Miles is a senior now at LeMoyne in Syracuse and we've gotten used to being a family of four not five most of the time, but on the Tuesday night ahead of Thanksgiving he emerged safely in his Nissan Quest (ye olde TINDOG we call it-- a story for another day) from a nasty hundred mile stretch of snowy weather... and all five of us were able to enjoy a home-cooked meal together for the first time in a long while. Those of you with college kids in the family, spending more and more time apart, understand the poignant nature of such mini-reunions. At this point we as parents appreciate, as does he, the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday-- the beginning of winter weather, usually, and a break in the long autumn routine before the solstice and Christmas festivities.
Wednesday, though I'd planned to work, I decided instead to stay home and enjoy the fact that we were all together on a midweek day, had no need to travel or shop for groceries. Whatever work I had could be done from laptop and cell phone. So the whole gang slept in, and we had a great extended brunch together, like a Dim Sum in a Korean restaurant on a Sunday. Washing dishes and being a short order cook is occasionally a refugefor me from the real estate world, and gives my wife a break from that role. Bella and Daryn were getting along better than normal, and the day seemed magical in its ordinariness as I watched all the birds out back feed on the pre-Thanksgiving seed feast I had scattered for them that morning. Later four deer would casually join the proceedings, looking for the corn meal I'd been dispensing, but also grazing to steal the precious sunflower seeds before the squirrels could get their share.
We mutually decided to do something unusual, and all attend a movie together at the still-new Bowtie Cinema in the heart of Saratoga that evening. The long-awaited
in-town movie theater complex is something that has been talked about since I ever started coming to this town in mid-70's as a college kid myself. The old Community Theater on Broadway, next to the Stewarts/Sunoco A-Plus store, was the last vestige of a centrally-located movie house, and had closed down before I showed up here, back in '73 I'm told. So the old-timers and newcomers had waited 40 years for this--
and the gorgeous 11-screen Criterion Bowtie Cinema was worth it. This impressive improvement to the downtown scene had been under construction during most of 2013, famously replacing the site's previous structure, the affectionately dubbed "Ghetto Chopper"-- an old-school not-so-super market, made out of concrete block and aluminum-framed plate glass windows. What used to be that store's "butt-end"of dumpsters and faded red blank walls facing Church Street traffic, as urban architecture critic Jim Kunstler had railed against in recent decades, was now a shimmering, enlivened source of culture, a slice of NYC as it were, in our midst. The upgrade in the Westside's streetscape has been incredible. And in the lobby, I saw my hoop buddy Joe Leone, a longtime local native who'd grown up a few blocks away from where we were standing, with a group of friends. He shook hands quickly with me and Miles as we hustled our way into Theater #3, running a bit late, and might've thought it odd that we were all hanging out together as a clan, and I wanted to ask him, "Did you think you'd ever see this kind of place in Saratoga in your lifetime, much less on the Westside??" But the answer was obvious, "Nah...never!" Joe woulda said, "But here it is!"
The trick had been to find a movie all 5 of us could agree on-- not an easy task. Melinda and I had tested the place out once before already, checking out the late James Gandolfino's final flick, "Enough Said." While it had a mixture of laughs and sentimental sadness-- a true dramedy-- we needed something more escapist and visual, whimsical and light-hearted... a Disney film, for instance. Bella had been watching Chelsea Lately the other night and I'd seen the actor Josh Gad for the first time-- the clip from the animated movie, in which he voiced the Snowman, Olaf, had gotten me hooked, so I suggested a tame middle-ground entertainment like "FROZEN", instead of Gravity or 12 Years A Slave, both which we still want to see. Miles was game for anything to distract him from finance courses at college, as long as we'd get home in time to see the Knicks game on the westcoast, and/or Syracuse U. playing in the Maui finals. Bella was in a rare conciliatory mood for a feisty 15-year old, and went along with the idea of an early movie. Daryn was on break from SUNY/ACC as well,and has always been a fan of almost ANY Disney or PIXAR movie, many of which he can recite from memory. This movie was right up his alley, historically speaking-- a rare 20 year old male who disdains video-game violence and gratuitous sex scenes.
In that "Frozen" was a PG-movie, the previews were pretty tame by our normal R-rated standards, but the visuals of something like "Walking With Dinosaurs" were stunning and compelling-- fifty times better than the dinosaur movies which captivated my younger son so much as pre-schooler in the mid-late '90's. In fact, the trailers did their job, as I felt I wanted to see every movie they teased us with. It seemed so much more likely that I'd now become an avid movie-goer again now, downtown, given my prior aversion to not just the Exit 15 Mall, but all Malls in general. Frankly, the seats, the proximity to the screens, and the intimacy of the theaters all improved upon any mall cinema I'd ever visited.
A short cartoon started the evening's proceedings-- the original MICKEY MOUSE, in black and white, circa 1932, or so it seemed to begin with... what seemed to be a throwback bit of vintage nostalgia quickly spun into a multi-dimensional tale of the 80+ year old progenitor-of-the-genre being thrust into conflict/interaction with the highly colorful 3-D world of the present tense. Cartoon characters emerged from the burst screen of the old 2-D world as if sitting on the edge of the vaudeville stage before us. Startling effects in a simple short, to exhibit the span of Disney's domain.
The movie "Frozen" wasn't what I thought it would be, with a lot more musical interludes (a la Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Beauty & The Beast) than Miles or I were prepared for, but the tale was a compelling fable of sisterly intrigue and conflict in the aftermath of perished parents. Drastic weather changes, as implied by the title, were part of the plot, and gave renewed insights to the origin of the phrase "Ice Queen." Names like Swen and Olaf and the recurring word "fjord" warmed the cockles of my (1/4) Scandinavian heart.
More than halfway through the epic, Josh Gad's character finally shows up, and proceeds to steal the show from then on-- a welcome bit of comic relief, both visual and verbal. What struck me was that the youngest members of the audience and the oldest (me among them), were laughing at his lines and antics at the same time. It was genius stuff-- the writing, the timing, the graphics. Rarely has a carrot, as a prop, been so funny.
Not knowing much about it going in, the credits at the end revealed what I should've
been aware of at the start-- the movie's plot was based on Hans Christian Andersen's book, "The Snow Queen." Not having read the original story (as far as I can recall!), I tended to think that Gad's Olaf was a clever addition to the re-write, which saved the movie, from my point of view, and those of the 2-4 year olds in the audience as well. My wife said it was good to see all five of us laughing at the same time, and that alone was worth the price of admission.
A Bit of Nostalgia, Mixed in With The New
Upon departing the Bowtie, we desired and conspired to stroll a bit downtown, despite the 19 degree chill in the air. Daryn sped off on his own perambulation, while the four of us took our time. Miles and Melinda both seemed impressed with the huge outer improvements made to 15 Church Street-- a three story brick place that had been derelict for most of the past 20 years, on the corner of Long Alley, behind the downtown Post Office. When I first moved to town, it was still active as The Third Base Pub...so dubbed because it alleged to be "Your last stop on the way Home!" That may have been true for railroad workers on the westside in the first fifty years of the prior century, but it had been a long time since anyone else used the building that way. Like The HUB Pub, a similar building long since demolished half a block west, it had been a boarding house/bar relic of Saratoga's past, but in this case #15 had been saved with a heavy infusion of cash and effort, evidenced by the "Muse Architect" and "Bast Hatfield Contractors" signs in the new bay windows above street level. Along with the famed Country Corner Cafe to its left and the historic RR shack next to the similated RR tracks on the corner of Woodlawn, and the half-decade old Adirondack Trust building on the site of the old HUB and its broken-glass and puddle parking lot of many years past, that side of Church Street coming off Broadway forms a much better complement to the Bowtie Cinema/Golub Building as described above.
We turned the fabled intersection at the core of town-- "the corner of WALK & DON'T WALK" as the crazy bag lady in Daryn's most recent play production had called it-- and headed for the brilliant beauty of the G. Willikers Toy Store on Broadway, just past the columned ATC bank. The theme of the windows perfectly complemented the movie we'd just seen-- an elfen Santa-with-realistic furry animal theme-- lit up with white branches and snow and shimmering lights, an unabashed Christmas scene. Again, an improvement from what was there when I came to town-- Glickman's Dry Goods-- one of the old school shoe and durable clothing stores of yore. It always smelled incredibly good in there, but the front windows were never anything like G. Willikers, nor the contents as interesting to young children. If that toy store ever closes it will be a huge aesthetic loss to Broadway, so please go support it, and you'll see what I mean about the shopfront displays.
Next, past the venerable Compton's Diner, one of the few remnant businesses (along with Soave Faire--also one of the perennially best windows on Broadway) on that side of the main drag in Toga town, we peeked into the Brueggher's Bagels place, which had been closed for renovations for, it seems, a year or more. They missed the whole summer season in 2013, as it was gutted on the inside at that point. Now the interior is opened up and new walls and floor tile are in place, so the Grand Re-Opening is imminent. I figured the old building, which I had briefly worked and hung out in, circa 78-79, when it was called The Triple Crown... had likely experienced some code violations, but apparently it was worse than that. Miles chimed in that he'd heard the roof had partially collapsed or seriously leaked before this branch of Bruegger's abruptly closed. I thought back to certain stellar moon-gazing sessions on the topside of that building and was glad it was still solid back then. I mumbled: "I'll tell you a good story about one time I was on that roof..." but then figured that tale should be saved for another day, or a chapter in my eventual, long-delayed novel.
Virtually every store front we walked by carried some vestigial memories. The downtown core had been my own version of Greenwich Village in those years between '77 and '87, until I became serious about family and career. Even though I hadn't truly been a native, I now felt like one of Saratoga's old timers, when in fact I too had been called a carpetbagger upon my first arrival here.
I was trying to remember whether The Our Place Pub had been located where Sloppy Kisses Dog Boutique or the new clothing boutique was now--? And I remembered when Mr. Ed's Hot Dogs was there on the base level of the old YMCA Building, across the walkway from The Putnam Street Market. Not too long ago Last Vestige Records was there, recently relocated to the DownStreet Market Place, across the street. What had been in the spot where Saratoga Coffee Traders was now? We continued to saunter down the block. IMAGE Photography was a landmark destination for years in this stretch. The Grey Gelding had been a hotspot for a few years, and now is long gone, with the only vacant restaurant space on Broadway begging for an occupant these last few years, the result of a landlord who wants about 25% more per square foot than the rest of the street. Before the Grey Gelding's good but brief run, a place simply called The Broadway did well there, and they had the wisdom to hire my longtime friend Carl Landa as the house bandleader-- those were great days. He also played with various versions of his band down on the corner of Washington Street where Starbucks is now-- it was called Jacksland's back then; o yeah, a lot of raucous fun was had there.
