me. But I had to change my glum mood, so on a sunny Wednesday when one should really be in a better frame of mind, what does one do, I repeat?
Well in the vale of Saratoga Springs we have the option of letting the local geography take over. In fact, at the place I am talking about here, the Vale is what they call it.
I was between having to be in Geyser Crest and having to run down to Exit 10, but I pulled into the mostly empty parking lot on the west side of SPAC. When I say mostly empty, I mean like four cars where in the summer there can be four thousand. I turned off the motor, the radio, and rolled down the windows, opened the moon roof. It was in the mid-60s already and heading a bit higher, an absolutely blue sky above, very rare so far this year. I breathed deep and shut my eyes. I tried to turn off my torment for a moment, and thought of Michael Keaton with the masked Birdman's voice behind him.
I could relate; I loved that movie. But that wasn't my life, just a parallel in some ways.
My life wasn't that of a former movie star who was relegated to art-house theater. I hadn't even gotten to the big-time yet, and the clock was ticking. My anxiety was growing by the day as I approached my next decade marker.
It was quiet in the dead center of that parking lot. They had repaved the whole five-acre lot last summer and its potholes and raggedness were a thing of the past. At this point it was pristine and freshly lined and best of all the grimy snowbanks were finally melted away, flat and dry. This was the period of transition, from the somnolent winter to the active, heavily populated summer months. I felt like I was in a similar transition.
Took my water bottle and took off my tie and strolled across the lot to the path that goes down to the Orenda Spring, and below that, the mis-named Geyser Creek itself.
After sipping at the first spring I just sat on the southernmost end of a bench under a gazebo roof that had a corner of sun coming through. I basked in it for a full five minutes, which felt like a small eternity. I emptied my mind of fretting and it felt fine.
I listened as hard as I could to the fresh flow of that little dammed-up waterfall, fifty feet below. I tried to recall just how serene I had felt just four days before, just having taken a weekend training class from a great teacher I have up in Wilton, whom I might talk about on another occasion. At the time I felt my internal energy flow had been back-flushed like cleaning out your water lines, or pool. The physical equivalent of that would be drinking the waters that bubbled out of these springs that laced the length of this tight little valley. The phrase, It Restoreth My Soul....began to come to mind, as I sat in that sun, and absorbed a quick dose of it. The sound of the water before the taste of the water...
I drank a bit of the Orenda but then wanted to walk down the path to the Hayes anyway. There is an upper paved path that goes down to the road bridge a half mile down, and a lower one down the steep hill to the one that adjoins the stream itself.
I usually prefer the lower path, but not in dress shoes, which lack traction on the wet tufa flows. That could become ugly. I stuck to the paved path both ways. About two-thirds of the way down the hill you develop a nice momentum and get the heart rate up just enough to increase the flow. You can slow down enough to stare at the Island Spouter, shooting maybe ten or twenty foot plumes on a sporadic but constant basis. Here you can read the great informational sign that tells the reader that these Spouters are technically NOT actually geysers, which are due to heated veins of ground water that shoot to the surface; our water here is spouting due to its natural carbonation, from the limestone layer deep below.
So, in other words, Geyser Creek, Geyser Crest, Guyser Park, all are misnomers, in the geological, or even regular logical, sense. This was news to me; or rather, if I'd known that before, I didn't register it. We have not ice cold springs, nor heated springs; we have 48-56 degree springs, which I guess is perfect for drinking.
The new succession of signs throughout the park that were augmented in 2010 I can say have greatly improved my understanding of what had gone on in this valley over the past two hundred-plus years. There was no guarantee that it would be kept this pristine, given the exploitations of the late 1800's and early 1900's, when the carbonation was extracted to the point of depletion. Only in 1910 was this 2,500 acre plot guaranteed to be preserved for State, nt private, use, and all commercial uses ceased. The centennial of that event was the impetus for extensive improvements that have been a boon to this sacrosanct place-- it seems cleaner, at least at this early spring juncture, than I remember after other snowmelts.
People were just starting to come out of hibernation, not just me. It wasn't crowded though. A calf-tatooed dad pushing his son in a stroller. A mom with a son who wanted to be carried as she also had a dog on the leash. Another mom walkin her maybe two year old daughter down the path in small steps. A solo dude, college age or so, hands in pocket, looking pensive. A well-tuned 20-something couple and their dog, strolling like they both had the day off together, nice. A younger girl shasayin along in flip-flops, heading up the lower path, good look with that, I thought. Then me, just silent and trying to be inconspicuous... because I am in a purgative phase of clearing my head, and none of them are in the mood for small talk or nods either.
We all thought we'd have the place to ourselves, just this once.
I filled my glass Snapple bottle with the Hayes Spring water, which was a far less steady flow than the Orenda Spring up the hill. It sputtered and gushed in spurts unpredictably, while the Orenda was pretty much a firehouse. So I figured the Haves was more rare and that's what I'd take in the car with me as my medicine du jour.
Then I said my thanks and sat on the stone wall overlooking the bridge for a few more stress-less sacred minutes. Just what the Druid doctor ordered.
When I snapped out of it, I began the hike back uphill as the parking lot down across the bridge had way too many people in it, unlike the upper area at SPAC. So I avoided that and returned up the footpath, where vehicles could not follow.
I was feeling more energized and less depressed. By the time I angled up toward the SPAC entrance, I was even more en-tranced by the lack of people around (I have photos to prove it--stay tuned). I took some shots of the ticket windows with no one there, and the entry stations, which currently allowed free passage. The bridge over Geyser Creek is somehow more scary to a landlubber like me when no one else is on it, not sure why. I took some shots looking down, but that eighty foot drop into two feet of rushing water does not convey the sense of willies which it caused me at the rail. I shot and backed up quickly, chicken landlubber that I am.
The grounds at SPAC looked like an empty church to me (again, see the pix, when I pop them in). The lawns were what I would call incipient green, not quite real new grass yet. The food kiosks, the brick buildings out in back, still empty, but the faint hum of generators or something, like they were cleaning out the water lines or the bathrooms, was humming in the background, but no sign of the workers.
Interestingly, there were a guys in hardhats walking on the roof of the Pavillion at SPAC, the cool rolling valleys of the crown of the building apparently being checked for any winter-left leaks. They paid no attention to us underlings on the ground.
I shunned the benches for the center lawn between the ramps, in search of another dose of sun. It was not exactly sunbathing weather yet, but I thought the lawn would be well drained, and was wrong. I laid back for awhile as if DMB was already in town, but that fantasy didn;t last too long. Just slightly damp I sat back up and realized I'd better wait for another dryer day for that kind of rhapsody.
I just love the place when I (mostly) have it to myself. In fact there may have been a total of ten or twelve people quietly milling about and checking the place out. Then a solo biker goes through, yellow uniform but mountain bike tires. A casual mutual wave, like we caught each other playing hooky from school, and I began winding my way back to the car.
I was feeling better, I guess, at least not as obsessed with my various slumps in business and in life. A couple of 0-for-four days in a row, to use baseball parlance, weren't going to kill my season. But still it was distressing to be almost hitless in spring training and the first two weeks of the real games. I would get my swing back, however, it was all in my mind, or at least used to be, till I cleared it. The vale of the spring had helped loosen my stuck cogs, as in cognition. I needed to walk out here more often. I hope some of you reading this, do too. But not all of you at once! Till summer comes, then it's the More the Merrier.
I started the car, beamed in the sunbeam, exhaled deeply, and took off south, for my next appointment of the day, with a slightly damp back of my shirt. I took a sip of Hayes Spring water and thought: It restoreth my spirit...
I texted my sister before I took off, and my buddy Carl as well.... told both of them--
"Forget my last message from an hour ago:
I'm ok now I think. I went to the park. Talk soon."
Was it the waters, the walking, the moments of quiet, the suspension of thought, the soaking of sun, the deeply exhaled breaths, or all of the above... whatever it is or was, this is why we need parks, if not the deep woods themselves. I was back on the road, and feeling relieved.
Take care and be well.
More to come, thanks for reading,
Copyright Wayne Perras 2015 -- for WaynesWord2
IN WHICH Robert Randolph and The Family Band let loose a furious funk and burgeoning blues sound at the Den, on our long- belated night out...
Well as I write this a day later, sitting out here on the Middle Grove plateau, it seems like a really vivid dream I had last eve. My daughter is none too happy with me as I'm playing the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn's CD version of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) at top volume ("It's SATURDAY" I tell her) while I prep eggs & fry bacon, paleo-style, as I sing along, loudly and badly:
I didn't MEAN to take up alla your sweet time,
Give it back to you one a these ole days...
If I don't see ya anymore in this world,
I'll see ya in the NEXT, and DON'T be LATE...
DON'T BE LATE!
This is the aftereffect, for me, of seeing a performance like we caught last night.
I have to either hear more of the same, or the closest equivalent I can find.
VOODOO CHILD was the song last night, second tune in, first hard-earned beer in hand, that set my arm hairs on high alert as tingling sonic pleasure began to saturate my bones and pores. Robert Randolph's Family Band was in full thrall from note one. My wife beaming alongside me, and bouncing her head, could no longer accuse me of not taking her downtown since she could remember, after a long reclusive winter of me watching basketball while hunkering down on business emails at night. We had indeed missed out on a lot of music I'd fully intended to see at places like the Racino's nightclub Vapor (Stellar Young, Fences, In Flight Safety) and Clifton Park''s Upstate Concert Hall (Courtney Barnette), not to mention numerous high quality acts at The Egg down on Empire Plaza (too many to list), and The Hollow (Shaky Graves) down in Albany as well. At the renowned Troy Music Hall I should've seen Citizen Cope on April 1st, but no, didn't make it. Real life had intruded once again. I had also missed a sold-out Robert DeLong show at this very venue back in February (I think) which would've been unique. But in this case the world-class music was coming to us, downtown, not at the Gambling Resort, and not in the middle of summer: before the Putnam Den began the trend, this was not a guaranteed weekly event in Saratoga Springs in recent years, though it seems more likely to be sustained now... I had no excuse to miss this.
Town had seemed quiet as we pulled in from the west, even walking Broadway at 10 pm the mood felt subdued even though it was the first spring-like Friday in April; the streets were not brimming with people as we've come to expect now year-round in this hip little city up north. One reason might have been that most folks were already in the clubs. We skipped the trip down Caroline but ducked down the alley shortcut to the DEN, and as soon as we turned the corner the contained din of throbbing bliss became apparent. Over four hundred attendees were rapt and happy to be inside before we meandered in, just in time. As SARATOGA TODAY writer Arthur Gonick had foretold in his preview this very day, the owners of the Den had pulled a major coup, getting this group to groove up here.
