someone asked me recently to write a little bit about my late november trip to the finger lakes region. here it is, cleaned up a little for spelling and such:
because you asked for it...
what i know of central new york i know from the years when i came of age.
the first time i was in ithaca i was sort of by myself; i came with a friend of a friend and stayed overnight with friends of friends of friends but i was there for an audition and it was one of those great days in ithaca when every car on every vertical street has right-of-way, regardless of the traffic signs.
i remember driving with my mom through dryden and into a sunset, listening to the mozart clarinet quintet all the way from vermont because it was the only tape we had in the car, and all through central new york it's all flatland and easy rollers and then you come to the lip of one of those lakes and fly down into the bowl of it, always feeling the pull of one end or the other. never the middle, but the ends.
and ithaca is at the end of one of them and you teeter over the edge of the rim and down from triphammer road and if you come in twighlight all of the city is spread out below you and in front of you, all the way up onto south hill and you see the familiar buildings and all the lights just coming on and it's like landing in a plane, with the roar of the engines and everything seems to vibrate as you come streaming out into route 13 downtown, which they keep changing and now the two lanes are far enough apart to have buildings between them and by golly you'd better be in the right lane or you'll get carried halfway to elmira before you can stop it.
if you time it right, you can see all the way down through fifteen, twenty-two rows of traffic lights, all green for just a few moments.
but i know the lights of the octopus; i see clearly the neck of the swan and no matter how much they change the traffic patterns they can't change that. i know that the lights of cornell do not form an expletive if you look at them right, no matter what they tell the freshmen.
i've written assignments on napkins from steamer night at captain joe's reef, and although i never saw let alone drank the bastard series at the rongovian embassy, i've seen some of the carnage that remains afterward.
we played on the swings at stewart park after closing time, and we went to horseheads to play "cup of coffeee". woolworth's is gone, and so is the store where we'd buy three kinds of flavored popcorn and then try to get the woolworth's floorwalker to follow us into the lingerie department.
budget entertainment, we called it. two dollars each, and hours of fun.
and we watched the seasons turn: we went to upper buttermilk and bobbed for apples in the pools there. i had a friend out on coddington road who had late sweet corn and i learned that you can boil half an ear at a time in a standard hot pot and keep the half ears coming well into the evening.
we cut up fresh apples and ate them with last year's syrup, knowing in the spring we would go to the marathon maple festival and although i thumbed my nose at the time, new york maple is just as good as anyone else's, and sugar on snow is sugar on snow.
we endured winter. it rained and it snowed. a lot. and the wind was bitter. and there were long stretches of time when it was never really raining but never really not raining either, which we called "ithacation".
in the spring we went to treman and swam in the meltwater because we were so glad the winter was over and we didn't care that it really WAS meltwater; we swam in it anyway even though it took hours to warm up afterwards.
we were young and pretended to be free; we piled into cars to go to elmira to hear the symphony. we drove up to seneca falls to see the white deer and got there at sunset and saw glowing pink deer with fiery eyes. we went to eat at arturo's in east syracuse, where the city bumps up againt that tall grass wasteland of railroad and warehouse and interstate exchanges and you can get the "bad breath special", a plate of seafood and pasta bigger than your head and under ten dollars.
and when you take the 690 east from liverpool in the mornings with the sun in your eyes you feel most gloriously alive. you learn quickly to change lanes before you get flattened or you get dumped onto salina street.
i've watched the half moon reflected on onondaga lake, seen the ups and downs of employment in solvay. and now i've been to auburn and seen copper john. i've watched the yellow, yellow leaves fall onto the old canals, and i've see the giant windmills spin gracefullly, shining and red in a chittenango sunset.
the roads in the wildlife management areas are all square and straight and are built with no regard for steepness of terrain; they simply do not plow or sand them in winter and you can ride up and down those roads all through hunting season and nobody wonders who you are or why you're there as long as you keep your orange hat where they can see it.
so keep your orange hat on the dash; they won't hold your out-of-state plates against you. don't blink as you pass through alpine or lodi, not if you want to know you were there.
and just once in my life, i want to be in ithaca on new year's eve, when they change the number of the year by the lights of the towers.