It was good to see The Wine Bar still thriving-- Carl used to play the Steinway on the lower level in there as well. That elegant building, next to The Downtowner Motel (also still there, despite years of rumors they might sell), used to be a doctor's office when I first came to town.
Cross Division Street and on the archival site of the former United States Hotel, the current brick and glass structure that used to be home to Border's Books & Music is now the home of FINGERPAINT Marketing, a thriving PR firm, which I'd written about on this blog earlier this summer. Those who have been visiting or living here more than 20 years will remember the chintzy 60's structure that used to be a Red Barn fast food place, and then Pope's Pizza through the 1980's into the early 90's. My kids' eyes just glaze over when I hit them with all this change-of-scene history, but I like to let them know it's an evolving streetscape, and has altered greatly even in my 3 and a half decades here.
What used to be The Shoe Depot for decades had morphed into 3 smaller but equally stylish retail spaces, once Frank Panza reluctantly surrendered his prime spot on Broadway. Next to that, the last grassy gated courtyard on the main stretch of Broadway had been transformed into DRUTHERS Brewing Co., a bustling new pub that seems to have prospered amazingly well in its first full year or two. The somber building alongside it on the south, owned for half a century by Al Braim's family, had not changed radically since selling for $800K a few years back. In retrospect, that number will look like a steal, or rather, does already.
Like Bruegger's vacant storefront this year, The Adelphi Hotel had remained dormant all summer too...with very little visible sign of activity within. Given the news-rumor that the new owner was putting 6 or 7 million dollars worth of renovation into it, you'd think the work would be ongoing and vigorous in order for the business to be open next year, but on this particular evening in November, the massive symbol of former grandeur on the westside of Broadway seemed to be in deep, dark hibernation.
Next to the shuttered Adelphi (which had always been seasonal anyway under its prior owners, Greg and Sheila Seifkert), the Van Dam Hotel now featured the flaming porch torches of Maestro's Restaurant, still drawing people inside after 9 pm on a Wednesday evening in November. Personally, I liked it better when it was located alongside The Adelphi when Joe Devivo ran the place, but that's just my stubborn memory at work, combined with the fact that the current owner hadn't treated Miles too well during a brief stint of working there two summers ago. My son wasn't feeling nostalgic about that part of Broadway, that's for sure.
We weren't in the mood for late evening coffee as we strolled past Starbucks, but it was good to see it was there for those who did. We went another block to scope out the window displays at The Gap, Banana Republic, and the smaller shops before Chico's and Lord & Taylor... there were even customers, despite the 20 degree temps, going in and out of the Cold Stone Creamery -- nothing you'd see in any other upstate NY towns this time of year.
We cross the street and the memory flow continues-- how many times had I circumnavigated Congress Park in my early days in Saratoga, with little else to do back then? Daryn still carries on my tradition in that regard. The Arts Center Building on the corner of Spring Street still seems like the Library to me, as I just about lived in there for my first year or two in town.
The opposite corner's 4-story monolith also used to belong to Frank Panza, with a long-abandoned upstairs theater reputedly hidden inside. I regret not checking out that eminent structure while it was on the market. Now there is a magnificent curio shop on the first floor full of huge sculptural Buddhas-in-meditative poses, and trumpeting Hindu elephants. My memory of the storefronts there goes back to Landmark Realty (early 90's), O'Dwyer's Pub on the Spruing Street side, and then the wonderful Posie Peddler floral shop, now successfully transplanted to an old schoolhouse at 92 West Avenue.
The Eddie Bauer building (338 Broadway) that now anchors the center of the block between Spring and Phila Streets always features fascinating window displays, a great improvement over the gravelly parking lot that was there in the early days of my arrival here. Said parking lot, which L-shaped over toward Phila where the parking lot building access is now, alongside the Irish Times, figures into a long story I wrote 30 years about The Tin Shoppe-- when Carl Landa ran the place as a music club, before it became The Trattoria, The Brew Pub, and now The Irish Times, at 14 Phila. I called it The Brass Shack in the fourth edition of The High Rock Review, but I bet only a handful of people remember either that story or the phenomenal acts he used to bring in-- McCoy Tyner, the Brecker Brothers, Betty Carter, Black Sheep, James Blood Ulmer.... oh yeah, 1982 was a cool year around here.
But here's one thing I had NOT looked closely at, nor known much about, before this Wednesday nite walk-- there is a plaque affixed to the brick wall of the Eddie Bauer Building, aka The Granite Palace. It shows the block as it existed from the late 1880's until 1966, when a monstrously destructive fire took down the building on that site-- which had housed Berkowitz Jewelers and the Colonial Hotel, among other famous establishments. The Atheneum, or first official library of Saratoga, was on the second floor, long before I was here. The black-and-white photo behind plexiglass looked eerily archival, and rightfully celebrated the fact that in 1997, Jeff and Deanna Pfeil had the foresight and wherewithal to finance construction on that site, which was one of the first successful in-fill projects of the current era, setting the tone for the Robert Israel condos on Railroad Place a couple years later, and the Sonny Bonacio explosion of subsequent years.
My family had scooted ahead of me while I read the plaque, headed for the new Northshire Bookstore, which proudly occupies The Washington, a prominent brand new building Mr. Bonacio had also just recently completed, also the site of a former decrepit parking lot, on the site of a long-ago burned down Saratoga ediface--
My memory machine sped up as I walked to catch up-- Gary Zack's Symmetry glass art shop used to be D'Andrea's Tavern many moons ago. Dave and Marianne Barker's Impressions gift shop used to be a bar that served the most potent Long Island Iced Teas north of the Hampton's, and before that, it was actually a Bank. Miles wondered if The Arcade Building ever really featured game-rooms like a shoreline resort, but I said NO, not that kind of Arcade. The first seven years of my real estate career took place there, however, and before that I'd had a solo office upstairs there during the first wave of mid-'80 solar sales-- my primitive business years.
Some places were closed for Thanksgiving eve, others never seem to close-- the new Boca Bistro, The Circus Cafe, Uncommon Grounds, Lillian's, the new Chocolate Shop next to Northshire Books, and then yes, The New Bookstore itself-- a feast like no other on the street. The four of us lingered for most of an hour before they closed, browsing and making mental lists of what we'd come back for...I saw a dozen or two amazing choices and the one I wanted the most was a Saratoga History of the 1800's by the venerable Minnie Bolster, longtime local historical society matron, and widow of George Bolster-- prolific collector of archives from this town's glory days.
My daughter was not enthused about anything involving books, which was sad to me, but Miles said he was re-inspired to read more, while my wife and I could spend a lifetime catching up on books we missed or never even knew about. For those who've not been within its brand new walls yet, it should be your primary destination...whenever you can make it to Broadway next. I grabbed a book about Music by David Byrne and a paperback Miles needed for school, and then it was time to head home and catch some hoop on TV together, a different kind of nostalgia for us. We met up with the wandering Daryn and began to head back.
On one last shot at window shopping, Melinda was knocked out by my friend Heidi Owen-West's Life Styles Boutique's front display, which featured female mannequins with skirts fashioned from evergreen branches. Her amazing shop is on the corner of Caroline at 436 Broadway, and was established by her brilliant mom, Kay Owens, years ago, and still thrives in the new millenium under her daughter's guidance.
There was much more to note that night which you can see for yourself on Shop Small Saturday, or the upcoming Victorian Streetwalk in early December, or whenever you get here to visit. There is ample reason why this town's famous thoroughfare has become one of the Top Ten Main Streets in America, and I am glad to feel as if I know the fabric that underlays today's glitter and gloss.
Someday my long-procrastinated novels will be populated with some of the spots I'v mentioned herein, and more-- the lore is everywhere in this movie-set town!
That's it for now-- making up for lost time-- your most sporadic local blogger, Wayne!
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
(Bloggers note: OK, sorry, real life and job change intruded on the aftermath of this episode, finally getting to this in late September, which makes me the slowest blogger in existence, I know. Furthermore, I have not finished it yet but the stories I have of a four-day stretch smack in the middle of this past August-- while not exactly Joycean, are perhaps at least Perrasian in their view of Saratoga...Tales like these show why you don't have to go anywhere else when summer is in session... and I am recalling it now, a mere month and a half later, as chill and dark of autumn descends... stay tuned, and keep scrolling down...)
In Paris, France, I understand, the majority of urban dwellers and workers take the month of August off and retreat to the countryside for a refreshing bucolic sabbatical. In Saratoga Springs, the opposite occurs-- those of us who reside in the hinterlands tend to congregate back in the core of town more than normal, and feel the gravitational pull of Saratoga's downtown charms while the tourist population is at peak density. It is a busy little city till all hours of the night, almost Every night.
So it was in the exact middle of this month...just last week as I start this. While I am assuredly Not in a position to take a 30-day vacation (nor is anyone I know!), it is fun to live and work in a town where you can switch back and forth to business and recreation at the "drop of a hat"-- or by putting on a different hat altogether...
It began with an invite to the Saratoga Racetrack on Wednesday the 14th. Some people I know at Homestead Funding, a mortgage broker of some note in the Capital District, had convinced me to join them for lunch and drinks and friendly wagering at the most famous place to do so in this Upstate land... The Crown Jewel of NYRA's Horse Racing Empire. Let me state here that I am not a "Habitu-ay" of the place-- I work too hard for my money to donate regularly to the coffers of NYRA. Fortunately, I guess, I have not ever won enough large enough sums of money there to lapse into believing that I could beat the odds and have the Track contribute CASH BACK to me.
But I had not been there in a couple years and it was time to revisit. Some things were consistent: a small acoustic quartet played in the open walkway just inside the gate: Reggie's Red Hot Feetwarmers, I believe: the venerable Saratoga icon Peter Davis playing guitar with an upright bass, fiddle, and banjo alongside. They have played music in this setting as long as I've lived here and I was glad they were stuill doing so.
Massively remodeled in recent years, I was a bit dazzled by the Track's changes from what I recalled as I made my way to the Clubhouse upstairs, trying to find "The Carousel." So-named for its circular shape and flow, there were tables ringed around the outside and a grand buffet positioned around the core, and the Luncheon provided was terrific. I wore a light summer jacket, thinking it would be required, but the dress was more casual than in the olde days, even up here, away from the hoi polloi, invitation only. On a gorgeous 75 degree day with blue sky and puffy cotton clouds, I quickly dispensed with that jacket.
