You probably know this, but One has to leave Saratoga Springs and the Greater Capital District once in a while, then come back to re-appreciate It. Sometimes I forget that. I’d been totally immersed in this area and my work for about 22 months without a break, and was overdue for a different vantage point. The 8-day week from the 19th through the 26th provided just such distraction and entertainment this year.
Having said, here are some interesting items that exist elsewhere that cannot be found here, for instance:
1– A Thanksgiving Day ritual multi-generational game of Ultimate Frisbee before the feast…in an east Atlanta park with green grass and a dry turf…my nephew Rylan Gordon is a D-3 star in this sport that is now huge in some parts of the country, more than up here. Locals in the DeKalb County neighborhood in and around Decatur have perpetuated this all-inclusive ritual for over 15 years now I am told, and it forms a refreshing alternative to touch football in the snow up north. My sister’s family has been in the thick of it, and knew virtually all of the 60 or 70 people who showed up… I just watched, feeling it was not a good time to blow out a knee at a sport I’d never seen up close before. But there were guys my age who were the original masters at this recently anointed sport, running the field and pulling off impressive stunts, catches, flips, and throws. A guy my age named Charlie became my hero when he trotted onto to field for his 3rd stint, after re-lacing his ankle braces, and casually popped a passing disc that was off to his right and gliding behind him, whereby he casually back-heeled it to a nearby teammate without even breaking stride toward the middle of the field. It was the Ultimate Disc Equivalent to a Globe-trotter move, and I don’t think most people even noticed it. He gave me faith. The college kids– male and female– ran each other ragged, and even some that didn’t look all that athletic pulled off good moves, or scoring grabs. Cool time was had by all, and I was tired just from watching. Almost two hours went by before they called it a day, and broke towards respective homes for the feast that awaited. Good tradition– energetic and fun without cut-throat competition. I promised Ry I’d go see at least one of his serious games in the spring season of his senior,now that I’d seen the game up close and learned some rules…In collegiate comp, he said, it was the same kind of game, only 10 times faster and tougher, with every throw and catch hotly contested.
2– Live (not televised) NBA games, which I witnessed in 2 different but equally immaculate high-tech arenas…courtesy of my most excellent bro-in-law Scott Gordon, and college best friend Dave Scavone in games 3 days apart. First was an Atlanta Hawks game on the eve before Thanksgiving. This colossal downtown venue was just massively revamped and renamed STATE FARM Arena, provided a true high-tech spectacle from start to finish, even though the game was not very competitive and almost a foregone conclusion. Given that the visiting team– the Toronto Raptors– was coming in with the best current record in the entire NBA (at 20-4 as I write this), the re-building young Hawks were given little chance at winning. While disappointed to hear that superstar Kawhi Leonard was sitting out the game, not with an injury, but as a “rest precaution” that old-timers would have scoffed at in my youth… it did not affect the outcome, as guys like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam (a revelation), Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas proceeded to dismantle the locals right from the start. Jeremy Lin as back-up to that-night-sputtering future star Trae Young tried to rally the locals with his best game of the year, coming back from an injury, but the whole game was a consistent 10-20 point differential. I was impressed that upstate NY’s own Kevin Heurter from SHENENDAHOWA High!) got plenty of time as a 20 year old rookie, contending with the current beasts of the East. He ended with 10, and I will write more copiously on that on my soon-to-be-revived parallel website soon, waynesword.com, without the 2.
But the drama of this game wrapped around the fact that 41 year old shooting guard Vince Carter– once dubbed “Half-man/Half-Amazing”– was a mere 13 points away from hitting the 25,000 mark in career point scoring– a plateau reached by only 22 others in the history of the NBA, which dates back to 1946. Without all the details and drama, no one left the arena of this otherwise blow-out game because his teammates were clearly deferring to him in the last five minutes of the game as he approached the milestone. After hitting one 3 to gel the crowd, then missing a couple of threes, then hitting two free throws, he was within once point when he missed a forced jumper, but Heurter grabbed the bound, and dropped Vince a pass as he flew thru the lane to the rim. He finished with a dunk at 0.5 secods, fright in front of us, and man the place went nuts like they’d just won a playoff game. Video tributes on the amazing JUMBO-TRON followed, and tributes from all over the League poured in, pre-arranged. It was great stuff to see. And Kevin-freakin’-Heurter gave him the assist on this monumental occasion, a 20 year old dropping a dime to a 41 year old soon-to-be Hall of Famer. I’d seen Kevin as a 9 year old playing AAU ball when he was half the size he is now (6′ 7″), and Vince was only halfway thru his career at that point. Time marches on! After the sumptuous celebration of Hoop History, to be able to hop on a Metro train that took us from the heart of Atlanta to within a few blocks of their home was also a rare urban treat for me. Then Scott & Lisa set me up with a local station so I could watch a replay of the game back in Decatur, to top off the night. Just can’t get that type of proximity to my fave sport in Saratoga, yet the fact that a local lad from up here was involved on the Hawks’ side was a bonus.