The crowd had been packed to a comfortable bobbing density/intensity, transfixed more than rowdy as we eventually found a spot to plant and see the stage (don't plan to sit much in there) and got acclimated-- everybody standing, fixated on the commanding presence of the seated master of lap steel -- ROBERT RANDOLPH himself, in full bandana'd glory--plus his nasty four piece Family Band. The drummer and bass player were apparently cousins of his, as the core trio, supplemented by an organist/keyboard/percussionist and a white, bearded lead guitarist, whom they'd apparently adopted into their musical clan.
Since this act had sold out in advance, there'd a mini-Studio 54 scene out front as not everyone who showed up could get in. Fortunately we did (thank you Tiffany), after the owner seemed to give us favored status, which is a nice albeit rare perk for writing this music blog periodically. We smiled our way past the Celo Green-lookalike overseeing the entry portal as Randolph and Company cranked out their first processional funk intro. Didn't get a name on that one, but it sounded like their signature tune on MSG when they gig at the Garden as houseband for the NY Knicks).
That became the backdrop for trying to thread through the masses to the far bar. The Den on this night was as full as Gaffney's, Siro's or City Tavern in summer. Bartenders were in full rush mode, pouring fast and collecting cash, while the band blasted electric lava. There would be no slow ballads during the subsequent marathon set.
We backtracked successfully from the bar to the center of the room, as the skittering jittery scratches that begin VooDoo Chile got my attention. I couldn't have requested anything better, and before long Robert was diving deep into that metaphysical trip Jimi left us as a composition and I was thinking this might be as close as I come in my belated lifetime to seeing and hearing Hendrix himself, as if Randolph was carrying forth that ancestral tradition. But as the jam spun into multiple choruses, including a beautiful organ chorus...I realized it was more a Stevie Ray Vaughn version than pure Jimi-- with RR's lap guitar mimicking the Texan at times, then spinning it off with funk of his own. I was so glad we weren't on the outside, looking in.
The Stevie Ray theme continued with the very next tune-- The Sky is Crying. I always felt a deep kinship with SRV, having seen him three times in his prime, before he died in that tragic helicopter crash after a reputedly epic final performance in 1990. He & I were born the same year, vintage 1955; now it's been a quarter century since he left. I was deeply pleased that a long-gone skinny white boy from Austin would be celebrated 25 years later by a funk/blues band from New Jersey, and the crowd was eating it up. From that deep organ groove it evolved into a full soapy frenzy. As with a few songs in Randolph's set-- they'd start out slow and slinky, then accelerate and kick it up several notches as they went.
The third song in a row that stood out began with an upbeat ZZ-Toppish shuffle as Robert vocally noted it was "GOOD FRIDAY, so we wanna make y'all feel Good out there!" He then called out a few female volunteer dancers from the stage area, who proceeded to illustrate the music's liberating effects as the tune we'd seen Joan Osbourne perform a few times took hold of the room. "SHAKE YOUR HIPS" (times about six !) was both the name of the tune and the order of the night. All the women in the club seemed to shake in concur-ment, and I was fine with that. The pulsation was contagious, as we always hope for on a night, a gig, an experience, like this.
Soon there was a segue into a slightly creole version of "When The Saints Come Marching In" a la Trombone Shorty...without any horns, just the slide doing its thing... and then I just stopped taking notes and listened. I happened to be texting my longtime buddy Carl Landa and his new bride Erika, whose informal 2-minute wedding ceremony at City Hall I'd witnessed two days before, chiding him for not joining us downtown, but he was beat from performing at Skidmore already that night, and had two more shows to do the next day. I told him he was currently missing a cover of Bill Withers' USE ME
Mssr. Randolph was performing in the manner of James Blood Ulmer as if sung by Al Green's grandnephew of funk, whatever that means. I'd only had two beers and stopped there, but was once again gushing with the greatness of what I was hearing.
But this is why we go to concerts, performances, shows, and even occasional bar gigs, isn't it? To achieve and share a mutual sonic ecstasy? To find cathartic release from the mundane often aggravating chores of our business week? This is what the Blues have been for since time immemorial-- group therapy with a wicked beat.
It was over all too quickly-- apparently there was only intended to be one set of an hour and fifteen minutes, as Tiffany the most gracious PUTNAM DEN co-owner had advised us before we went in, plus an encore. While we stood behind the sound booth we could see the timer going past 80 and 90 minutes before winding down at the 1:34 mark. Then the band came back out for a rousing encore that brought the whole affair to close to two hours and then they one-by-one waved off and departed stage left, to apparently truck (or van) back to Jersey before dawn.
As we eased out the door I tried to catch sight of PUTNAM DEN's proprietors to thank them for booking a killer national act like this-- fearuring a relatively young musician who has already been named as one of Rolling Stones' Top 100 Guitarists of All Time. But I will say it here, that this 450-person capacity room has evolved into an amazing venue right in the semi- hidden heart of Saratoga's fault-line, between Broadway and "The Gut," as the stretch between Caroline and Phila used to be dubbed. Owners Jonathon and Tiffany are to be commended, and supported. Thanks also to Robert Randolph and his Family Band for making the trip north to entertain us, even though their trip likely took much longer than their time on stage. Hope you might return to this town -- maybe even to SPAC itself one of these subsequent summers-- again soon.
As for those around me at the club-- thanks for putting up with my whooping and shouted YEAHs at various points of emphasis... I've been doing this since watching jazz bands back in the 70's, and can't seem to keep my audible excitement to myself, after all these years.
As for my wife, thanks for hanging with me and sharing times like these through thick and thin over the past 26+ years... and wasn't this better than just another quiet romantic dinner?
Ciao to all, I'll be back on this blog, and others, soon...
Wayne ... at saratoga.com/WaynesWord2
Saratoga's western plateau still holds the snow. This is where I live and the back yard and the "extra acre" out back is still coated with white crust, ankle-deep, as I write this. March is just about over. But the grip of winter is still evident here. I'm not going to rant about how rough the winter was...as a billion other bloggers I'm NOT going to read have no doubt already done. I'm just saying... it's still here.
There are no daffodils coming through the permafrost yet up here. The robins are a long way from finding any worms in my yard yet, though within a week, could be a different story.
I should have had the ritual fire on the Equinox, ten days ago, but I procrastinate at these things, and it was too cold for an outside fire, i.e. I wimped out-- from what I recall. I had some dry wood stacked... and the dried out blue spruce (now a brown spruce), aka this year's ex-Christmas tree, was atop, ready to ignite. Maybe it was time now to celebrate the symbolic transition, before April arrived. I set the match to the crispy egg cartons I'd saved in the garage for such an occasion. The risk of a fire spreading was absolutely nil what with the persistent snow cover. Outdoor fires would be banned a month from now but few people were outside in my neighborhood so who would care, or even notice. I burn a HOT fire, with no smoky smoldering. The signal goes straight to the sky-- the Universe loves symbolic gestures, I believe Louise Hay would say. Burning the tree is saying Good riddance to both last year and winter itself. If dried properly, it is a fast goodbye. It is also a searing, pleading Hello to Spring.... please, where are you?.
This was my first ritual spring fire in the backyard with a dog alongside. Bentley was coming up on his first birthday, a lanky 75 pound athlete of a golden retriever, with the hops of a massive jackrabbit, and the galloping moves of a wide receiver. He thought the pile of sticks aflame was some kind of magic, which was true. He skittered around the outside of the circle as it took off, fully amazed, and sniffing the perimeter. Since the kids were all inside and not as fascinated by this kind of thing as they used to be, it was good to have a companion for my Druid Rituals for Dummies practice session.
The fact is, it was not an impressive bonfire, even by my own standards, much less my buddy's, down the road, who, when he plans such an event, carefully crafts the conical assemblage of hardwood chunks and piney branches for maximum rise to the skies. His fires can be seen from space, as we used to say back in the day. His fires also sometimes raise the ire of neighbors, who tend to adhere to the deed restrictions of "cooking fires only" in one's backyard space. Upon Chris's fires, you could sear an entire steer, or an ox for that matter, and mere hotdogs would be swiftly incinerated.
But this is the back country of Greenfield where a man should be able to create and contain his own flames... dammit. I am libertarian to at least that extent. As long as his fire is pure dry north country wood, and he is not the idiot burning his garbage for everyone else to smell, in which case he should of course be snuffed out, a fire on one's own over-an-acre property should not be verboten. I don't mean everyday, like a bunch of cavemen. But once in a while, for a ritual, if you will, let primitive man indulge in these brief Promethean endeavors... that go back to our dim ancestral roots. (I don't mean to advocate this behavior out west where it's dry; but here where it's this damp and cold and wet, it's fine.)
But I digress... this fire was just a quickie, not an epic burning (or thinking) session. Not intended to be a pull-up-a-chair and watch, long-night spectator event, just a signal to the heavens that we (or specifically, I) was more than ready for a change. People sitting in an apartment can change their TV station, their computer screens, and whatever is on their own phones, but not really their own environment. They can adjust it with input: drink or intoxicants, food or art or music or movies, but they can't just go outside and look up, on their own piece of land; they can't really "have a fire."
As Jim Morrison (master of induced incantations, who never learned to nor wanted to moderate his input) once intoned:
"Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars...
And in fact, this was a cloudy night at the end of March as our flare of smoke rose, straight up, no wind to disperse it. Starless. Immaculate... for young Mr. Morrison that must have been a rare cloudy night on the outskirts of L.A. As for the rest of that chorus, I've wondered for years... weird scenes inside the goldmine, he chanted prophetically. His version of: As above, so below...
I treasure the freedom to be out here in the country, not the City, not the suburbs, (where rules have to be stricter); to be outside in any weather, confronting the cosmos on its own terms, conjuring the sense of the Immense... d'uh! And then realizing we're just a pinprick of light ourselves, a humble spark of temporary energy, flaring up to get noticed, and then settling back to earth, darkened to carbon, ashes to dust. Ah, it was getting too heavy. The fire was over. There was a puddle of grim and grimy grey melted ice encircling the dying down flames, squelched by moisture all around, ankle deep snow, on the perimeter... The fire wasn't going anywhere. Finito.