Before connecting with my cordial hosts I took a ringside seat overlooking the Paddock to see the slow parade of horses for the first race, more for the aesthetics and the ritual than any betting prowess on my part. I bet a $2 double ticket on my son's hoop uniform number, 44, or tried to, as one of the "4's" had scratched. O well, I went 4-3 instead and the first "4" lost anyway. I ate an extra piece of tilapia with olives plus another braised chicken breast to make up for it, had my protein fix for the afternoon. I made up for the entry fee right there. Felt better and had one beer when offered by the Homestead contingent, that was it for the afternoon.
A guy named Rob Beaulieu, who will end up in this blog at the final moment of this recounting, was there with my friends (and former clients, way back when!) Vince and Annie O'Neill, and their recent college grad daughter, Jeannie. Vince is a vice-president at Homestead Funding, a key player in the predicting-of and reacting- to...the markets at large. His lovely wife is a friendly-rival Realtor locally with Prudential Manor Homes, whom I worked for 20-some years ago when they bought their first in-town home through me, on Jumel Place. A little-known builder named Sonny Bonacio had remodeled an older home on Jumel Place, and they bought it... to kind of help the young dude's career get going a bit. (That worked.) I think their curly-hair'd girl was about 2 years old at that point, and seemed to figure out to know what was going on with the purchase of the new/old home. Now she was working with her dad's company in the home-loan business, and inviting ME out to lunch. I was flattered, grizzled vet of the real estate business that I am.
I know this sounds like social-scene gossip at this point, but too bad-- this is my only shot at that kind of reporting, for the 2013 Season, anyway. Had name-drop a little, that is part of the Saratoga tradition, and thatz part of what blogs are for.
Rob and I compared tales of woe and wonder, good times and bad we'd each had in our parallel, respective professions. I won't go into that here but it is the stuff of t
Then I got the kind of call that you get no matter where you are when you think you can take some time off as a Realtor. Emergency situation with V.A. buyers, due to close the very next day and some unexpected costs came up. Buyer agent has to calm them down, understand the situation, and come up with a solution if any is possible. Some agents like to dump it off on the attorneys-- "let them deal with it!"-- but I just can't do that, as I know they already deal with way more than they're paid for in these real estate cases. Paralegals, in fact, are the unacknowledged saints of this business-- getting the nuts and bolts ironed out (mixing metaphors madly) and often acting as cartilage between the abrasive bones in many a contentious transaction.
Distracted and exasperated for a bit, I coulda been irked at the interruption but what did I expect on Wednesday afternoon? Not everyone is at the track. It's a setting as nice as any to call an office, however, now that cell phones are in vogue. We are never really "out-of-the-office" as people used to be able to say. Some day I will have others to cover these kinds of calls, but for now I still manage them all myself.
Once the pre-closing math issue is settled, I quickly return to the cameo role of race fan. My cell call peregrinations had carried me past the circle of friends and lenders I'd started with, and I had gravitated to the legendary grandstand. I saw some neighbors and other Realtors and a politician or two and a guy who used to coach my son in AAU hoop (shout out to Joe Leone) who probably coulda & woulda given me some tips if I'd stopped him as he walked by in his droopy summer shorts and Converse sneakers, the dude knows what he's doing there, while I am but a visitor, with a wad of bills, on his part...to prove it, famously tucked away...somewhere. But I was in line at the no-minimum betting window, and thought I'd rather see if my own intuition was working rather than casting for inside info, or tasty backstretch rumors, even if from Joe. His black cons disappeared in the throng.
My idea of a big gamble is a $6 exacta box (three horses, buck a bet) and I've got to admit it made the race exciting having my numbers and chosen silks near the lead the whole way. I'd strolled nonchalantly down the grand stairway right near the finish line and was surprised to find that --on a Wednesday at least--the formally-dressed fans were greatly outnumbered by the casual. Groups of guys from Long Island in Bermuda shorts and dockers, spread over a couple of rows near the rail, clearly well-lubricated by mid-afternoon, dispensed quips and barbs with each other like it was part of the sport, which it is. There were also a few groups of jocular women comparing notes on the names of the horses they either won or lost with so far. There was plenty of room in the prime seating on a Wednesday afternoon, I found, and I found myself with a phenomenal view of the video monitors and tote boards on the grand infield, back-dropped by the pond and the glamorous landscape that has survived and evolved for 150 years now. The pure beauty of Saratoga Racetrack struck me that day more than any previous visit, which all had been more crowded days than this one.
It helped my spirits and my psyche more than my wallet when I won a symbolic $17.20 for my intuitive efforts, with the 2-3 combo coming in, as I recall. Then I went big, having broken even already, and went for a trifecta box on the next race, and that one was a gorgeous adrenalin rush too. All through the backstretch I saw the three numbers I'd picked changing on the order board...out of nine horses running.
I felt, briefly, like it was my day and I was going to walk out a winner. It had never happened before so figured I was overdue. I think it was 1-3-9 I was banking on and next thing you know the 6 horse-- a favorite I had blithely ignored-- worked his way into the mix. I tried to jostle the 6 out of the top triumverate to no avail, and he crashed my party. I figured with one and a half longshots in the mix I woulda been good for $1700. or so if that 6 had tripped up, but such is the nature of the track experience.
After two full races on my own I sauntered back to the friendly financial group to see if any of them had won anything significant in my absence. Sumptuous desserts were being sampled, and they were better than vicarious betting thrills-- cheese cakes and triple chocolate tarts, way more calories than a man should ask for on a midweek afternoon, but what the hell it goes with a day at the track, like free drinks do at Vegas.
When I bid my colleagues adios, and soaked in all the track ambiance on the way out to the Union Avenue front gate exit, I knew I'd had just enough but not too much of a racetrack sample.
(To be continued...)
I was awake anyway-- never really sleeping late anymore, even on a brief vacation-- but a strangely Squawking Crow compelled me to unzip the tent and arise. The day was just breaking and you only get one chance to see that. When we camped on the Islands, when the kids were younger and we all went to bed earlier, I would try to see the sunrise each morning, but it had been a long time since then, and I only had a short time at this sacred northern Lake George site this summer. I was determined not to miss it.
The previous night had not seemed so sacred, to tell the truth-- surrounded by drunken Hiawathas of the modern era in this densely packed public campground, I'd had to clamp an extra pillow over my head to get some rest before 10:30, beat from 2 days of driving, camp chores, swimming, sun, and exertion. Thanks to the weird jungle-like bird sounds I'd heard (the word Quetzalcotl kept coming to mind, thanks to an old Jorge Luis Borges story I dimly recalled), I was beating everyone else to the punch on this one special morning.
Absolutely no one else was stirring yet. No crackling campfires or creaking restroom doors. No one. Very rare in a campground. I grabbed my swim trunks, towel, pen and notepaper, minimal equipment, and strolled as Indian-quiet as I could down the road to the path to the rock shelf area where insiders knew to go for the best lake access.
My cellphone said 6:14 a.m. as I got to the water's edge, 53 degrees, chilly last night. The orange orb of the sun was just above the tree-tops on the Putnam side of the lake. Its glistening shimmer on the water was overwhelmingly bright, more than sunglasses could deflect. Awesome sight, but I'd wished I'd been down there half an hour earlier, when the dawn was just breaking. No matter, I was here, alone, not a soul moving or anywhere in sight. Not even a fishing boat on the water yet-- and I had about a seven-mile view of the Lake expanse, from Anthony's Nose off to my distant left, down to Sabbath Day Point to the south, far right.
The water before me was limpid and clear, but the rowdy white folk from the night before had left their usual assortment of Coors Light and Keystone cans behind, which I decided to gather up and bundle out of sight. Cigarette butts were also infinitely dispersed, and I picked up the most obvious of those, keeping them away from the shore. Some thoughtless parent must have given their kids blue chewing gum recently as well-- there were gobs of the residue left in the grass and crevasses of the rock. With a plastic cup I collected the foul debris, as my service of the day. Found an empty plastic half-gallon jug of Smirnoff vodka left behind-- alcoholics notoriously negligent about cleaning up after themselves. Once I cleaned the rock slabs-- ancient granite and gneiss, if I remembered any geology at all-- I felt better about doing my sitting meditation and prayer of the morning.
After some quiet absorption and silent offerings, thanking this amazing place for allowing me to be there-- I pulled off my sweats and tee, donned the swim trunks. Primordial rock meets crystalline water, still pure despite the degradations our species often brings with it.
I plunge in and take my dip in the golden light on the surface. Emerald water sustains my float, and ten minutes of side-stroking. Not a powerful swimmer, I wish I could make the mile-and-a-half haul across to the far side, but that would have been more likely 30 or more years ago. I content myself within fifty yards of shore, more cautious now. The water temperature was not as chilly as some people complain it is-- actually it felt velvety and comforting. The air temp, however, when I crawled back up from the slippery rocks to the dry, was another story. I quickly pulled on my shirt and sweats again, and wring out my trunks, the lake water draining back to its source in rivulets.
Then I noted the first fellow human of the day, or at least his cruiser, coming out of Silver Bay, a couple of miles away. Then I saw a small fishing skiff zipping along on the far side of the forested shore-- the long stretch of (mostly) unpopulated, densely-wooded lakefront that runs north from Bluff Head. Those two boaters had hefty chunks of the lake to themselves as well. Though the sun was rising, a large swath of the green forest-- which catches the last sunset of each day, was still dark in the shade of the ridge.
As I scribble my notes about the gorgeous golden light I witnessed on this Monday, the sun slips under a wide bank of clouds and the ambiance goes from yellow to silver, right away, proving how transient these transcendent moments are. It seems chillier right away, and I'm glad I swam when I did. Still almost no one is on the scene, and anyone getting up from this point on won't know what a glorious start to the day they missed.
After an hour it occurs to me that the lapping waves have hypnotized me, and I have not had my morning coffee yet. It's time to take the golden memories with me and return to the campsite to start the fire. After breakfast, I will have to help my wife and daughter break down the tents and stow the gear, and will have to be back at work by 1 or 2 p.m. in Saratoga, 70 miles south of where I sat this morning. But now I am refreshed, and know that the spirit and sense of Lake George will remain in my soul for the rest of the summer season. No matter how brief this visit was, if you catch it right, it is intense, and stunningly beautific.