Game number #2 was prearranged by my main man Scavone at The Capital One Center in downtown D.C. for the Saturday evening following Thanksgiving, after I’d flown in National Airport the night before. This game was more competitive and turned out to be a rare win for the Washington Wizards, who were not having a great start to the season till this night. We were three rows back from the end of the Wiz bench, and directly visible to the tunnel entry the players used to enter and leave the court. The grandiose party and non-stop music during the breaks was if anything even more fascinating than ATL’s version.. but both were highly entertaining for the the most-ADD of all fan-bases. I will describe this game in more detail on my other blog as well, but the main thing is that the Wizards beat the visiting Pelicans, who were without their star Anthony Davis. They played well anyway, with Mirotic scoring 24 mostly on sweet 3-bombs, and Julius Randle beasting inside for 28. For the Wiz, Markief Morris was perhaps most impressive, off the bench, along with Austin Rivers who hit a quick 11 points in his 4th quarter stint to give them a boost when they finally took the lead. It was good for me to see John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Kelly Oubre up close, and they all had spectacular moments as well. When the festivities were over, we walked about three blocks, past the restaurant noted below where we’d had a pre-game meal and beer–hopped in Dave’s Lexus and were back at his place in Alexandria 15-20 minutes later. Same thing there, we gt to watch the whole game again from a different angle once home. A most excellent urban experience, one with which Saratoga can’t quite compare, sorry.
3–An awesome Latino restaurant in D.C. called OYAMEL– (I don’t want to say just Mexican, as it seemed more diverse than that)– run by the guy who helped feed Puerto Rico when the American Government did not deliver after the devastation following Hurricane Maria …his name is Jose Andres, and my bro-and-guide Scavone casually told me he’d hung out with him several times, and that he owns a few dozen restaurants now after coming from Portugal to the US with nothing more than a HS degree. Oh, and by the way, he is now a nominee for a NOBLE PEACE Prize for his efforts last year in our “51st state.” So much for private enterprise, and the value of real food over paper towels.
4–A Sunday Afternoon late November on The Mall in our nation’s Capital that seemed like pre-springtime up north.. really the only 50 degree day, without rain, while I was in the southern latitudes…great day for the 2 hour car tour pf the core of D.C., which seemed far more civilized and tony than I realized. Having not spent any time within this City’s limits since I was in college, it was a long-overdue introduction.
5–The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, apparently open year round in an open air environment…tucked away in a rustic (!) part of Northeast D.C., near the bridges that lead to Maryland, I was shocked to see this kind of nature preserve set apart from an otherwise fast-paced and reputedly rough section of the sprawling city. This collection is just stunning, and if I find the time and wherewithal, I’ll post and import a couple dozen pix of the stellar miniatures on display there. My only regret is in not speaking more at length with the woman from New Hampshire who said she was growing her own bonsai at home. Those chance meetings are so evanescent… but the trees themselves seemed timeless.
Finally, after sensory overload was pretty much complete, I took the AMTRAK Northeast Corridor Train back to NYC via Baltimore, Dover, Delaware, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark and so forth into Penn Station. Business class made it much less crowded than the planes I’d flown down to get to Atlanta and part-way back to the D.C. area. The views were among the worst the megalopolis has to offer, with the underbelly of commercial slums visible most of the way. But the ride gave me time to assimilate all I’d seen and experienced on the 8 day tour… fresh input I could not have seen any other way.
Once I made my connection in the hectic scene of Penn Station and its myriad bright busy walkways, I was more relaxed and virtually home-free. The ride back north was blessedly uneventful and gave me full view of our majestic Hudson valley for the 150 mile glide upriver. I arrived back at the Saratoga Amtrak station by 6pm that evening, back in the land of crispy coated snow cover, but not much colder than when I left.
Upon re-entry here, briefly put, are the things I missed most about the upstate /Saratoga County zone after a week and a day of being away:
1– WEQX on the airwaves. I’m not sure other places have anything like it, or maybe people just don’t listen to radio as passionately as we do up here. I realize that when I am in my studio, or in the car, I have it on in the background 90% of the time, and take it for granted as a soundtrack to my life. Staying at my sister Lisa and Scott’s house, or my buddy Scavone’s, there was dead silence, morning, noon and night, and this surprised me. Other friends rely on Pandora, Alexa, iTunes, streaming devices off their computers, but very few I run into anymore play CDs , or listen to the best local radio they could find. WEQX out of Manchester, Vermont may be over 40 or 50 miles east, but they have established an Indie station presence that thankfully still floats over our province, as well as parts of three other states. They continue to thrive in a commercially crap-induced crowd of other stuff on the FM dial these days, and I much prefer it to the satellite alternatives like Sirius or whatever. I grew up with radio, and will die with it on, mostly likely. Vacation gives me a break from it which was a bit unsettling.
2– SPRING STREET DELI– for reasons I will write about separately, soon. Amazing place, and still haven’t found its equal anywhere else. Next blog I post will be an elaboration on that subject.
3– Music at places like Putnam Den, Caffe Lenna, Mouzon House, 9 Maple Ave., Spring Street Gallery, Newberry’s Downstairs on Broadway, occasionally up at Skidmore College, Morrissey’s at the new Adelphi, Bailey’s, Gaffney’s, and all the other well-known bar locations around town. Maybe we just didn’t get around to it, but sports and Thanksgiving itself dominated, so didn’t see any live music while I was gone. Ready for more soon…Rubblebucket perhaps, this week?
4– Elevation, mountains in the background, and geographic scenery in all directions… I just don’t trust topo lines less than 100 feet above sea level, although no bad storms were on the horizon while I ventured into the lowlands. Back home at a minimum altitude of 350+ I feel more at home than in coastal cities like D.C., albeit the Atlanta suburbs had a fair amount of contour and rise above the Chattahoochee River, which I never actually laid eyes on.
5– My work is here… my kids are still all here, and trusty dawg Bentley, my exercise trainer in canine form. My writing table, my printer, my books, my stuff…still here when I returned. So I return to work. You will see more production soon. Glad to be back, though can’t promise how long that sensation will last, lol.