Spring was on its way, though not here yet. I was going back inside, to get ready for tomorrow, and call it a day. Call it a winter. A rougher one than normal, in many ways, but now it was over, and there was a new phase to get to. That's all I'm saying.
I told you ahead of time, this was just a quickie.
See you next time,
Wayne at WaynesWord2, a small spark and part of: "www.saratoga.com"
Copyright Wayne Perras 2015
P.S-- for anyone of you who care, or are paying attention, I am in the process of back-filling my blog, slowly finishing some of the aborted written missions of the past winter, often interrupted by snow removal... "my back pages" as it were. Thanks for reading! More to come, both backward and forward.
"MEDIAC REFRACTIONS " Copyright Wayne Perras 2014:
1st Episode: TV Commercials & Rock
First of all, there are some great trends in advertising involving masterful use of rock classics, both old and new, right now. Tonight as I peeked in on my daughter, freshly turned 17, watching one of the few great TV farces-- Modern Family-- the commercials tended toward vodka or rum commercials and high fashion, not beer and trucks like you'd catch during a football game. But here comes a Bacardi commercial with this grinding bass line that turns out to be the Arctic Monkeys, minus the words, while apple flavor is being sliced into the rum. That song happens to be one of my late charging favorites for the year-- Do I Wanna KNOW-- an ominous or perhaps momentous title for a song.
Just a few minutes later I hear Robert Plant & Jimmy Page as if reborn to the digital age, doing the main riff from Whole Lotta Love as a beautiful woman in a stellar vehicle roars silently down a California vista highway... but it's not a car commercial... it's for... CHRISTIAN DIOR!
Think about that-- for people my age and older, Led Zeppelin as a group were the poster gods for Rock'n'Roll excess. Very late Sixties, all through the Seventies-- these four guys lived a litany of stadium rock tours and left behind a legacy of excessive consumption of anything they wanted, trashed hotel rooms, cars driven into pools and nonstop lusty acts performed with groupies and sharks and whatnot. Flash forward 40+ years and the esteemed rockers (that is, the three still alive, absent John Bonham, the particularly zany and combustible drummer...who did not make it through the 80's) were appearing in FORMAL OPERA GARB at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in D.C. amid a full house of dignitaries including the President and his wife. The sister duo Heart play and sing a helluva stunning version of Stairway To Heaven with an orchestra and full chorus emerging behind them, the crowd goes nuts and Plant and Page and John Paul Jones look like they are going to burst into tears at having survived to see this. Now their best known song-- still a chestnut on WPYX 106 Classic Rock locally -- is featured in a sleek and slick new advert for high end perfume and feminine care skin products, one of the more prestigious and classy European Brands in the known world. Once considered too bawdy for Top 40 radio, their signature tune is an elaborate and graphic vocal/guitar/bass/drum depiction of the sex act, as their ole black blues masters had defined way back in the 30's thru the 50's, before them, but at a few billion decibles louder.
This is a testimonial to the benefits seen if you not only produce great work, but last a long time afterwards; the reward for not flaming out too quick.
Not only is Robert Plant a manly example of surviving extreme youthful excess, he is still producing relevant and striking music, and his voice is still... his voice.
I am not voting his singles Rainbow or Turn It Up as the best of the year, but both are tunes you identify as being him right away, especially the former. The vocal range, the keening tone, and the ascending vowel howls... he has not lost a thing, and is still Evolving as a thoughtful performer and artist, not just playing the part of pop star of the past. It evokes the Japanese style of progress in artistry-- which projects gradual and constant improvement into one's 60's, 70's, and 80's, as opposed to our pop culture ideal of early success and rapid decline. In a year when we've lost Jack Bruce (71), Johnny Winter (70) Robin Williams (62), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (46), and just recently ,Ian McLagen (69), & Joe Cocker (70)... I am personally pleased to see the 66 year old Plant churning out new music, still powerful, potent, and relevant.
So, to continue my theme of musical fickleness, I was crazy about Pobert Plant's solo work on "Rainbow" back in October or so... but a lot has changed and preceded, and followed that infatuation-- including the Lucinda Williams number I referred to in my last blog, "Protection." That was last week... I may have changed my order of preference twice since then... This week I am trending and tending toward a tune by a guy I'd never heard from before-- Israel Nash-- which is called "Rain Plains."
Here's a partial and unofficial list of my other obsessions of the past year, with some notes:
--"Do I Want To Know," Arctic Monkeys, as related above...grim, ominous & beautiful sounds
--"Budapest" by purportedly 21 yr. old George Ezra, younger than my sons at this point, but quite skilled and catchy...
--"Happy Idiot" TV on the Radio, the first precursor to their most recent album, wicked upbeat bass line gets me every time...I plan to invest and indulge in their recent full-length CD "Seeds" as soon as possible... Love this Brooklyn band...
--"Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future," by Mike Doughty, one of the best surrealist one-word rap sequences I've ever heard a middle-aged white man utter...
--"Let Me Down Easy" by Paolo Nutini... heard this 3 times on the radio before I really registered who was behind it, but knew I liked it.
--"Gooey" by Glass Animals-- a lilting, strangely soothing melody, to counter all the YANG music I like... played only on WEQX locally, as far as I could tell.
--"Blue Moon" and in fact everything else from the CD MORNING PHASE by Beck, which was my most-played single album of 2014, for its soothing and rich sonic palette... also loved "Heart is a Drum" which he played in concert at MassMoCa, and the lesser known "Wave"... which is more like a secular aria than a rock song.
--"Left Hand Free" by alt-J, another British group I continue to be impressed by...jangly, quirky, percussively innovative in almost every song I hear.
--"West Coast" by Lana del Rey, a seductive bit of breathless techno from the Lake Placid ice princess, and nice to see her recover from her critical bath after her SNL
debacle, a couple of years ago...
--"Family Tree" from the ill-fated Kings of Leon, who have stood us up twice in recent years at SPAC, and whom I was prepared to disregard from this point on, but my son Miles made me listen closely to the stupendous bass line in this one a few times and I got hooked... I now blare it in the car to get going when I'm draggin' a bit.
--"Violent Shiver" by another really young youngblood-- Benjamin Booker. A sprint,
a two-minute burst, a snappy trapdrum crescendo avec staccato vocals whipped in a blender on high....
--"Don't Swallow The Cap" by The National, a powerful Brooklyn band I first fell for upon hearing "Blood Buzz, Ohio" on the radio a few years back...
--"Riptide" by Vance Joy of Australia, which I wrote about back in late spring or early summer-- got hooked on the solo ukelele version where he's serenading a tram-full of riders on the Melbourne subway... rocking with one-man swing.
--"Avant Gardener" by Courtney Barnette-- one of my regrets of the past year is not seeing her at Upstate Concert Hall this past October... not only a great song but some sizzling discordance on guitar as emphasis that would've made Ornette Coleman smile...
--"You Go Down Smooth" by Lake Street Dive... that chick has a great rock voice, and the band is propulsive... will keep track of them.
--"Do You?" by Spoon-- probably the best group of all those whose work I don't own in any form yet... which I should change soon.
--"Burning Bridges..." another superb and haunting tune by Lucinda Williams, whom I also regret missing in concert this year, down at The Egg in Albany. Those midweek Northway road-trips are tougher to pull off with the work schedule these days...
--"Summer Sun" by Boy and Bear-- a tune that got me through the snowy month of March...way back when, but has worn off a bit since then...
And I could go on and on. It was a good year for new music, and I haven't really scratched the surface here. If you think I have left off anyone significant, it would probably be this year's wunderkind of "mature pop" radio-- Hozier. I admit to getting slightly hooked at one point on Take Me To Church, but ultimately found him a bit grating and histrionic. I liked From Eden even more than his first hit, and agree that he is headed for stardom, given that both my favorite stations have embraced him as maybe not just the Best New Artist of the past year, but singer/songwriter of the best tune of the entirety of 2014. I do admit to envying his line:
she tells me "worship in the bedroom,"
the only heaven I'll be sent to...
--Hozier (aka Andrew Byrne)
But the point is, since starting this piece a few days ago... I've changed my mind yet again on the "most favorite music of the MOMENT"-- After their appearance on David Dye's syndicated daily-bit-of-DJ-genius called WORLD CAFE on NPR (broadcast locally by WEXT, 97.7FM for those that haven't caught on with that yet, 10-Noon six days a week), I am now officially a fan of The War on Drugs. Check out their extended video version of "Under The Pressure" and you will be under the spell of one Adam Ganduceil as well. WEQX (102.7FM) out of Manchester, Vermont has been championing this band as well, but it was seeing the video that really got me hooked.
I feel a bit sheepish when I learn that a group I really like is on their third or fourth album, but better late than never. While I've heard references to their similarity to certain electronica bands of the 80's... the long guitar coda on the video reminded me of Pink Floyd back in the really old days of psychedelia... nice way to take it out, 2014.
Anyway, that's my highly selective recap. I don't like everything I hear, even on my two favorite and much-hyped radio stations. On the Vermont station, I couldn't always handle groups with names like Plague Vendor or Band of Skulls (though I grew to like each, once I could them in the right mood) but stuck around to hope to hear Arctic Monkeys, while on 'EXT I would have to get past the banjo antics of Steve Martin or the old school drone of Johnny Cash to be able to hear Bob Schneider's sublime version of "Running on Empty" -- or Sean Rowe's latest, or Sara Jarosz, Olivia Quilio, or dozens of other great local performers in the "5-1-8" area code.
For the record, I love both radio stations for different but parallel reasons, and switch back and forth between them at will and whim. Also, I have resisted satellite radio in all its forms, even after a new car purchase, and have eschewed all the Internet sources of songs in favor of the more free-form choices of free radio. May both formats survive and thrive in the new year and further eras to come...
Till next year...
Wayne, at WaynesWord2, for saratoga.com, Copyright 2014
Radio Middle Grove, & Sunshine in December:
One great thing about the weekend before Christmas is that NOT MANY PEOPLE ARE SHOPPING... for real estate, anyway. As a Realtor, I get an extended break like no other holiday provides. I am glad, for a brief spell, to leave the market to the retailers.
I took my turn shopping, i.e. sitting in traffic or standing in checkout lines... already enough times this week, so today, and maybe tomorrow too, I will be staying home and avoiding the crowds, the clutter, the hustle, the bustle, the intensity of human density.