Wishing you all a taste of such beauty,
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013, for WaynesWord2,
It was unfortunate for this band that they were scheduled for their performance "Up On The Roof" at Skidmore's noted Tang Museum on what turned out to be the absolute hottest day of a brutal two week heat wave in July here in Saratoga Springs. On Friday the 19th I took a brief busman's holiday myself to join my family on a beach in Bolton Landing for some respite from the real estate grind and a few dips in the blessed water of Lake George. We stayed till late afternoon and grabbed a bite at home in the early eve. We could've called it a day, but it had been on my mind all day to try to catch this band I'd been hearing on WEXT-- Stellar Young, out of Albany-- as part of the "Thirteen: Upbeat On The Roof" series held on the local college campus from early June to late August each Friday at 7 pm. The events are free although canned food donations are encouraged, and some truly cool local acts have been a part of that series over the past 14 summers, though I usually miss them. The previous week, for instance, I had forgotten about Brian Patenaude's Quartet, and the week before that, missed Railbird. So even though we were sun-drenched and somewhat weary, Melinda and I made the trek into town that evening, albeit a bit late, to the North Broadway campus to see about this indie band.
We got out of the car in the sparsely-filled lot and were surprised not to hear the band holding forth, broadcasting from the top of the building, as was usually the case. But when we circled around to the entrance we saw signs that said the concert had been moved inside to the "rain date" location, a third-floor open loft studio space, because of the intense heat. That was both good and bad. The shaded, air-conditioned interior was certainly a relief from the late day 95 degree blast, but the sound was noticeably muddy right off the bat, and the crowd was relatively, well, uncrowded.
Turns out the timing for this night proved to be fateful in a couple of other ways for Stellar Young... not only was famed Albany novelist William Kennedy holding forth with his once-yearly reading at the Writer's Institute, also on campus nearby, but downtown Saratoga was swarming with a street party called The Hats Off Festival to kick off the first day of the Saratoga Racetrack for the 150th Season of thoroughbred racing. For us the good news was that instead of the normal crush for seating, we could stroll right in and occupy a spot about 20 feet away from the band, and began to enjoy our alternate-entertainment choice thoroughly.
In terms of rock volume, this was probably the loudest of the 13 bands slated to play this series at The Tang, and the roof would've been much better suited to their letting loose, though Mr. Kennedy's listeners at Palamountain Hall may have been disturbed by it. Most other groups on the roster are acoustic-- swing, blues, standards, jazz, rockabilly, or mellow old-time-y music as Annie and The Hedonists would play the next week, for instance. But Stellar Young packed a punch, and the sheer force of
the music was a bit much for that room to contain, though I was in the mood for that.
I went into the show not knowing one tune or familiar riff I could link with this band, but by the end of it, I was a fan.
They were underway when we arrived, and we hung in the back for a minute, then found those seats up close. The sound guy and a few females were mouthing the lyrics as they danced in place for each song, clearly familiar with every nuance, while the rest of us newbies were trying to absorb it and figure it out. The room was not acoustically elegant, shall we say-- just a blocky hall, made for a working art gallery, not music like this. I kept thinking that... On The Roof, this music would have traveled half a mile in all directions... too bad they did not get their chance to really let it loose in the outer air.
Lead singer John Glenn ("like the astronaut" as he later told us) positioned himself behind a keyboard to begin with, and splashed some chords for color now and then, but his voice was clearly the most distinctive instrument in the band-- a high, keening
tenor with an edge to it that cut through the dense mix of guitars and rhythm, or rode above it like a surfer. I tried to think of an analogy among other rock bands I'd heard and the only thing I came up with was the singer for The Samples-- (stayed awake...
all night long...), but no one else in recorded music was similar. I also thought of our friends in the local cover band Four Down, and how they looked to replace departed singer Eric Schwerdt for several months... but found that most performers who can sing as well as Eric--like John Glenn-- do not want to be relegated to re-hashing other artists' hits... they want to sing their own original music. And what Stellar Young did, to their credit, was all their own.
It took about 2 and a half songs before I realized that the unassuming guitar player stage left was the ace musician of the group-- Robbie Krieger to Glenn's front man.
His name was Kyle Hatch, and shortly after we sat down, the lead singer explained that Kyle was a trooper for even trying to play that night after suffering a back injury of some sort that had him in severe pain. He didn't elaborate but I got the feeling that was one reason they weren't playing outside in the nasty heat. In any case, Hatch's chops did not seem hindered. His playing was distinctive and mature, and he wound his way through the mix between the bass of Dave Parker and the rhythm guitar of Erik Flora with a great twining sound I have come to love from hearing their CD's in the weeks after their performance. As the concert continued, I liked the fact that it seemed an ego-less collective, as I also noted about Milo Greene in an earlier post.
In fact, though John Glenn spoke during some of the breaks and set the tone with his voice, and occasionally led the crowd in hand clapping and arm waving-- he actually settled more into the background during the longer jam tunes, as did Hatch, while
Flora proved more demonstrative up front, and fleet-fingered bass player Parker (wandering the stage in white socks that night), often stepped front and center with emphasis on his intriguing bass runs and leads. Flora's supporting vocals melded well with Glenn', and my guess was that he had co-written many of the songs. Drummer Curt Mulick was propulsive and creative as well-- there were no bit players in this band, but equal partners. Mulick may have been the one who would've benefited most from an outdoor arena-- his hammering sound was almost too strong for that room.
I kept looking at Melinda, who is not as much a fan of loud rock as me, and had no idea what to expect going in-- we tacitly agreed we were glad we had shaken off the heat-and-beach drowsiness to become invigorated by this young band of serious indie musicians. She is the one who made the comparison to Milo Greene's band we had seen a few months earlier-- minus thetheir gorgeous female singer, that is.
It would not be possible to review what we heard that night-- knowing none of the song names in advance, and just wanting to enjoy the music rather than analyze it. But in my scribbled notes were phrases like: "twanging, echoing harmonies" and "lots of bounce tempos" and " swelling dynamics/ gentle starts to funky finishes." Truthfully, there were a couple of songs that didn't grab me, but the final three tunes they played were extremely gripping, and they seemed to convert many new fans among those in attendance that night, including us. I bought all 3 of their CDs on the table afterwards and spoke with Glenn briefly. Two of the earlier albums were under the group name The City Never Sleeps, one an EP, and the full-length one from 2011 is called "Madison." The photos on the cover and within are shots of Albany as taken from the window views of the band's apartment, so certainly some cool local visuals are featured there. My favorite from that CD has become "Mr. Hide" and I believe I recognized that as one of the best in the middle of their set.
The newer CD. under the Stellar Young heading, is called EVERYTHING AT ONCE, and it has really grown on me as I've heard it about ten or twenty times now--particularly their song "We Own Nothing" which still raises the hairs on my arms when I hear it at top volume-- a superb original tune. Just hearing the opening "chonging" chords in the beginning of the song sets me off now, and the anthemic sound quality tells me it could be a hit for them. The lyrics are full of pure youthful idealism, which I love even at my jaded age-- Glenn sings: " DON'T WAIT.... because there is no fate..."
then later the refrain:
"I'd rather buuuurn to death, /Than... water down my life...."
and then at the end his voice trails off into a coda--- "Water down, water down..." which is just kind of haunting.
The song after that on the CD, which I also loved in concert and recognized because of the intro he gave that night, was simply called "Alright." Another beauty, and I could see both of these as worthy of national airplay. Towards the end of the CD is
a piece where Kyle Hatch's guitar channels some of the heavy masters, with the unlikely title "Dorothy"-- a dense sound that seems to come from back in early rock history. This is a CD I urge locals to look for.
A word about the cover work, and interior artwork on this CD-- it seems to play on
John Glenn's name-- a silhouette of an astronaut in a spacesuit, either engaging a female silhouette or being injured and consoled by her in surreal dream imagery.
When he told me his name right after the music stopped, and said "Like the astronaut" I looked around the room and saw maybe 3 or 4 others in the room who, like me, might have been alive in 1962 when the original John Glenn's name was
familiar to every household in America, or at least every schoolkid. Space exploration was in its infancy and every one of the astronauts was famous back then.
Another semi-bald dude next to me, whom I took to be as old as myself, said, "Oh, you mean the first guy to walk on the moon!" and I said "No, man-- the first American to ORBIT the earth, 1963!... (I was off by a year) "Way before Neil Armstrong did his thing... (that was '69)"
I didn't mean to correct the other guy so harshly, but I remembered John Glenn's
heroic adventure vividly, from watching the "blast-off" on black-and-white TV in second grade. "What a great name for a musician" I told young John, the namesake. Apparently he has taken his astronaut "ancestry" seriously. I commend his and his band-mates for a stellar performance that night-- you won me over, and I will look to see you perform again locally in a place with better sound, as soon as I can.
POSTSCRIPT- I am pressed for time these days of mid-summer, when the real estate market in the greater Capital District seems to be teeming with activity, which isn't always the case in the good weather of July. I wish I had time to write a full review of what I saw at SPAC on July 21st... two nights after the above. A brief synopsis will have to suffice! (And I'm sure you can find more complete reviews elsewhere.)
The AMERICANARAMA MUSIC FESTIVAL was held on Sunday on that week, and surprisingly was not even close to sold out-- unlike the more popular FARM AID Concert scheduled for September. Scheduled acts were: Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and headliner was Bob Dylan.
We walked up late, my wife and I, surprised how sparsely-filled the parking lot was, and got balcony tickets without any problem. Ryan Bingham had already played (sorry about that,. Ryan) so I cannot comment on that, but his tunes on WEXT are fine.
MY MORNING JACKET was the band I really wanted to see, and was glad to catch 90% of their set. It was, in short, amazing. Jim James is a genius, as a guitarist, songwriter, bandleader, wild-haired performer. I flashed back on Leslie West of Mountain at times-- that was the only white rocker reference I could think of for his wild kinky shock of hair, among icons of the past. His band was smokin' hot, the other guitarist (sorry I don't know his name yet) was an equal foil, and it was simply one of the best pure rock performances I've seen at SPAC since... I don't know when. There were some fans nearby who were totally enthralled and one guy so much so he was jumping sideways like a snowboarder over empty seats and surfing from row to row in tune with the music. I had to ask him what the long jam was that stole the show: He yelled to me: "OFF THE RECORD!" I thought that was an appropriate name. They also did tunes that were more recognizable from the radio-- "Evil Urges" "I Believe" and "Holdin' On To Black Metal." Then to show his versatility "Yim Yames" played a subdued acoustic tune solo called "Miracle of Life" which was beautiful.
This was epic Americana indeed, and a 5-star performance, I thought. If my entire $45 ticket had been just for this band, it would have been worth it.
Then WILCO came out, and I was not a big fan before, but I am now. Had always heard (mostly on WEQX, the jam-band station from Vermont) that they were a great live band, but have not had the chance to see them before. If Jim James was 5 stars, these slightly older guys were at least 4 and a half. The red-shirted guitarist (Nels Cline) off to the left of lead singer Jeff Tweedy was also worth the price of admission by himself. My wife and I liked it way more than we thought we would-- she said, "I thought you said this was country rock?" Well that just shows you can't categorize music. And I need to hear more live music from this band, and learn the other band members names.
They brought out organist icon Garth Hudson from The Band, and that was epic too.
I won't go through the song set, but I was impressed by the range of material, and the ass-kicking lengthy jams, almost psychedelic throwbacks at times, which you don't really get a sense of on their recordings. Great stuff.
Bob Dylan eventually comes out to raucous applause at the end, and gives virtually nothing. The lighting was subdued, so dark it looked candlelit, and the music seemed comatose, every tune sounding similarly bleak. I almost fell asleep by the third song, and it was one I liked,. in its recorded version. When he did what turned out to be "Tangled Up in Blue"-- one of my favorites of his legendary lexicon-- I barely recognized it. I saw him in the 80's on this same stage, with the same result-- I came away almost hating him fof destroying his own songs, or at least, not living up to the greatness of what he had written. We left by the fifth song, and a large portion of the crowd was streaming out too. It was an embarrassing performance that to me tarnished his legacy. He is a great songwriter but a terrible, crowd-scorning performer.
In the late July Rolling Stone, I was interested to read Steely Dan leader Donald Fagen say the same thing I felt-- that Dylan's minor key songs and mumbled, garbled, careless delivery were so bad that he had walked out on him several times over the years. Some legends do not get better with age-- unlike, say, Mick Jagger, who is still putting out relentless energy after turning 70, or Leonard Cohen (at 78!), who although not really a rocker can still put out a thoughtful, coherent sequence of his work. It was sad.
But here is my takeaway-- Dylan's in his seventies, and his earnest band members are probably about my age or older. They can all retire and I would not miss them.
The guys from Wilco are probably 40-something, and they are still in their primes, as performers who care, who put out great energy, and are top-notch at their craft.
My Morning Jacket I am guess are mostly guys in late 20s but more likely 30's and they are brimming with vigor and still exploding with energy and verve and to some extent haven't even hit their peak yet-- well worth keeping track of for the future. It was great to see them on a stage such as SPAC's.
And then back to Stellar Young-- youthful early-mid 20's I am guessing, and still in the early stages of their earnest rock careers... still trying to get attention and make their way but so freaking intense and sincere in the effort! That is what I still appreciate-- you have to have talent, you need a ton of energy to give out, and a positive attitude but you can't just coast and think you will get to the top without earnest effort. That weekend showed me the whole spectrum of musicianship in the rock world, and it
was a glorious thing to see-- from sunrise to sunset-- keep on going, all of you.
for Saratoga.com/ WaynesWord2
Reporting in from Middle Grove NY
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
See you next time!
Postscript #2-- After writing this I found an online version of Rolling Stones' Current list of the Top Touring Live Bands in America-- interestingly enough, My Morning Jacket were noted at #10, and Wilco came in at #12 (with U2 in between)! Tom Petty-- whose resurgent band is one I regret missing at SPAC, back in early July--
was surprisingly noted at #13 on the list.
Perennial Saratoga favorites Dave Matthews Band came in #24 (which I think is too low), and jam-band specialists Phish were just below Dave at #25-- which I'm sure would make their fans howl. And last season's closing act-- Florence & The Machine, made the list at #36, I believe. That means at least 6 acts in the Top 36 have performed at SPAC here in Saratoga in the past year, and when Neil Young hits the stage for FarmAid, he will be number 7 (though he made #5 on the master list!).
Even 78 year old Leonard Cohen made the list (#26, right after Phish!), and was noted at having performed a 3 hour, 15 minute long set at one concert recently. Someone in my office--a woman my age who knew him well, and was distantly related-- said she'd seen Leonard in NYC recently, and found him to be truly amazing. So age is no excuse for giving a weak performance, if you are still collecting big bucks on the road, Mr. Zimmerman.
Other elders noted on the list-- #1 Bruce Springsteen, and still in the Top Ten--The venerable Rolling Stones #3, after Prince) themselves. I must confess to not having seen either of them live-- mostly because they were always sold out before I could get to them-- though they are both on my bucket list, along with notables such as Prince (!), U2, The Roots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White (who killed it at the Grammy's this year), Black Keys, Radiohead, Arcade Fire (a shocking #4 on the list),
Rage Against The Machine, and Jay-Z who all got rave reviews in that article.
So much to see... so little time....
I start this version of the blog on the week before the influx of racetrack fans and horse people...the time of year when Saratoga Springs, NY doubles, triples, then quadruples in population, culminating in Traver's Week toward late August, when national attention is focused on our thriving little city. This year the hoopla is noted in ubiquitous red and tan banners signifying the 150th Anniversary of the Saratoga Racetrack itself-- which means, oddly enough, that it began its jubilant tradition here during the height of the Civil War, in 1863. Hard to imagine things then being as festive and prosperous as they appear to be now... but that is for historians to conjure more than me.
What I can tell you is how this town might be perceived to seasonal visitors, to whom the changes will seem stark and numerous. Let's say a carload of tourists are approaching Saratoga Springs from the south, getting off at Exit 13N (as most do) and zipping north on Route 9 until they pass the State Park (note the brand new entrance sign on your left at The Avenue of The Pines) and from there the traffic usually grinds to a crawl on South Broadway, past the National Dance Museum and West Fenlon Street...
The first sign of progress and change would also be on your left, where the Topper Pontiac & Buick dealership stood for years-- now being transformed by owner Frank Parillo into a regional Mental Health services facility, which will be rented long-term by the County. Just beyond that, between the retail Tire outlet and the main branch of Saratoga National Bank, there is a swath of property I think is ripe for large-scale development that has not gotten underway yet-- the site of the former Saratoga Diner and Greyhound Bus Station, still decrepit, and the land behind it. In my son's high school business class a few years back, we worked on a theoretical project for a sports arena complex on this site-- readily accessible, expansive, plenty of parking, and with loads of eateries and hotels within striking distance. We envisioned NCAA & maybe pro exhibition basketball there, perhaps NY State Tournaments in the future, indoor WTA tennis, college volleyball & lacrosse, plus the enticement of off-season concerts that could rival the popularity of SPAC, from September to April... our concept would be that this would take the place of the former Convention Center up near Congress Park which elderly Saratoga natives recall, but which was long gone by the time I arrived here in the mid-70s. Alas, not a reality yet. Any takers? Then again, summer traffic on the finite boulevard of South Broadway is intense enough as it is. Let the fallow ground sit a bit longer--there is not much left within city limits.
Continuing north, if they didn't notice it last year, new visitors will note what might be one the most elegant McDonald's in America, a relatively grandiose design that forgoes the gaudy "golden arches" in favor of a 2-story brick look more in line with the Adirondack Trust South Broadway branch, the Hilton Garden Inn, and even the columned pillar-look of the nearby Dunkin' Donuts. The powers that be in this city want you to know right away that we even do fast food outlets differently here.
On the right corner of South Broadway and Lincoln Ave, there used to be a rooming house called the Kimberly Inn, which has been exquisitely transformed into The Thirsty Owl Outlet & Wine Garden. The parking lot has been expanded and large looming trees removed for that purpose. Visitors who turn the corner there toward Five Points and the Track will do a double-take no doubt as they do so-- the renovation is beautiful.
Moving up Broadway, the major changes downtown center around the new Northshire Bookstore Building, nearing completion as I write this. The massive brick facade occupies the spot which was the former parking lot between Lillian's Restaurant and The Cantina (formerly Professor Moriarty's, as older visitors may recall). This independent bookstore (not a franchise nor national chain!) has been so successful in Manchester, Vermont that the owners bankrolled the new operation here in Saratoga Springs-- much to the delight of locals still smarting over the loss of Border's, across the street, a couple of years ago.
Speaking of which, a gorgeous adaptive re-use of the Border's building has been completed by local businessman Ed Mitzen with the inception of an advertising firm called FINGERPAINT (mentioned in my blog about the Circus Cafe recently). Last year at this time there was a gaunt, vacant look to the place--uncharacteristic of Saratoga's main drag. But now...vitality has returned to the corner where the famous United States Hotel once stood.
Off to the left of the refurbished FINGERPAINT building, astute observers--and fresh beers lovers!-- may notice a relatively new addition to Broadway's landscape, tucked in between the Adelphi Hotel and the former Shoe Depot building. This recessed gem of a brewery is simply called DRUTHERS, and offers not only its own locally-brewed drafts and ales but occasional live music in its outdoor patio setting.
Broadway north of Caroline Street is largely unchanged, other than some storefronts changing hands between seasons, until one gets to the City's grand Convention Center, which features a classy new electronic sign, detailing the events and visitors gracing the place in coming weeks. (SPAC now has a similarly cool sign on the Route 50 side entrance, promoting upcoming events in a colorful, rotating, neon fashion). Last year the extensive facade improvements were completed that enclosed the largely useless courtyard area, and glassed-in most of the south-facing wall on Grove Street.
Past the Prime Hotel, just north of the red light that distinguishes Broadway proper from North Broadway, a lot on the left side of the first residential block sold over the winter for $800,000, with a grand new structure underway. Up around the corner on Greenfield Avenue, a nondescript $250,000 raised ranch built in 70's was recently razed to make way for another 3-story single-family beauty, this one by Bella Builders. On that short street alone, at least 3 homes have been knocked down to accommodate more ambitious homes-- the "Beverly Hills Syndrome" I call it. The area near Skidmore College just gets more upscale from year to year.
Back on Broadway, turn west onto Church Street between the new facade of Adirondack Trust and the staid edifice of the Post Office, and you will notice perhaps the most exciting addition to the west-side landscape in several generations-- a tri-level structure as an adjunct to Sonny Bonacio's Market Center/Price Chopper project-- the much anticipated BOWTIE CINEMA complex! This 11-screen movie theater positioned a block from Broadway, on the corner of Church and Railroad Place, completes the architectural revision of the block that once was the site of a massive railroad station, featured in many archival photos of the City-- dating back to the early 1900's, up to World War 2. There has NOT been a true downtown movie house in my time in this town (albeit the Saratoga Arts Center in the old Library does
a Film Forum on a smaller scale)... and for a while now even the Wilton Mall has been without a cineplex (though BowTie is taking the place of Hoyt's out there as well, coming soon).