This is particularly pleasant on a Saturday when I can typically can hear Jam 'N Toast on WEQX (102.7 FM) from nine a.m. till the sultry-voiced Donna shows up at 11 a.m. to take over. But this morning I flipped back to WEXT (97.7 FM) in time to catch the last two songs of "My Exit" show done by an equally-sultry guest-hostess who played a mysterious sax-song by Morphine called "Whisper"-- with the late Mark Sandman's haunting vocals then blending into Neil Young's thrumming meditation dubbed "On The Beach." This was one of the best segues I'd heard all year.
Later, after a hike to the creek with Bentley the golden, I come back to make lunch as Aja on 'EXT plays my favorite tune of the moment, a kick'n country drawl-with-a-bite called "PROTECTION" by Lucinda Williams:
You know that people complain and be talkin' about me,
Make me throw up my hands and wanna crawl outta town,
but The world is gonna spin / with or without me
So I steel get up / and keep on tryin'...
Livin' in a world full of endless trouble
Livin' in a world where darkness doubles,
but my gloom is lifted/
when I just stand up
and take the gift that I was given/
by not givin' up...
This is a tune that serves a purpose: like Sinatra singing "That's Life."
Whether one is overcoming loneliness, illness, a disastrous love affair, marriage break-up, death of loved ones, economic woes, gossipy innuendo, or just being overwhelmed by bad news, an anthem like this comes in handy. Personally, at the moment, unlike the past, I am suffering from none of the above, but I still like listening to this tune. Lucinda's gravelly voice alone tells you she's been through such grim and grizzly times, but the whip-crack beat and guitar solos illustrate the resiliency and empowerment her lyrics finally proclaim.
So this is the tune I would say is my "Fickle Favorite" of the day... for a while.
I change my mind often on the subject, and will give you a few more in the next blog I'm about to write... But back to Saturday's stream walk...
First of all, the sunrise actually had some sun in it today! We have not seen a full slate of blue sky and brilliant sun in these parts for a week or more it seems. So even though the temp was still below freezing, I was outside in rolled-up sleeves reveling in it: It's Springtime in December! I called out to my neighbor as I stuffed my final-round of outgoing Christmas cards in the mailbox... he replied skeptically: Still pretty damn cold out, and this from a guy who is frequently biking 20-30 miles in nothing more than his insulated spandex outerwear. I was feeling more exuberant and adrenalized than him for a change.
A good day for a trip to the stream with Bentley the galloping Golden and Daryn, son number 2, still trying to kick the effects of his bout with Lyme Disease, who needed to feel some exuberance too. The "damn dawg" as we sometimes call him, is good for both of us, getting us out of the house on a regular basis, at his constant prompting.
The ground looked like March instead of pre-Christmas in that the semi-heavy snows of early December were now crusty and receding, but the ground was still hard & frosty underneath. This made for good walking, not sinking into the muck of a thaw, and not sinking into soft corn snow, but trekking on top as the crunch supported our weight.
Down on the slope behind our house, which faces north, the deer trails were visibly exposed down to the leaf layer but everywhere else still had a coating of bright white, which gave an interesting definition to paths that were usually harder to follow.
Bentley's nose, as always, was a blood-hound Sherlock Holmes, wordlessly guiding us forward. The deer path led to a spot on the creek where the bank was lower, where hoofed and pawed fauna alike were able to lean in for a taste. Bentley, with his schnozz processing information constantly, sniffed a bunch of them, no doubt.
The Kaydeross was flowing briskly like liquid ice, perfectly clear and shimmering in the sunlight. I took deep breaths through my nose and suggested to Daryn that he do the same-- at 20 degrees it singed our sinuses and brain with cold clarity. Much better than mouth breathing in the cold, I reminded myself.
Since I don't usually have company other than the dawg when I hike down there, I took the opportunity to show D. what I considered to be the "anchor tree" of the lower slope of the valley we were part of... a huge white pine with two trunks, about eight feet in circumference, with its top rising well above the edge of the plateau where we started. Native Mohawks reputedly used to stand with their spines pressed back against the most majestic pines they could find to rejuvenate their powers, which I remind myself to try on a regular basis, but I don't recommend attempting it in public, say at the State Park's Avenue of The Pines. It's much less pretentious, less self-conscious, to perfom such rituals out in the wild a bit.
Daryn wasn't so sure about my interpretation of the Mohawk's theory but tried it with me anyway, on the opposite side of the "Siamese Pine." One good thing about living nine miles out from Saratoga's downtown is that I've had the chance to illustrate to my three children firsthand the power and beauty of the deep woods, whether they bought into it or not. Miles being post-college, and Bella being in her teenage prime, are less receptive to these messages right now, but Daryn at least is open to suggestions.
The Dawg needs no such encouragement-- he loves it down there. It is his favorite antidote to being housebound, and beats the hell out of hanging around the living room all day. He does figure-eight laps past us and returns in a loop, running hard and low to the ground as his breed was intrinsically trained to do. It's invigorating just to watch how much energy he puts out on these backwoods runs.
When he stops, he tends to "truffle-dive" with his snout into the crusty snow, smelling something good, and then uncovering a mouthful of leaves, a stick, or a pine cone, like it was a hidden treasure... hilarious. Then he will march around with it in his mouth like he just retrieved a quail or partridge. Fortunately for a non-hunter like me, he hasn't actually killed any birds yet. The light is pouring down through the cathedral pines in our favorite stretch of riverbank as I snap a picture of D. behind the ground-prowling canine...
When we head back up the 90' slope towards the back of our property, I realize Daryn is now grinning, when he'd been pretty glum to begin with... a combination of our own stirred up endorphins, plus the antics of our slaphappy dawg. It lightens the spirit-- almost the same as any great, invigorating tune, like Protection, the one I've got in my head today, or those I will list on my next blog!-- but in more of a physical manner. Hiking, music, hoop, running, biking, yoga, dance, working out, working outside... they all recharge the human battery, brighten one's mood, and enlighten the soul.
This is what I'm thinking about, after a 45 minute walk with the dawg.
Later in the afternoon, because I have time to sit around and chill-- I will read about another interesting corollary in two different local newspapers. Writing a column for the (Albany) Times Union, Jo Page's piece was titled "Dance is the affirmation of our lives." She writes about a 4 year old boy breaking into spontaneous dance moves as he heard a dress-rehearsal of a song about death and resurrection from The Messiah--
a piece called A Trumpet Shall Sound:
Ms. Page wrote:
The bass sang on about how the-dead-shall-be-raised-incorruptible-and-we-shall-be-changed and the little boy just wiggled and swung and jumped and spun. He was unstoppable. Everybody on stage watched, laughing...
She goes on to extol the virtues of dance for one and all, talented or not--
"...Mostly, dance is about that amazing impulse to move our bodies through space, to feel the air or to feel our partner's bodies and our own bodies, the muscles in our limbs and ribs and feet as we make contact with the Earth or as we leave the Earth in little jumps. Movement is what is dazzling, even if all we are doing is...watching others and feeling that infectious vitality...
The tradition of the "danse macabre" she insists, is a testimonial to the power of life, related to her late mother's expressed desire to "go out dancing..." (taken from Section D of the Times Union (Albany, NY) , Dec. 18th edition, by Jo Page.)
And even if we aren't fully dancing ourselves, we can still watch and feel the music, the vibrations, the kinetic spell cast, to wit:
In the weekly Capital District arts review tabloid Metroland, long-time contributor David Greenberger rhapsodizes on the contact buzz achieved in the midst of throbbing, bouncing listeners standing close to stage at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen at a sold-out show for Lucius:
Mr. Greenberger writes:
I felt two simultaneously uplifting sensations. One was the sheer, clear sonic landscape of the five musicians onstage, gently loud and smartly eccentric. The
other stirring awareness was that of being an outsider in a sea of real fans... I saw myself as an individual in a sea of people united in an experience... and I'm one small part of the magnitude of an audience taking in music... each unfolding song peppered with resonant moments, no looking forward or backward, just being receptive to the constantly changing present.... rudderless and floating upon it, and in this case further carried by the engine of excitement that surrounded me...
Now, I'm not normally prone to gushing about the perspective of other local writers (aside from William Kennedy, let's say), but having felt that same wonderful musical catharsis at several musical events over the years, I don't know that I've ever seen it summed up quite that well-- especially for a performance given by a group the writer wasn't all that familiar with before he went. Exactly the point!
Greenberger encourages us, as a good reviewer should, to test the limits of our known likes and dislikes, and what we are already familiar with, no matter what our age or outlook... he finishes up by saying:
"(Screw) nostalgia. Lose your bearings, regain a view of the horizon anew, and be vigorously revived."
(As appeared in Metroland, Dec. 18th, 2014 edition, by David Greenberger).
This, among other reasons, is why we attend concerts, bars with music, recitals, performances, and sometimes stop in our tracks to hear street buskers.
This is why I have to start going more often to "Free-QX" concerts at Vapor Nightclub at the Racino, or inexpensive gigs at Putnam Den for Bands I barely know, or, coming up soon, the First Night Celebration at Saratoga's City Center on New Year's Eve, with a lot of local talent I know by name only. I pledge to remain open to new experiences for as long as I can handle them all! And if lucky enough to have the time to spare, I hope to keep writing about these musical epiphanies here and elsewhere...
So to you, dear readers, especially those who are feeling depleted just before the low point of Light the Northern Solstice represents... at the end of the solar cycle for the year we call 2014... and before the New Moon as well... please understand that one of the main reasons I continue to write this Blog is to point up the moments (as above, and as written about in my past Blogs) that add sparks of ecstasy (the real stuff, not the drug) to our lives, too counteract all the bad news you can always get plenty of most anywhere else you look.
To properly commemorate the year 2014, these are a few of my euphoric moments of the past year when I felt what Greenberger described:
#1) seated front row with my wife listening to Sean Rowe's solo mastery (particularly during "Spoonful" and "1952 Vincent Black Lightning") back in April at the sanctified Troy Music Hall;
#2) in the middle of a standing, bouncing, singalong throng at Upstate Concert Hall during the peak points of The Head and the Heart performance in late May, during their hits "SHAKE" and "Lost in My Mind" but also the lesser known "Gone" and "Rivers & Roads"...
#3) during the BECK concert at MassMoCa, otherwise marred by crackly, shoddy sound, but mesmerized by the throbbing jolt of "Devil's Haircut" and "Think I'm in Love" right off the bat, while tunes like "Soldier Jane" and "Que Onda Guero" were the revelations of the night, along with "Heart is a Drum"-- which I've come to love...from my subsequently favorite album of the year, "Morning Phase".