The other change that is readily visible, on Woodlawn Avenue down towards Division Street, is the new 4-story parking garage. As big as it is, and as long as it was discussed in advance, it still does not seem to suffice to relieve the parking crunch downtown. Anecdotal complaints from downtown merchants, I've heard, concern the fact that condo dwellers along Division Street and Franklin Square, are parking their extra vehicles in the garage for 48 hours at a time, rotating their spots so that incoming visitors still have a hard time finding free spaces in that much-touted "remedy" for the loss of Broadway parking lot spots. Most towns in upstate NY, or anywhere outside metropolitan areas in the Northeast, in fact, would love the problem of having more cars invading their downtown than can be fit into the prime zones. But such is life in Saratoga Springs, NY-- for all its IN-FILL and UP-WARD building, and downtown expansion-- people still complain about the lack of decent, easy parking. In my mind, people should get used to finding parking spots 3 or 4 blocks from Broadway and enjoy the pedestrian experience of strolling a few hundred yards to their destination, and quit kvetching! Get some exercise and walk a bit...
Head past Clinton Street, another block and a half past Railroad Place, going toward the Saratoga Hospital on Church Street, and you will note another great addition to the west-side, even though it did not involve any new construction. The statuary business called Hidden Treasures-- which used to be squeezed into a brick building on Maple Ave behind the Police Station-- has relocated to the former Freeman & Shea Plumbing business locale on West Harrison, and the corner has become a lot more interesting than ever before! The asphalt parking lot is now adorned with a massive amount of ornamental fountains, cast iron fencing, grecian statues, molded sculptures, metallic lions, and a veritable wonderland of decorative creatures for lawns and backyard gardens. Even though the very cool Trifecta Dance Studio was forced to move out of the existing building, I must admit the upgrade in occupants is more visually stimulating than ever.
Over on Division Street, in the block before Allerdice Hardware, the former site of the Ellsworth Ice Cream plant, vacant for several years, has now been bulldozed clean of concrete and building debris and awaits its new incarnation as an in-fill townhouse development... another urban field lying fallow, deciding what crop should grow there next.
And down on Congress Street, in what used to be dubbed the Grand Union Plaza when I first moved to town, the long-vacated Broadway Joe's Dinner Theater building was being stripped of its roofing before the wrecking ball knocked down the remnant of the original 1970's grocery store structure...in order to allow construction of yet another monolithic hotel-- this one to be six-stories high-- under the aegis of the DCG
Companies. This will further invigorate another strip mall plaza that had been forlorn for a few years now-- Purdy's Wine & Liquor Store and the other tenants in the rear will apparently remain, as will the CVS Pharmacy that fronts on Congress, off to the left of the construction site.
East of Broadway, down in the dip past The Saratogian building, and immediately adjacent to the famed tavern The Parting Glass, concrete block elevator shafts are rising amid I-beam framing. This is the execution of a long-contemplated development by the parent company of my real estate brokerage (Coldwell Banker Prime Properties), now well underway, across from the Hampton Inn. This will be called Pavillion Grand Suites-- a topnotch extended-stay residential hotel-- with retail on the ground level, fronting on both Pavillion Way and Lake Avenue, in an L-shaped fashion. For anyone who remembers the grimy functionality of Mohr's Mobil Service Station that used to be at 30 Lake Avenue, the continuing upgrade of Saratoga's downtown is obvious.
One more significant, artistic addition to the core-of-the-town's landscape is down on High Rock Avenue, where the lively Farmer's Market holds sway on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Between the covered pavilions serving the vendors there, and adjacent to the original High Rock Spring itself, now resides a striking large sculpture of twisted I-beams created from actual 9/11 debris, in commemoration of that awful day in American history when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were brought down by terrorists. There was much local debate for years in advance over where to place this memorial-- Congress Park, the Visitor's Center, South Broadway, and other possible sites were discussed, but I feel they finally found the right place. To the aboriginal Mohawks, the High Rock Spring was a sacred and highly revered enclave; and now there is a different reason why this is so. Longtime Saratoga-area resident Noah Savett-- who has been working on large scale metal sculpture projects for as long as I've lived here-- should be honored by and for what he created as a testimonial to those who lost their lives in NYC and elsewhere on that fateful day.
To get back to the more mundane subject of local commerce, the thriving money-making enterprise officially known as Saratoga Gaming & Raceway, known to locals as simply The Racino-- a small kingdom between outer Nelson Avenue and Jefferson Street-- is in the process of approvals for a $30 million dollar hotel of its very own. Apparently there is no end to the amount of visitors our city is gearing up to handle, even without yet being designated as a Legalized Gambling destination, as Governor Cuomo may someday announce. Local builder Peter Belmonte is underway with about 18 high-end home-sites in that general vicinity as well, on the "Southside", which ironically used to be considered the poorer side of town, not that long ago.
I know I have not covered everything going on within the City limits-- e.g. The Adelphi Hotel continuing with its six million dollar make-over; the renovation of the long-ago gutted brick building behind the Post Office on Long Alley's corner with Church Street; architect John Muse's impressive columned renovation on Myrtle Street between Saratoga Golf & Polo and the Hospital, etc.-- but you get the idea. This town is going gangbusters with upscale development: commercial, residential, and hospitality-based. Previously mentioned self-made real estate magnate Frank Parillo wants to put in a new Turf Hotel down on South Broadway, on the site of the old Weathervane Restaurant ( before that, it was The Country Gentleman...rest in peace, Nate Goldsmith), and might well get his way. It would be an interesting gateway project to the city, and the "old contemporary restaurant on that site is clearly past its prime for the current era. Among the power players like Parillo & Peter Hoffman (of the Hampton Inn complex), Don Greene (of DCG Development), Ken Raymond & Dean DeVito of Prime Companies, and of course the ubiquitous Sonny Bonacio and affiliates like The Galesi Group (on The BowTie Project especially), there seems to be no end to the possibilities for Saratoga's monumental building boom of this decade. Show me any other comparable-sized town in America that is accelerating to this extent...
That's my synopsis of mid-2013's historical upswing... stay tuned for more soon.
Peace &, hopefully, Prosperity to all--
(Associate Broker at CB Prime Properties, Saratoga Office)
for WaynesWord2, Copyright 2013
All opinions and observations herein are subjective on the part of this blogger, and not the responsibility of www.saratoga.com or any other sponsors, individuals, businesses or entities-- I'm a solo operator, and not a shill, but genuinely impressed with what goes on in this town that I chose to live in and near, three and a half decades ago And the next episode of this blog will be back to music, anyway.
I used to say I knew Jimmy Kunstler when he still had a sense of humor, way back in the day, say late '70's, early '80's, when his first couple of books were in the category of slapstick comedy. His outlook on humanity was always a bit dour and certainly sardonic, but he used to really crack me up. Then came a long period where he took his social tirades to a point where he became a noted speaker on the perils of peak oil and the evils of suburban sprawl. He made a great living on his soapbox, and via the success of his nonfiction books such as The Long Emergency, and The Geography of Nowhere. Not only do I admire both his writing and speaking success and even agree with most of what he was saying, but all sense of humor seemed lost in his persona as a caustic critic of American culture and lifestyle. The few times I met him in person over the past decade or so, he seemed on a nonstop crusade, never out of character as environmental evangelist.
Having said that, I can report that the book he wrote in 2008, "World Made By Hand,"
not only blew me away as a cautionary tale, loaded with post-apocalyptic detail, but made me laugh out loud 4 or 5 times in the final 50 pages, even as the story turned grimmer and grimmer. The comic relief was welcome, and surprisingly led to a redemptive, almost upbeat ending. I was pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly engrossed while devouring it over a day and a half in mid-June.
To local folks, especially those familiar with Greenwich in Washington County (called Union Mills in the novel), and river towns south along the Hudson from there, the book
is infused with actual, accurate road descriptions and topographic specifics that may not mean as much to out-of-towners. In an age where cars and trucks and gasoline-fueled vehicles are all but extinct, horse travel, and a lot of walking, is the norm again, as back in the 1800's. One of the major plot-lines centers around a 3-day trip from Greenwich to Albany along Route 4 through Mechanicville and Waterford, and back-- which would be a jaunt of a couple hours in the automotive age we are still, so far, a part of....
I will not attempt to re-play the plot here, and am not normally a book reviewer, nor do I aspire to be. In fact,though my wife is a prolific reader, the current frenzy of the real estate market coming back to life has left me little time to indulge in novels of any kind in my spare time. But I feel that Saratoga locals and visitors alike should know who Jimmy Kunstler is, and that he has lived hereabouts since the 1970's-- having owned homes in Saratoga Springs, and also resided in Schuylerville and Greenfield at different times in the past two decades. Used to be I would see him riding his gear-less old-school Schwinn bicycle out Clinton Street to Daniels Road over to Braim, seemingly grunting and sweating not only for cardio exercise, but to emphasize his commitment to disavowing our addiction to car travel, and gas consumption.
The fact that struck me about a book with a post-crisis, survivalist theme published in 2008 is that, while global warming seems still an imminent threat, along with the constant spectre of nuclear annihilation, the idea of "peak oil" might seem an overblown worry after the discovery of the Bakken oil fields and other sources under American soil. Five years later, for better or worse, our dependence on Saudi Arabia and Venezuela may be diminishing, but perhaps this just prolongs the serious fossil-fuel addiction Kunstler has been railing against for 20 years now, and only exacerbates the global warming process which seems to have turned all our weather patterns turbulent. Perhaps Kunstler's vision as portrayed in this book is not so much a prophecy as an epic, almost Chaucerian warning about the fragile state of our culture, and it's a great read in any case.
A word about where I found this cool hardcover tome-- I have to deliver company checks to CB Prime Headquarters on Green Island down near Troy on occasion, and instead of taking the Northway in both directions, like to come up through Cohoes on the return trip and see the huge waterfalls near where the famous Cohoes Mastadon was found-- at a point on the Hudson River just below where the Mohawk River flows full-bore from the west into the north/south channel of the mighty Hudson. The only thing wrong with that route is in driving northwest along the river bed out of Cohoes toward Crescent, with the skanky, overwhelming methane-emissions of the Colonie landfill on your left. (The irony is, in Kunstler's book of the "future" landfills are actually important places-- desperate recycling of discarded goods, metal and wood products especially-- as supply depots, as in a third-world country. But I hadn't picked up the book yet, so didn't know that at this point.)
From there I crossed the Mohawk at Crescent,north up Route 9 through the heart of a suburban belt that would make Kunstler rage, there is little other than consumer-culture franchises and eateries and gas stations, till I reached this plaza up a few miles on the left, across from Snyder's Restaurant, just above Route 146. The store called Eastline Books is a place I had always wanted to stop into, but in our gas-fueled chariots we ofter whizz past interesting places, and say "Next time, maybe..." One day in mid-June, not pressed for time, I spent a luscious half-hour perusing the shelves...a mixture of old and new books in a comfortable little space created by writer/lawyer/nurse/entrepreneur Robyn Ringler, who unfortunately was not there the day I stopped by. This is exactly the kind of place that has been crowded out of existence by big-box stores-- e.g. Border's and Barnes & Noble which also are now disappearing (other than the-soon-to-open-in-Saratoga Northshire Books!!). If anyone regionally reading this would, like to see these kinds of places continue to thrive, stop in to Eastline Books, or your own local version of such, and spend some money. As with buying locally-grown food,you'll feel better to pick-up your "Culture" and mental stimulation nearby if you shopped on Amazon, you know it.
Wayne Perras, from Middle Grove, 7/4/13
The posters I saw on Phila Street and Caroline advertising this event, part of the perennial Jazz Institute Concert Series each summer at Skidmore College, were quite compelling. Usually I note such concerts when they are already past, or they occur when I am already booked with evening appointments. For this one, featuring John Coltrane's own son, I made it a point to keep that Tuesday evening free. Better yet, I connected with my buddy Dave Casner, notorious Jazz freak and record collector, who rarely misses any such events in Saratoga.
His bandmate Crispin Catricala knew people involved with the Institute and managed to wangle two tickets for us, which was good considering that this beautiful (relatively) new Zankel Center seemed full to capacity by the time we got there on that stunning and storm-free evening. It was my first time to the much-praised facility and I was in awe of the natural light and view afforded with a huge wall of southwest-facing windows that formed the back of the stage, and thus the backdrop to the concert itself. The greenery of the campus lawns and mature trees caught the late-day sun in such a way that the glow emanated through the glass like a living terrarium. I thought about how interesting SPAC would appear were it to have the same glass wall behind the stage-- with a view to the waterfall perhaps. But this concert was au naturel... no lighting tricks or video images being flashed behind the masterful musicians as the more flamboyant bands at SPAC might require; this was just true music.
I am not the pure jazz fanatic I was from about '78 to '92 in my radio-dj years, but I still enjoy original music of this nature, just more sporadically than I used to. The audience was filled, I would guess, with more than 50% musicians and those-in-training to become a musician. Though I myself am in neither category, one thing I do know is when to applaud after particularly awesome solos-- as a longtime habitue of jazz clubs past. My listening skills were acute once I forced myself to focus, after many restless minutes of scattered thoughts about the day's business.
There was also a contingent of (more) elderly folks (than me) who sat politely through the roughly 100-minute concert without registering any applause whatsoever, and seemed to have expected something more familiar than the vigorously new music which Ravi Coltrane's quartet provided that evening.
A very relaxed grey-haired guy who looked like he could be your favorite philosophy professor shambled out to introduce the proceedings, and his improbably cool name was Todd Coolman. Like an impromptu comedian he began, and then as a jazz historian he painted the portrait of the man we were assembled to see-- describing the phases of jazzdom-- first trying to master your instrument to the requisite level; then secondly learning to acquire and substantiate your own VOICE within the musical pantheon; and then, in Ravi Coltrane's case, having to emerge from the shadow cast by his own father as an icon of the Saxophone in the 20th Century. Can any of us with merely mortal parents, much less deeply flawed, ever understand what that pressure is like, to have a last name that is usually spoken in hallowed tones, at least in the world of Jazz. After finding his voice and identity in his chosen profession, he has ultimately created his own name for himself, in his late 40's.
For those seeking a trace of the father in the son's work that evening, there was one piece that played out like a fractured, Picasso-esque version of My Favorite Things--
the early-60's "Sound of Music" classic which Coltrane-pere made his own. Guitarist Adam Rogers began the sequence during a solo where hints of the key melody were hinted at, and when Ravi answered, playing soprano sax, there were more hints of his father's keening sound, but never the same full-blown phrasing. It was tantalizing but refreshing in a way that he paid respect in that way, but did not come close to mimicking John's highly recognizable signature piece. It was a form of Favorite Things re-imagined for the 21st century.
There were also wisps and reminders of his father's sound on other tunes, carefully placed, with reverence, more on the soprano than the tenor. In fact, even though he began and ended with the tenor, most of his best work in my mind was on soprano.
There was one throwback homage to the be-bop era with a Charlie Parker tune called Segment which I felt was one of the highlights. Much of the concert was focused on originals from his newest CD release Spirit Fiction, a beguiling title.
Normally I would've been scratching down song titles and notes but on this night in question, having forgotten to bring any wriitng instrument, I decided to turn off the analytical part of my brain and just experience the fluid beauty of Ravi Coltrane's music, and honestly, it was like a cleansing therapy for my tangled brain. The setting was so pristine and the sound was so pure and crisp and unpredictably new, that I felt fully refreshed and free of work-anxiety by the end. I will not attempt any kind of formal review except to say that the work of Jonathon Blake on drums was a revelation--- a huge man with adept hands and a soft but emphatic touch, a force of controlled nature. I would love to hear more of his stuff, and am kicking myself for not shelling out twenty for the CD that was for sale in the lobby afterwards. Bass player Dezron Douglas was sturdy and adept, but according to my smarter musician friends afterwards, his sound was largely lost in the room, and some people said the acoustics were less than perfect at the Zankel Music Center. I am not qualified to comment along those lines, but can tell you it is an awesome place to see a concert such as this, and I look to take more advantage in the future of Skidmore's fine facilities, and what it offers the Saratoga community that can't be found elsewhere, nearby.
One last note is this-- Ravi noted the beauty of the setting in his first words upon coming onstage, and seemed to be in a reverential mood from the start. Humble and looking healthy, much younger than 48, I thought how his father had had to play his way through raucous jazz bars and crowded Greenwich Village dives back in the day, and his son had now ascended to this kind of academic paradise in which to perform-- it seemed kind of a spiritual evolution for his lineage, and well-deserved.
May we all see our children exceed our own upbringings and surroundings in such a fine fashion.
I turned 58 since I last penned any blogs, and some days I feel that old, some days I still feel 23 and a half. The night I will describe here was one of the latter, and I will tell you why. Sometimes, in Saratoga, if you drink from the right spring, it's as if it's a fountain of youth.
My wife and I left a great party near downtown thrown by a client of mine, and fully intended to go home, but decided instead to check on our teen daughter's locale, found she was safely ensconced at her friend's house for the night, then we took a cruise up Broadway from south to north...as the prime part of Saturday night was just beginning to percolate.
Once past Congress Park, we crept along slowly to get a taste of what was happening on the street. My lady said roll down the windows and I did. The barricades which swerve traffic in front of the new Northshire Bookstore Building were still in place, a site worth diverting traffic for...and that slowed things down on the busy strip, right at the core of town: the traffic light where Division Street heads west, and the Downtowner Motel is on the northwest corner. Across Division from that up until recently had been the barren site of the closed BORDER'S Bookstore, but now was brightly lit up even at 11 pm, as if to assert the emergence of a sparkling new business, dubbed FINGERPAINT. Apparently it is an advertising or public relations firm, but whatever it is, it's an impressive use of the space. That will be a knockout upgrade for visitors who've been away for most of the last year. I hadn't noticed how good it looks at night before this.
Since we voluntarily caught a red light, & were fortuitously stopped right in front of the Circus Cafe... we turned our heads right and both said, ummm whatzatt? The sound coming out of that open door cafe was amazing and unique and clearly live. There was a band of some sort that I cdrtainly hadn't heard before, splashing electronic colors above a wicked rhythm groove, with a sinuous sax emanating from the mix... a sound I equated with Jan Garbarek on the ECM label, but with a burlier rhythm track, and you don't hear that everyday in this town. I quickly parked up around the corner, and we went back in to see if this were indeed live, recorded, or sampled music...
Indeed it was LIVE, and quite different from the normal rock, pop, or blues fare one hears around here, according to the earnest young dude who was orchestrating the scene. When we caught the last part of one set and they took a break, I called him over to compliment him on his distinctive group sound, telling him I hadn't heard anything local that was quite like it, and he said There's no one doing anything like what we're doing, and he was right. His name was Nick Kopp. We had stumbled upon the band, or shifting aggregation, called le Rubb.
We sat center front, bewitched from beer one. What we saw and heard was compelling and sophisticated stuff, from about 4 feet away, with almost no one else listening, except the girlfriend of the drummer, and a couple of friends of the band, and the bartenders. Other people came and went for the next hour or two, but the musicians seemed not to notice. They were entranced in their own groove.
When the set ended, just that one song, each musician goes their own way and it seems a loose, friendly bunch of talented individuals, four guys and a female guitar player, Megan Duffy, whom we seen before, but here in a different role. The core duo, multi-instrumentalist Kopp, and bassist James Gascoyne, ran the show and set the mode, and what they played became not songs but creations of a sublime nature.
I'll say again: it was amazing. The lengthy second set was hypnotic. Again the sax player's tone grabbed me right away with a kind of gentle keening, searing sound on alto, directly into the mike, then he'd insinuate brief snippets of meloldies on a repeated basis, with little twists and reverberations that stuck in your mind and gave you something to latch onto in the rhythmic turbulence that swirled around it. Kopp was playing with and tapping his sampler, his mysterious scratching and programming punctuated by electronic tomtom pummels and percussive emphasis with his padded sticks. Gascoyne supplied a writhing groove, winding tightly within the vortex of Kopp and drummer (on this occasion) Joseph Barna. He seamed so well I thought he was a regular, but later claimed it was an impromptu gig--also amazing. What we witnessed, and were drawn to, was an improvisational performance that is not usually allowed or condoned or commercially sanctioned in upstate drinking spots, as a rule. But when it is, and there is no cover, and you can wander right in, I'd call it a hell of a treat.
This is what I would dub: MUSIC YOU CAN'T GET AT HOME.
You could go back to your music collection for late night tunes you already knew about, and one more beer or nightcap. But instead you decide to spend a few twenties supporting live local music, as we are always encouraged to do on radio stations WEXT and WEQX, and reading about in METROLAND. When they stipulate listening to "local music" they don't usually mean this: a new-age space groove as if performed by the new generation of figurative grandchildren of Miles Davis. When Nick Kopp mentioned him as a musical influence, I told him I had loved "Bitches Brew" and his other albums of the early-mid 70's so much that I had named my first son after him. Nick admitted he was born in 1984, and had missed the era I was referring to altogether, but clearly was a student of the genre, and had absorbed the best part of the trumpeter/composer's style and work into his own musical DNA. Polyrhythms mixed with electronica and experimental envelope-pushing seemed to have come back to life.