#4) and a local night of old-time ('70's Allman Brothers) enlightenment during an end-of-night jam at a lightly attended Thursday night session in Malta at NaNola on Route 9, south of Exit 13... A buddy of mine named Rob Beaulieu playing lead on Whipping Post with his Stone Revival Band...a stunning and wonderful jam to top off an office party evening... congrats to Shane and Ralph Spillinger for literally "reviving" a musical venue that had been underused or empty for a decade...
On that night and a few others, Melinda and I were also feeling the urge to dance as spontaneously (but maybe not as well) as the 4 year old Jo Page described, especially during a FUNK EVOLUTION gig (9-piece killer party band, with horns...) in mid-summer outside at Dango's!!! Packed inside the undulating mass and locked into a throbbing groove for a finite eternity, ah... winter memories of summer in Saratoga!
Redemption, Renewal, Reinvigoration-- via music, love, exertion, exercise, dance or whatever-- this is what I wish for you and me and all.
Take care, & Peace,
"West of Saratoga"
Copyright 2014 for WaynesWord2 at www.saratoga.com
First of all, delete or forget what I wrote in my last blog (!)... that was sentimental tripe regarding my affection for a ton and a half of loyal black metal...my old HHR. Now I have a newer EQUINOX, and as soon as I drove out of that car lot, my funereal mood regarding the prior vehicular relationship faded quickly, in awe of the new.
As they do in New Orleans, I had trudged to the graveyard singing the blues, but once I turned around on the way home, the mood changed into resurrection, rejoicing, serenity. I was in the new age (or decade, at least) of auto ownership at last.
I have completed a trilogy of sorts in this past year. Got a new dawg (my first dawg!), a new real estate brokerage (hopefully my last changeover in the business), and a new car, as noted, long overdue, in the last six months. I can no longer be accused of being resistant to change.
Speaking of change, here is how the last three days have gone, in the Saratoga area. On the Monday before Thanksgiving we hit 70 degrees, and broke a record for the date. It was truly eerie. Talking to people from Austin, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia that day, each one was asking me how much snow we had on the ground, compared to the 7 feet that fell on Buffalo this past week. I told them we'd had about 3" of crispy frosting on the ground, not real snowfall at all, and that it had almost ALL had melted away. The new Four Seasons Natural Food store (behind my EQUITAS Realty office) parking lot I looked at as I walked with my cellphone was barren, dry, and warm, at that moment.
Tuesday was in-between-- "down" to about 50 degrees in midday, which would be considered Indian Summer to the Mohawks, who never believed in winter coats anyway, from what I've gathered. I took multiple pix of High Rock Park and the environs of our office, and the nearby Farmer's Market area, downtown--
the rock ledges behind the spring...
the primordial stone of the Old Bryan Inn looming above...
while down below, in the low flat zone between the Pavilions housing the springs, there is the excellent Twisted Metal Sculpture by Noah Savett and a partner of his that forms a tribute to 9/11...
and The High Rock Spring itself.
I took the picture when the coating of leaves and the look of autumn was still prevalent; that would soon change when the whiteness arrived. It would not really look the same pretty soon, and autumn seemed unoffically concluded. Snow was coming...
Which it did today, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving... I had spent the early morning hustling to disconnect the hose we'd still been using the day before, rake the last of the red Japanese maple leaves that had stuck to the tree longer than most, and put away the gardening tools. I deposited a few loads of mulch from the wheelbarrow, and then put that beast away for the winter. I scattered a batch of birdseed under the birch so the feathered creatures knew they had sustenance coming despite the snow. They fed in a frenzy once I retreated to the garage to make room for the second car, now that winter was about to show up in earnest.
Heavy-at-first, the snow began abruptly in slanting, driven fashion, just after 11 a.m., as my phone had predicted. Amazing how closely they can predict these things now. At that point, I spoke to my buddy Al to wish him and his wife a Happy Thanksgiving and catch up on a few things. Asked him if his plow was ready on this truck.. He said, Nah I'll do it after lunch, I'm not so sure it's really gonna snow....
Since I was about 5 miles west of where he was, and a couple of hundred feet higher, my weather vantage was a bit more accurate...I told him, Dude, it is already comin' down up here, and headed your way... so he took my advice and put the plow on before lunch.
What ensued was a wondrous day-long snowfall. The only previous frozen coating we'd received last week had simply emerged overnight in a quick blast, and we didn't get to watch the majesty of a steady accumulation by daylight. Having already gotten the provisions in, & taken home the files I needed from the office, so I didn't have to go anywhere. The day before Thanksgiving, thankfully, is one of the least-likely to get-important-calls or demands in the real estate industry. Unlike religious holidays, Everyone in this country seems to celebrate Turkey Day. Most people are going somewhere, or prepping their own home for visitors. We were in the latter category, which is fine with me; I travel enough as it is.
As kids, we were always the family that drove to visit relatives back in Connecticut, a two and a half hour drive with six of us crammed in the car. The comaraderie and love of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins was worth the trip, and Nana's cooking of the turkey and stuffing, plus her use of the formal dining room China made it an annual epic event, and much more ceremonial than anything we could pull off in Ravena, on our own. It was never the same after my grandfather died, however, though we still made the voyage.
Now my wife has taken on the role of masterminding this sacramental holiday in November, and we have had anywhere from 15 to 26 people at our home for the occasion, over the past decade that we've been in our home. Her mom and two sisters and brother contribute dishes and pies and there always seem to be enough younger members of the family to enliven things-- a 1.3 year old nephew named Hunter, and his 2.4 year old cousin named Mallory are the newest and most animated members of the family at this point. TV shows and music are on in the background but the kids provide most of the entertainment, aside from the feast itself.
More snow fell that afternoon while everyone was here, and like overweening school marms we had to caution all relatives to drive home prudently. But between the stewardship of the youngsters and the weather conditions, beer & wine consumption was kept to a minimum and I was happy to see that none of the adults got even close to tipsy much less drunk, this time around. This was a welcome change from some of the holidays of my youth, let's leave it at that. For me the best part of the holiday was NOT having to drive anywhere, whether drinking or not, as I said. As a Taurus I've grown to love home and hearth, essentially a commercial cliche for the real estate profession, yup.
Random Jots...About Our Cars
I'm gonna fast forward a few topics now-- random jots from my notebooks of late.
All-Wheel Drive is a great invention, what took me so long to discover it?
A Pioneer Sound System is apparently still cool, at least in a car, 40+ years after I first heard of speakers by that name. Especially impressive after having to listen to blown speakers in my HHR since roughly last spring. The sound was so bad for a while there that I'd have gotten kicked out of a trailer park if my windows were rolled down.
Why was I so sentimental about that my old HHR, I forget. So last decade.
The Equinox sits up higher, a more commanding seat, better vision. It's not as big as the Suburban I wheeled around for a while, but a nice halfway point. Three Chevies in a row now, a pattern. Miles wants a Buick if he can't yet get a Mercedes-- more material aspirations between he and his sister than I ever had. Meanwhile he's driving my Unkle's old 1996 Quest, a van dubbed TINDOG, as the late Paul Perras never did anything in ordinary fashion. Miles will graduate from the artist's tradmark vehicle at some point when his cash flow allows, and perhaps we'll retain Unk's Nissan for Daryn, the next generation of artist in the family.
Random Jots on Music...
I am listening to BECK's 2014 release on CD for the umpteenth time, umpteenth meaning you stopped counting.
"MORNING PHASE" is the most atypical album I've been addicted to since maybe "In A Silent Way," or the first Weather Report album, though both of those were instrumentals. There is nothing remotely uptempo about it, nothing with a big beat, nothing danceable, nothing adrenaline inducing. It's a largely acoustic sound, with synth-like cellos and harps and dulcimers almost indistinguishably mixed in. It casts a spell when heard as a whole.
For awhile I was starting my early pre-dawns by listening to it as the coffee water
boiled and the brew was percolated...
"When the morning comes to meet you,
Lay me down in waking light..."
The radio friendly cuts were most familiar at first-- "Heart is A Drum" and "Blue Moon" -- both tremendous songs. But the rest of it washes over you with a sound palette both unique and soothing. Until I started writing this appreciation, I hadn't even looked at the lyric sheets. The words almost didn't matter, like foreign chanting or harmonic sounds that were pleasant and meaningful without being understood.
Beck Hansen is a transformative genius; his live concert back in June at MassMoCa was much the opposite of this most recent CD, and yet both were phenomenal. There, in an open-air factory parking lot/grassy knoll-- his full band was 100+ decibels of dynamic and manic sound-- from "Devil's Haircut" to begin with, and "Where It's At" at the end, avec Beck's harmonica histrionics of "One Foot In The Grave" mixed in with a pounding version of "Think I'm In Love" and "LOSER" in between. The gems I didn't know about in advance were songs like "Soldier Jane" and "Que Onda Guero", My wife and I had the good fortune to be seated on the lawn behind a married couple who were Beck fanatics-- Hilary and Ren of Norfolk, CT. They were enraptured by the entire performance, despite the scratchiness of the sound system and occasional blasts of feedback. As a relative neophyte to Beck's deeper cuts I had to keep asking, "What was the name of that one?" and Hilary indulged me every time, and then in between tunes waxed rhapsodic about the new album, which she rightfully urged me to acquire.
I am only now giving thanks to Hilary and Ren, and Beck himself!-- in looking back five months at that concert, which was indeed the highlight of any shows I saw in 2014-- though the list of those I missed is epic and lengthy.
For example-- back in early September, when we were away for a few days, I regret missing fusion drummer Billy Cobham's revival of his Spectrum album of 40 years ago, a great concert at The Egg in Albany, which received a rave review from Greg Haynes of the Times Union. Since Cobham, whom I saw in his heyday with The Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring Jan Hammer and John McGlaughlin, is now 70 years old, that is not a show likely to be repeated. Similarly, I missed Jack deJohnette's new band when they played Albany's Riverfront Park outdoors this summer-- as a young buck he'd been part of Miles Davis's iconic Bitches Brew sessions, and also played on the meditative In A Silent Way, which I mentioned earlier. I had seen him play at the legendary J.B. Scott's on Central Avenue in Albany at some point in the mid-80's, with his Special Edition band (Eddie Gomez, Arthur Blythe on alto, David Murray on tenor, omg...), one of the best live jazz shows I've ever seen.
I also missed the Empire State Plaza performance of Bootsy Collins with members of Parliament-- the guitarist with George Clinton's monster space-funk bands of the 70's and 80's, who still get sampled today... also got a great review from Mr. Haynes, whose job I envy.
Closer to home, in Clifton Park at Upstate Concert Hall, I missed two more current acts in October I fully intended to see: OK Go, and Courtney Barnette, just because they happened to be on weeknights during a hectic stretch of work. I can't always be as bohemian and au courant as I would like.
I failed to see the rarely touring Steely Dan at SPAC, the same Labor Day weekend we visited the Cape Cod coast. Missed the last go-around of The Allman Brothers and also guitarist Warren Haynes' own band Government Mule, which were at The Palace in Albany or Proctor's Theater in Schenectady, both great places to see a concert. Planned to see a Pink Floyd tribute band at the Proctors last month as well- but found it hard to justify paying $55. for a band that had no original members of Floyd itself. I heard that Ray LaMontaigne's show at Proctor's was amazing, according to Katie G. at Exit 97.7 FM, and wish I'd given him a second chance, with his new upbeat sound, having been produced by Dan Auerback of The Black Keys.
One of my favorites-I've-never-seen is Mike Doughty, of Soul Coughing fame-- he has appeared locally several times, including at The Linda in Albany, which I woulda loved. Also sorry to have missed the throwback show at The Egg this year by Dave Mason, former member of the superb 70's group Traffic.
In the Local 5-1-8, as they say around here, I also missed CD release parties for Troy's now-favorite-son Sean Rowe, who is getting national attention now, and yet still due to appear locally at Cafe Lena in a solo show in February. Stellar Young, a cool young rock aggregation from Albany (formerly called The City Never Sleeps), also appeared a couple of times locally without me being there. I could probably name another Top 10 "Acts I've Missed Lately" but the point I am making here to those outside our immediate area is that we get a ton of good music coming through the Capital Region/Saratoga zone, and it's there for the taking. In reading METROLAND, the exceptional local arts mag out of Albany, one realizes on a weekly basis how much talent appears hereabouts, if one only had time and leisure and money to totally indulge in it all. (This past week, for instance, I realized I missed Slick Rick at The Putnam Den, and hadn't even known about it till it was past...)
But seeing BECK's show at MassMoCa was one revelation I will remember, and don't have to regret missing that one. The diversity of styles and sounds he has produced over 20+ years was showcased as a huge kaleidoscope that night in North Adams, Mass. Even though the sound systems there were at times distorted and the crowd a bit unruly and constantly moving around, the overall impression was mesmerizing.
So, as the end-of-the-year lists are being compiled, I am simply voting for Beck's "Morning Phase" as hands-down Record of the Year for me. I know the cool DJs at WEXT are pushing for Sean Rowe's recent release "Madman" as the best this year, and their counterparts at WEQX of Manchester, Vermont are touting the beguiling singer/songwriter Josier ("Take Me To Church") as hands-down winner in that category. I also liked the recent Robert Plant CD ("Lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar") as the work of a still-vibrant master. "The New Basement Tapes" (with Jim James, Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, et al.) as a tribute to Dylan and The Band's much-hyped original, is worthy of consideration. And the now-fully-released "Basement Tapes" from The Pink House circa 1967 in Saugerties, NY would also be a viable candidate, though it wouldn't be my favorite. The sophomore release from British group ALT-J would be more to my liking, in fact. In my 59th year, I am still more prone to wanting fresh input than simply indulging in nostalgia for the greatness of the past.
I will mull more on the subject of the year's music, next time.
It's time to wrap up this rambling blog, which has now spilled from late-November into early December, for which I apologize. These things are supposedly to br brief and punchy, but brief is not my forte...
Back at you soon, stay tuned...
Thanks for reading,
"Everything that is
-- from an inscription on stone in Joe Bruchac's yard
It was Groundhog's Day, 2006 when I last bought a car. At that point I'd been driving a large maroon Chevy Suburban which looked somewhat similar to Tony Soprano's, and both James Gandolfino and his character were still alive. I got a lot of deferential treatment with that vehicle as a result; people always let me pass through intersections first. The Suburban had followed a Dodge Maxi-Van that worked well for family trips but not so much for business purposes. The Suburban garnered respect, not only for its impressive heft, but for the implication that its owner could afford to drive around getting only about 12-14 miles per gallon, whether that was true or not. In 2002, when I got that set of wheels, I felt that confident. The real estate market in Saratoga Springs, NY (and virtually everywhere else) was rocketing and moving upward with the force of a torpedo. Exuberance was in the air, and as a former owner of small Subarus, Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas, I was proud to be back to American-made, with something more substantial and less "thrifty" underneath me on the road.
Flash forward a few years: by the time gas prices had crept up over $3/gallon, I started regretting the Suburban purchase, particularly since there was no market for such used behemoths at that point. I owed a bit more than it was worth by trade-in time, but had gotten some great use out of it. The sound system was better than any I'd had in a car of mine before, and when we'd first driven it home from the dealer in Glens Falls, I recall hearing OutKast booming out "Bombs Over Baghdad!"-- a prescient song if there ever was one-- as Bella, Miles, and Dare sang along at top volume on the chorus.
During those Suburban years of driving, Miles was playing in 3 or 4 basketball leagues-- Rec, Jr. NBA, Travel, then CYO once he went to St. Gregory's in Loudonville for 7th and 8th grade-- while AAU ball filled up the spring and summer. That big ole SUV transported tons of friends and classmates and teammates, as well as our family of five, all over the place. We went through what a lot of "sports parents" do-- nonstop travel and constant restaurant and fast food expenses-- occasional hotel layovers, routes all over the state and through New England and in 2005 to Virginia Beach for AAU Nationals. The Suburban conveyed us through those days in fine fashion, but had become too much of a guzzling beast.
One day when it cost me 95 bucks to fill it up, it struck me that I had to get rid of it immediately. Six-figure fill-ups were looming. The friendly salesmen at the now-defunct All-Star Chevrolet south of SPAC let me test-drive a reputedly 30-mpg model on the lot called an "HHR"-- which I later found out meant "Heritage High Roof" or something like that, and which I fondly dubbed, "my little gangster car."
First it was a bright orange set of wheels, the only advantage to that being I'd never get lost in a snowstorm, but my daughter shrieked and laughed when she saw the color. "But it's the same shade as a basketball," I protested. "Well I'm not riding in it," my then-9 year old girl scout informed me, as headstrong then as she is now. I went back and found a black one that looked even more authentically gangsta-like, as if from a re-make of a 1930's movie, minus the machine guns hanging out the windows...
It never quite averaged 30 miles per gallon, but was twice as efficient as the Suburban, at least. It fit me like a glove and became my new trademark. Some people used to mistake it for a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which would only annoy me: "The hatch is not sloped like that one; mine is a much more noble and elegant creature!"
Long story short, eight years and nine months later, I have now travelled 243,003 miles in that great 4-cylinder car. It has gotten me from the end of Miles' time at St. Gregory's to his four years of Catholic Central HS in North Troy, when my wife and I would trade off to break up the 140 miles per day required back then, 35 miles each way, two roundtrips per day. The HHR made its share of trips to LeMoyne for the four years he was there, as well, until the newer Volvo my wife drives took over on the highway voyages. My trusty HHR got me through Daryn's high school years and most of Bella's trip from Greenfield Elementary to Saratoga Springs HS. It took me through my professional transitions from RE/MAX Park Place to SPA Realty, and then to RE/MAX Premiere, Coldwell Banker Prime, and then to Keller Williams Realty of Saratoga. I would travel close to 30,000 miles per year without fail, through the tail end of the boom market to the lean years when I had foolishly gone out on my own, and back to the recovery years, from 2010 to the present. Now with EQUITAS Realty, I guess I am finally, and somewhat reluctantly, ready for an upgrade in my vehicular choice, but am staying with CHEVY, opting for an EQUINOX now, close to my company's name.
My loyalty is based on my affection for what the HHR did for me-- I rarely had to do more than change the oil and fill the gas tank, and replace tires now and then. It held up well until one fateful day when I scraped out the oil pan in dead-winter when an ice-flow had cratered the ruts in our road pretty badly. All the oil drained out when I parked and when it was towed to our then-favorite mechanic, he told me the engine was blown and it would be roughly $1500. to replace it. I was crushed. On a friend's recommendation I had it towed a second time to an amazing dude named Ryan near where I live in Middle Grove, who proceeded to bring the HHR back to life for something like $300 bucks: a reincarnation of a dead car. That must have been three or four winters ago, and nearly another 100,000 miles later, that VORTEK engine is still going strong.
Over time, however, the HHR showed signs of its age. The right side interior would get wet on the carpet when it rained, even with the windows up. The blower on the heater and A/C stopped working long ago, the radio was full of static, and some bushings in the steering needed replacement. The transmission was getting a bit clunky and a new set of tires were in order. In fact, the most recent flat in the driveway is what drove me to the new car lot. Expensive repairs were not worth it anymore, sad to say.
Miles and Bella-- both superb Internet shoppers-- had been showing me options online for quite a while, hint hint. They knew that shopping is my least favorite thing to do.
But more pertinent to this blog-- I have to confess my sentimentality for inanimate objects in my life. This car has been as good to me as almost any friend I've had, and I feel affection towards it like I would a horse that I'd been riding for years on the open plains out west. I spent countless hours inside it. I sang along to my favorite songs inside it, went on several thousand appointments in all kind of weather, and drove my kids and wife to all kinds of events with its help. My butt fit the seat perfectly, though the fabric was now worn, torn and pulling apart. As with the recent commercial showing a guy turning in his iPhone-- with Suri inside it, pleading to him to remember "all the good times!"-- for a newer model-- I feel I am betraying a long-time pet in the family by "putting it down" before it is ready for the graveyard.
But I have to turn it in. I wanted to do a funeral service of some kind, a memorial as it were, but my family thought (and still thinks) I was nuts. I have trouble parting with the important parts of my life... still have my old laptops and cell phones and even a typewriter or two from the really olden days. Am I crazier than most? Probably. Is there a name for an automotive hoarder? Well, yes-- guys like me with larger lots are way too common in parts of Saratoga County, and their yards are littered with their old "best friends." Thinking of it that way will allow me to let go... and usher in a whole new era of comfort and driving adventures.... I'll take some pictures of her one last time for the archives, and clean out all my random belongings that have been in her dash, her compartments, under her seats, and in the back hatch area. I have to be strong...