Guitarist Meg Duffy had played Lark Fest earlier in the day down in Albany with one of her other bands "Hand Habits." Here she played the role of John McLaughlin or Mike Stern in Miles's bands, while a slight white dude with black rimmed glasses and a downward demeanor at all times played the role of Wayne Shorter, riding above the mix. His name was Adam Seigel (hope I spelled that right). Like the others, he struck me as non-egoic, caught up in the groove, no showboating or histrionics, just pure sound. He and Meg painted with audial colors, and it was beautiful.
I was told that the only two "regulars" in this rotating aggregation were Kopp, and Gascoyne, the bass player, and that they would be bringing in different horn players, drummers, and guitarists to augment the not-so-basic mix, and no two performances would be alike. The drummer confessed that he had never rehearsed with this band, nothing was written out, and all of it was improvised on the spot-- hard to believe, it all meshed so well.
For examples of what Kopp and his friends produce, he mentioned that "le Rubb" could be found on bandcamp, soundcloud, and albanyjazz.com websites...though I haven't sought those links out myself. They will purportedly play every other Saturday night at Circus Cafe on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, and I hope they attract more of a following, starting with
the June 22nd gig. Nick also mentioned a trio named "Chronicles" and a band his girlfriend was in, so over the course of summer I hope to experience those musical occasions as well. I commend the owners of Circus Cafe-- Christe & Colin MacLean-- for hiring such innovative musicians, playing original music, not just familiar covers.
Tell them Wayne advised you to hear them, if you go... The fountain of musical youth still percolates along the downtown fault line, I am glad to report. Vive le Rubb!
for WaynesWord2 June 2013
It's only a three-quarter moon but it wakes me up at midnight and it feels full. Just before I went to sleep I read that keyboardist and composer Ray Manzarek had died earlier today, in Germany. A resident of Napa Valley California...not far from my sister. How come I'd never gone on a pilgrimage to meet him and tell him what effect he had had on my youth, in conjunction with, of course, Jim Morrison. It was now officially too late to do so. And I had missed him when he'd appeared locally a few years back, with guitarist Robby Krieger, in Albany, at The Egg. What a mistake...his last time around.
When Morrison died, I was only sixteen. That seemed epic and tragic in 1971, and as such, corrupted my otherwise positive outlook at that age, when everything was on the upgrade in my life, and I felt I had the world by the tail. I had not seen The Doors in concert and felt crushed that now I never would. For years afterward I would listen to their music in a trance state, and I have to tell you, it meant more to me, and seemed to have more depth, than anything I'd ever heard from The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, or whoever else was being touted as being the best of rock music.
Today I know there was a sloppy aspect to Morrison's performances and behavior and I do not idolize the man as I did as a teenager,.. but Manzarek always commanded my respect in being the thinker, the musical intellectual, and the primary arranger of the group. White Krieger's guitar was a stinging, lusty swagger that spoke like a blues siren, and John Densmore's drums seemed the crispest and slickest of all rock stickmen.
But in later years, Krieger became spacey as a hippie spoof and Densmore was bitter about the the crashing aftermath, and never forgave Morrison for his early demise. Only the keyboard guy-- Ray Manzarek-- evolved into a transcendent state.
In 1968, when "Light My Fire" hit the nation's airwaves, it seemed to be everywhere, Even though most of us had tinny transistor radios in our bedrooms, not exactly Bose speakers, you could tell that the roller-coaster jabbing of the organ was unlike any other rock group of the day, with the possible exception of Deep Purple. Jim Morrison's seductive baritone stole the show, of course, but Manzarek led the ride like a ringmaster.
Someday soon, maybe I'll take an hour on WEXT's "My Exit" and dredge up some of the longer, more obscure Doors songs that stuck with me long after the group's dissolution,
Over 40 years later, L.A. WOMAN, their last album recorded together, live in the studio, supposedly with no overdubs, remains on my Top 10 list of all time, despite falling well down the list on my favorite radio station's Top 500 Countdown recently. I'd like to express to the listeners and those at the station themselves why the staying power of The Doors is so potent and prevalent even now...
It's late on the east coast, Ray, and I feel your spirit here in the moonlight of mid-late May. Sorry to see you go, man, and sorry we never met. But there are keyboard hooks you injected into my soul long ago that will not be unfastened in my lifetime, and I thank you for those. Peace and safe travels beyond. Wayne
Saratoga's delayed Spring season...finally
Anyone born to the Northeast, or any
long-term resident, has come to know that upstate NY can be cruel in fooling
you this time of year. I got use to saying that there were normally "7 False Springs" in this area, before the season had truly changed. Transitional
season means that there can be thunderstorms with 70 degree temps that bring frogs and toads on the roads and the sound of peepers from the swamps for the first time one day (like, say, April 16th)
, and the next you have 20 degree wind-chills and hail squalls, and feel sorry for those amphibianss who popped out of the mud a bit too soon.
There are days when we all say, It's here, It's here! And we run up to it like Charlie Brown
about to kick the football Lucy is holding, only to get it yanked away. That
is what most of April was like. But
now, in the first week of May, 2013, though it was snowing in Colorado
yesterday, we are in the middle of a balmy 70 degree stretch in upstate
NY. Still, we may get fooled again but I
believe the delay is over, and the "false springs" are behind us.
I rejoiced internally last Saturday,
in between appointment rounds, when I saw almost every long-dormant outdoor playground
filled with activity. I saw girls
playing soccer and softball, Little Leaguers
eagerly practicing, lacrosse racquets in action, joggers jogging, and elders
swinging tennis racquets. Geyser Road
complex, Gavin Park in Wilton, Eastside Rec playgrounds, Skidmore's campus
perimeter, Daniels Road soccer complex, Westside Rec, even southside fields adjacent to Saratoga's Racino
I'd not seen used before, were at full capacity on my journeys that day. Even though my kids are older now and not
engaged in such outdoor fests on a glorious spring Saturday, I felt vicarious
delight that parents and kids had returned to light-hearted games, as an
antidote to the horrific happenings in Boston, mid-April.
I keep having flashbacks, however, to
an indoor sport played this time of year--AAU Basketball--which had dominated
almost a decade of our lives from 2000-2009, when Miles was competing
year-round, at gyms all over the area, and on weekends up-and-down the east
coast at non-stop Tournaments. Those
days are gone for us, and we feel both nostalgia and relief that it is over
with! So much more time on our hands, less
constant travel, fewer fastfood stops and hotels-on-the-road, less expense, and
more time to work!! I don't know how we
did it, because when he was at his most serious, it was an 11-month-a-year
I know there are a lot of
parents of athletes out there who commit just as strongly to their kid's
passion for what seems like a long parade of practices and contests... whether
rowing, baseball, softball, running, football, hoop, golf, swimming or
gymnastics... whatever it is, I know it becomes an addiction to the parents--to revel
in watching your child PERFORM--that is tough to leave behind once they go off
to college, or the service, or the workworld.
But that is where my wife and I are now--and we wonder how we had time
for "real life" or even a full workweek--when we were in the full throes of that
My daughter and my second son,
however, are glad that those days are over, and we can now cater to them in
different ways. Life with multiple
children is a balancing act at any given moment, and I feel true compassion for
anyone with more than 3 to schedule for, and chauffeur.
Perennial Dilemma of Spring: Yellow Flags, versus Dandelions...
The excellent weather that has
finally arrived brings both good and bad.
Whereas last year we were mowing the lawns in late March, it seemed, but it is May now and we are just beginning to worry about it. But I
am kicking myself for not preparing for this moment a couple of months ago,
when I should have written and emailed a letter to the members of our HOA,
pleading the case for ORGANIC methods of fertilizing and pest control for our
median and common areas, as well as on their own lawns. I cringe and grit my teeth when I see the "Little
Yellow Flags" sprout up, in our neighborhood and others, as it means the
chemical taint of PESTICIDES has returned for another round. I got out of my car, 9 miles west of
Saratoga, way out in the countryside, and I could distinctly smell the
contamination of commercial poisons, which had just been sprayed or spread that
day. Anyone who tells me this kind of
thing is safe has got to be oblivious.
I find that the same people who will solicit fundraising for research for cures to common diseases are often the same
ones who are treating their lawns with suspected carcinogens, and not seeing
any contradiction in that. Personally--I don't
want to focus on finding a CURE for cancer, for my own life and my family, I want
to PREVENT it. And I don't mean to be
callous about this--no one contracts those epidemic illnesses voluntarily--but I believe there
is no mistaking a connection between a petro-chemically-saturated environment
and the toxic buildups in our bodies that lead to dis-ease.
I am especially concerned about the
people who treat their lawns to make them greener and more homogenous--more suburban,
in other words--and then let their kids or grandkids or pets romp around on the
grass soon afterwards, because the company that performed the treatment told
them--"it only lasts 24 hours or so." O really?
Whether bare-skinned feet or shoe-bottoms or paws, there has GOT to be some trace amounts brought
back into their homes and insidiously absorbed into their bodies--but the
population continues to do what TV commercials are brainwashing them to
do-- FEED YOUR LAWN, LADDIE, FEED
IT! Or in the case of the Ortho commericials, shows a man squirting specific poisons at dandelions like they were guerrila insurgents. As with aboriginal cultures, wild flowers and perennials were here first.
My lawn, and that of my two nearest
neighbors, thankfully, is sprouting dandelions this time of year, which my wife
hates but I take pride in. I am a
contrarian, a naturalist, and co-existing with dandelions (referred to as "weeds" by the
advertising world) is acceptable to me-- the least of my worries, in fact. I can walk on my lawn barefoot and not come
away with anything other than grass-stains and organic dirt. That will be the extent of my environmental
sermon for now, except to add that the personal inconvenience of smelling the pesticides and bemoaning their yellow-flagged presence in my neighborhood pales next to my fears of what the chemical treatments are doing to the clear-running tributaries and streams in our immediate vicinity-- notably the sacred KAYDEROSSERAS Creek, upon which the mills of Middle Grove and other nearby towns were founded. When we first moved out here, the trout could be heard and seen jumping out of the water on a regular basis; now there are no minnows or fish of any sort visible, and a former Grade A Trout Stream now seems devoid of life. Coincidence?
As with the honey bees' colony collapse disorder, I have no doubt in my mind or my gut that pesticides and toxic chemical ubiquity are responsible, and I will try to convince as many people as possible in my lifetime to understand the connection between an organic lifestyle, and trying to improve an already-contaminated world that we are leaving our children. Peace to all who read this, and aside from my tirade on pesticides, I wish you all a joyous and healthy spring season.
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