But I might sob just a bit as I take one last trip with it-- with her!-- down to Mangino's, where the trade-in value was almost nil, but better than letting her rust in the driveway while I cruised around with the newer, younger, model.
I'll think fondly of the last time I washed her and really waxed her up good-- parked on High Rock Ave. near my office, and someone asked me-- "Did you get a new car?" because, frankly, she still looked good from a distance.
No, not yet I said-- this one only has about 242,000 miles on it, why should I?
Gulp, it's time, I gotta go... my Equinox is prepped and waiting for me at Mangino Buick in Ballston Spa, 12 miles away, one last ride-- time to start a new mechanical affair of the heart... See you in the afterlife, my dear HHR...
One last time, I will insist: Everything that is, is Alive...
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
A Slice of Life, or Two, out on the Middle Grove plateau...
When certain people ask you-- Got any plans for the weekend?-- sometimes you gotta admit you're just not that exciting at the moment: Just doing some yard work, walking the dog, clearing out the basement a bit, gotta drive to the transfer station, that kind of thing... In short-- "I need to F'eng shui my place..."
Happy to have a Home to come Home to, and time to spend there. I would like to have said I had concerts to go to, or a trip to Vermont planned, or maybe a local mountain to climb before hunting season begins in earnest. But no, I'm just chillin' on the home front, and trying to get it winter-ready, for now.
If it weren't for Bentley, our 7+ month old golden retriever, I likely would NOT have seen today's cold mid-fall morning being born. After 5 days of grey rain, it was a glorious sight to see the stunning sun rise above the horizon again, shortly after 7:20 a.m., the last week before the clock's change.
The upper windows of our house, facing due east, ricocheted the solar glow at me from behind, as the rays cleared the trees. It was startling to feel the (reflected) sun strike me in the back from the west as I walked east that early in the morning.
What really comes in handy is that extra acre out back of our home-- for which we paid a $5K. lot Premium, way back in 2003-- when it's time to let this volatile and lanky pup run. Bentley now does laps like a greyhound through the wood trails, cornering like it counts, as if a race is at stake. Another athlete in training in the family, and it's almost as gratifying to see him in action as it was when Miles played hoop, or Daryn sprinted or long-jumped, or Bella danced, or ran track.
Yet, in speaking of sports, my only spectator passion these days centers on professional basketball, not college or high school sports, not baseball playoffs or NFL games. In late October, I am just marking time till the real NBA season begins, which is usually just before Halloween, and the clocks change to create early evening darkness.
The Knicks last pre-season playoff game was last night, a close loss to Toronto in a packed Montreal stadium. Even Canadians-- once merely hockey fans-- have become fanatics about my favorite sport. Soon I will be watcing in earnest: NBA TV on TWC channel 308, the Knicks on MSG, the Nets on YES, then ESPN or TNT whenever featured games are on in prime time. I will be multi-tasking well into the evenings once these games are on-- writing at my desk, researching real estate data, reading and doing the books, with HOOP on in the background--the only way to justify my recurring addiction to b'ball on the tube.
On weekends I take it as my task to become the breakfast chef for the family as they rise, one-by-one: custom egg, cheese, & veggie omelettes of some improvised sort, sometimes with white beans or kidneys on the side, in the low-carb mode. Or it might be flaxseed and buckwheat pancakes, with raspberry syrup. Other times I just cook scrambled eggs with spinach, or plain fried eggs with Ezekial toast. My kids -- and occasionally their friends who sleep over-- will remember me more for that perhaps than anything else, years from now.
Once well-fed myself, I load up the HHR on Saturday with recyclables & the weekly refuse. Instead of paying Big Waste monthly fees, for the time being, I'm trucking it myself, as I see lots of thrifty elders do. Had a flashback on old landfill visits on certain mornings with my dad, prior to my being 10 years old, I'd guess. Transfer stations much more sanitary now, and you don't have to drive over the cratered two-tracks of packed-down garbage.
Before the last 4-5 days of persistent rain, the front lawn had been dry as powder, so we certainly needed this long dose of wetness. But today redemption from the dark wet chill of the week came in the form of an idyllic mid-autumn sky, blue as could be.
Now for some long-overdue observations on the geographic & physical changes of the in-town landscape, in real estate terms...
PERIMETER EXPANSION OF SARATOGA SPRINGS...
Coming into town from the west... on 9N from Greenfield Center toward Saratoga Springs, you can't help but see how much construction is going on between Buff Road and West Avenue. Despite all the talk of "in-fill" projects within the City proper, there is apparently plenty of demand on the outskirts northwest of town.
A lot that sold two years ago is finally being cleared in a hurry and infrastructure is going in tl provide road drains and whatnot. The bulldozers transformed an overgrown wooded lot adjacent to the former Good Shephard home, which sold for $652,000. in 2012, into a parallel expansion of the adult home business, just to the right of the current residential facility. At one time I thought this would become another 7-home McMansion subdivision, but no-- it is going purely commercial now under the guidance of Bellamy Construction, whose trucks and front-end loaders and Cats are all over that site. Longtime residents (among them, me) may remember when there were some shabby barn buildings on the property that housed a company called "T-N-T Plumbing & Heating"-- those gents fixed my well pumps on more than one occasion. After they moved or shut down the business, those old barns fell down and the second-growth woods took over for a decade or two. Now the woods are scraped clean and the site is smoothed sand with not a tree left on it. Concrete and brick are soon to ensue.
Across the street and diagonally closer to town is another construction site this fall-- a medical building that briefly identified "Fresenius & Associates" as the occupants of the building-in-progress. This would be the third medial/dental/office building built in that stretch between the old "Ash Grove Inn"-- once a resplendent restaurant with gorgeous views out the back-- and the Jeffersonian mansion (purchased in the 90's by the late-but-rescient Peter Paquet) alongside those classic horse fields which abut Sunnyside Acres off to the left, just before the RR overpass. 25 years ago, said fields underneath the new medical buildings were the growing grounds of an organic farm--way ahead of its time-- run by an industrious & eccentric man named Palazzini (who happened to be a hunchback) who'd developed the stretch of farmland on Locust Grove Road to the west of all this, where my family and I lived for 14 years at one point. This section of Church Street Extension has filled in nicely from an economic perspective-- but the scenic swath of that formerly bucolic northern view across the McNeary family's open pastures on Denton Road is now blocked. Such is the cost of progress to those whizzing by...
Over the bridge and past Care Lane you see more new construction-- a massive project by local standards-- proceeding apace at the corner of West Ave. and Church. This long-delayed project- simply called "2 West Ave."-- at a prominent entry-corner of the Town, dates back to a once- proposed condo project prior to the recession of '08-09 to the current apartment complex being built by the ubiquitous Sonny Bonacio and a small army of subcontractors. I always think to myself, after hearing doomsayers on the weird inflammatory radio stations that abound on the dial-- if the End of the World is indeed approaching, Bonacio's boys-- along with The Galesi Group, Bast-Hatfield, and a multitude of others around here-- are going to be building right through it.
You go past that to another 100-foot crane lifting steel beams into place just past the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club... this is the site of Saratoga Hospital's $36-million annex being built on the west side on their complex, abutting Myrtle Street on the Emergency Room side. Thus, in the stretch of less than half-a-mile of Church Street alone, I would guesstimate there were at least 300-400 construction workers of all kinds, truck drivers coming and going, and heavy equipment operators staying quite busy just on the westside of Saratoga Springs proper. I doubt very much any other upstate city of under 100,000 residents has this much going on right now.
If you cut over to Washington Street (aka, Route 29, heading into town from the west, parallel to Church Street) you will see two other projects "in-filling" what used to be scruffy empty lots for years, awaiting this current, cumulative building boom. Closest to the Mobil Station that has anchored the West Ave. corner for generations now is the Eastside Group's final touches on their 2-story mixed-use project, soon to be the new home of Saratoga Vision, with apartments on the upper level. A short block or two south there is a new Kodiak Construction project on the left across from the Sherwin Williams paint store... a nice looking office building awaiting tenants.
Turn right onto Birch Street at Roma's Italian Deli, and before you go left on Grand at the four-way stop-- you will see the former Scavuzzo's Bakery (known to old-timers as such) under re-hab into an expanded single-family residence, and further down Grand Ave., notice 2 or 3 other notoriously-messy homes under full renovation on each side of the street, on the way down toward The Local Pub. One rundown Victorian that fell into use as a drug den, as well as nondescript older working class homes with aluminum siding, are being restored or completely re-built into upgraded housing, contributing to the overall rising of the tide in this town. Check out 152 Grand, for instance, and try to remember how shabby that little home on the site used to be.
Even a scrappy half-lot across an alley on South Franklin Street from the former Figelman's Junkyard (which recently evolved from a "Scrap Dealers" business, to a more cleanly dubbed "Spa Recycling")-- is the site of a new home being built on (by another Bonacio crew) on the backside of a 4-unit fronting on Oak Street.
Then, the truly massive 6-story Embassy Suites Hotel rises into sight, on the site of the long-vacated, one-floor retail space of Broadway Joe's, as part of the rebirth of Congress Plaza. Bast-Hatfield has been working here for the better part of 2014, and the results are now evident. Here, 100-foot cranes have been a common landmark, and just recently the top-floor windows on the north (street) side were being installed, in an effort to get the 149-room upscale brand building water-tight before snow falls. New restaurants have already gone in there, while Purdy's iconic liquor store-- having been through a couple of changes-of-plaza before-- awaits the lack of construction-site chaos with impatient glee, I would think. The new Hotel-- a DCG Development Company project-- will be bringing in hundreds more visitors on a weekly basis to a part of town that has mostly retail, offices, and apartments in that area up till now.
On Broadway, there are no cranes in sight, and haven't been since the Northshire Bookstore Building (dubbed "The Washington") was built last year. Most of the storefronts are full and vibrant, with the exception of a new For Lease sign on the corner of Congress and Broadway, as apparently Talbot's is moving out from its highly visible but no-so-profitable location. Across the street, in Congress Park itself, the major change is that a few of the majestic white pines to the left of the park entrance have been taken down this year, presumably because they threatened the Spirit of Life statue and its pool, which were in its shadow. More openness and light are the result, but it's still a bit sad when primordial trees must come down.
Most of the news on Broadway these days has been "behind the scenes." The Adelphi Hotel, which has remained shuttered for two summer seasons now, since its sale in 2012, has shown no visible signs of progress toward its massive new makeover. In the meantime, however, the new owners have purchased two separate parcels behind and to the left of The Adelphi proper, around the corner on Washington Street, including a smaller building, a former rectory, part of which is ancient stone. This is all just behind behind the Rip Van Dam building's parking lot.
Number 23 Washington is the address of the rectory that sold, for $850,000., to the right of the magnificent architecture of the Universal Preservation Hall, which is number 25. The property to the left of the UPH apparently also was a separate part of the puurchase-- a rectory that served the Bethesda Grace Episcopal Church, at 41 Washington St.
The word on the street (and later in the local papers) is that the stone portion of 23 Washington will be transformed into an entry point for an expanded banquet hall off the back, for weddings and large social events, as an adjunct to the complementary expansion of The Adelphi's rearside courtyard/pool/and outdoor bar complex, slated for completion in 2016, if all goes as planned.
This project, along with Bruce Levinsky's approved plans for a 176-room expansion of the Van Dam Hotel building just south of The Adelphi, will complete a huge transformation of that atavistic block, where Route 29 starts west of Broadway.
As of the date I submitted this, the rectory seems vacated, and the two car garage to its right looks like it may be destined for quick demolition. A truly large and majestic tree (a remaining elm?) has been sliced down and removed (but for the stump). A bulldozer has chewed up some of the turf out back, and the lot looks empty and forlorn; no sign yet of what's to come.
The gaunt and boarded up backside of the Adelphi looms, dark at night, off to the right, while the south and eastern face of 18 Division Street mixed-use and condo building is semi-lit-up, to the rear and left. The Universal Preservation Hall is still very much in use, having been nicely renovated, at least in the outer shell, due to the efforts of local supporters, former parishioners, and lots of fundraising efforts over the last two decades. At first I thought the iconic Hall itself was part of the Richbell Capital purchase, but that was not the case.
Between the purchase price of the Adelphi ($4.5 mill), the projected renovations (approximately $6 mill, BEFORE structural problems were discovered), and the $2.1 million reportedly paid for the two church properties, this zone will become perhaps the most expensive real estate investment zone in the downtown section of our City at present, rivalled by the aforementioned Hospital additions, or the $30 million dollar high-rise hotel proposed at the Saratoga Racino (or Equine Sports Center, if you prefer), between Jefferson Street and Nelson Ave.
A few years ago (or was it a decade now?), when the quintessential horse property adjoining the Flat Track on Nelson Avenue (formerly the Whitney estate) sold for roughly $27 million to a prominent prince from a Middle eastern Emirate, it was assumed that numbers like that would not be achieved by any other properties in this town for awhile. But the Big Money continues to pour into Saratoga Springs, boding a continuous upward curve in the City's fortunes, even without the advent of Vegas-styled gambling, which was chased out of town by an unofficial referendum earlier this year.
The beat goes on. In November I will detail some developments, good or bad, you will have to decide-- on the East side of Broadway... stay tuned!
Postscript, on my conversion to Dawg ownership:
Ok, to my sisters, who have been dog-lovers for decades, and to many of my friends and co-workers who are devoted dog-people, I confess that I have joined your ranks, somewhat reluctantly at first, but lately with more love and enthusiasm.
I wrote about Bentley when we first travelled north to purchase the "puppy-version" of said Golden Retriever... and of course after 5 months of nonstop feeding (part-goat, part-voracious black hole...), he is now about 60 lbs. of sinewy energy and taut muscle. His paws are almost as large as my hands. When he jumps up on me, his head is chest- or shoulder-high. When he tugs at the leash, it seems like he conveys more momentum force than a small horse. When he stares in my eyes, looking for love in return, he melts me almost as much as one of my own offspring.
The problem is, he demands more attention of me than anyone else in the household, and follows me around nonstop from the moment I wake up till the "night-night" call at 11 p.m. or so. When I come home from work he goes nuts on me like I've been around the world, away for a month. If I should get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, I have to tip-toe down the stairs, hoping not to have him wake up as well.
My morning routine has changed inexorably. Getting up early used to mean having an hour or two to myself, for reading or contemplative music, maybe a light lifting session in the basement before breakfast. Now it means hoing to get some coffee made before he tugs me out the door for the pre-breakfast poop walk and backwoods run. I get more cardio and fresh air now, whether I like it or not. I get to see what the outdoor sky looks like every a.m., before 7 o'clock; sometimes before 6.
I have learned to tolerate the fact that every time out the door is a different "smell-a-thon"-- in that he samples the smorgasbord of the world through his nose, his snout, and often his tastebuds and tongue as well. I've learned that if he gets away from me on the leash, I will earn the stern gazes of my neighbors, and appear ineffectual when I yell at him to return. Folks ask me if I've had him trained yet, and I say, No, it's more like the other way around.
The real pleasure, as I noted in the beginning of this blog, is taking him out into the woods, and down the hill out back, down to the Kaydeross Creek and doing the 3/4 mile loop along various paths on the HOA lands behind us. He runs manically in figure-8 loops all around me, trailing the leash behind him as I give him some freedom and latitude to really RUN, as he is not allowed to do so anywhere in the neighborhood, of course. Now that my three kids are older and not so inclined to join me on these "Creek Walks," Bentley is my hiking buddy and that has been a huge boon to my health and our mutual well-being.
Is it worth the cost of dogfood, vet bills, treats, leashes, dog toys, and chewed up clothing and shoes and slippers and sneakers??? Yup, I admit it is. Sometimes I wish he had an OFF button, but in general, we love that Dog Dude, and here in print, I grudgingly admit it.
To those of you who still love cats, so do I, but that is a more passive form of pet ownership, that's for sure. A dog like this is not purely for petting and sharing naps, and hearing the motor-boat of contentment after a good meal. This kind of Dog is inter-active, highly kinetic, and a source of nonstop affection, attention, and alertness. It has cut into my contemplation time, my writing time, and yet when he sprawls out in front of the desk in my study, I have to acknowledge, he is a cool creature and, I guess, a blessing.
Stay tuned, and see you soon.
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
Having this dog gives me more to blog about and less time to blog it. He provides constant exercise at times when I would normally flop on the couch, or sit at my desk, and takes up considerably more time and attention than anyone in my life since my youngest was a year or two old.
With a cat or two, you can be a recluse first thing in the morning on your rare day off-- feed 'em quick and they leave you alone. The dog tugs you out in the world, every darn day of the week.
This is gonna be a quick one...(but it's been on my mind for a while).
Who says that the Year has to be divided into Quarters? -- I vote for Thirds. That way,
we lump January thru April together, then May thru August becomes "the middle chunk." In roughly that time period, these have been some of my favorite individual songs, stuck in my head in one way or another:
Courtney Barnette "Avant Gardener"
Benjamin Booker "Violent Shiver"
Vance Joy "Riptide"
Beck "Blue Moon" & "Heart Is A Drum"
Milky Chance "Stolen Dance"
Young The Giant "Mind Over Matter"
The Kooks "Around Town"
Big Data "Dangerous"
Spoon "Do You"
Man Man "Head On (Hold Onto Your Heart)"
Alt-J "Left Hand Free"
Josier "Take Me To Church"
Robert Plant "Rainbow"
(A word here about the Australian influence on the above list...if I had to pick my two favorite new songs of the year, one male, one female, I would choose an Aussie singer/songwriter in each category: Courtney Barnette, who I hope to see this fall at Upstate Concert Hall, and Vance Joy, a dude whose real name is James Keefe. Both have quirky and distinctive voices, a surrealistic flair to their lyrics that reminds me of French poets of the early 1900's. Word play is my thing, and these two are amazing. As for musicianship, if Courtney is actually playing lead guitar on her breakout, dry-witted song "Avant Gardener" then she is the best distortion-shredder since Annie Clark, and if not, I have to find out who is, and see that band. Vance Joy, on the other hand, melodically "swings the crap" outa his little ukelele in a YouTube video "On the Tram" with a version of Riptide that just totally hooked me, and a train car full of commuters back in Melbourne, or Perth, or somewhere back home, as well. These two combine with early-year favorite "Boy & Bear" so far to qualify for a musical gold, silver, and bronze in the singles category this year.)
I can't help it, my tastes are still changing. Other than the obvious vintage guy of the group (the miraculously still relevant if not even revelatory Mr. Plant), and of course BECK, and perhaps SPOON, these performers on the list are not much older than my kids, if at all. The talent just keeps on coming... and there is more and more of it all the time that gives me faith in human expression, still evolving. Indie music is by its very nature non-formulaic.
In analyzing this, or just writing it down, I realize I am tilting to WEQX land more than WEXT lately. Frankly, I can't take it all the time, but the former seems fresher than the latter, though not always with the deep sense of history WEXT brings.
Both stations could be accused of playing certain songs and groups repetitively, but for anything on the above list, I was happy to hear them multiple times. Though about half the above tunes were played on both stations, I believe the others would be the sole domain of the Vermont station, from Mount Equinox. Conversely, only WEXT would be playing "Rainbow."
Perhaps I am finally getting a bit burned out on the "Beatles" emphasis by the NPR affiliate out of Troy. It seems they feel they have to cater to baby boomers of that era to support their public programming, though I'm not sure that's true. (Full disclosure, I'm still sending in my monthly stipend.)
I can handle the old blues masters WEXT plays-- John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Johnson-- but I get tired of the same Johnny Cash tune over and over, and got especially sick of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's monotonous single ("Pretty Little One") before their appearance at Proctor's recently. So I turn to 102.7 FM more often than I used to. I happen to dig the snark humor of Jeff Morad in the mornings, and his slightly twisted view of the news, even if I have to hear some Toyota commercials and McDonald jingles now and then. At least at 'EQX they allow the folks at 42 Degrees to balance things out a bit in the world of commercials...
WEXT still has the best syndicated radio shows in the land, WORLD CAFE with David Dye out of Philadelphia 10a.m. to Noon six days a week, and ECHOES with John Dellaberto, after midnight each night, an amazing kaleidoscope of soothing, sensual, cerebral sounds.
Some of my close friends don't listen to the radio at all anymore, and prefer the mono-thematic drudgery of certain Internet stations, or Pandora mixes. I prefer the human element and the spark of the new. I have no idea how I might've found the ten or twelve tunes I started with here, without the intro from radio. I will be listenin' till I kick!
(And I'm glad we have a couple of great radio choices around here, regardless of my minor criticisms.)
Take care & carry on,
Wayne, for WaynesWord2, at saratoga.com
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