For those who have been keeping close track of the story of the escaped inmates from a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, N.Y., you have no doubt come across descriptions of the prison’s hometown as “remote,” “way northern New York,” or a “five-hour drive from New York City, if the roads are clear.”
All those descriptions are spot-on accurate. They are indeed facts. But what bugs me is that they belie a certain prejudice of geography.
That is, New York State revolves around New York City and anything outside of the city is viewed dimly as “other.”
The most popular tweet I’ve ever written — as measured by retweets and favorites — stemmed from the expansive search for the escapees, which has stretched from the North Country to the 2,000-resident town of Friendship in southwestern New York.
The tweet I wrote: “If nothing else, #nyprisonbreak is some lesson in the geography of NY for those who think the state ends at the Tappan Zee Bridge.”
I say all of this by way of confession: I was once one of these geographic ethnocentrics who thought the world not only revolved around New York City but that New York City revolved around my beloved Bronx!
I was so ignorant of New York’s geography that I honestly and truly thought there was Albany and then came Canada!
I consider myself reformed of my urban-centric ways, hence my sensitivity to slights I perceive that are aimed at rural counties.
Here’s why: My epiphany came when I got my first break in journalism in 1986 working at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y., about 11 miles west of Lake Placid, two-time host of the Winter Olympics. (I also later worked for the Press-Republican, which is based in Plattsburgh.)
The editor at the Enterprise at the time was Bill Doolittle. I responded to an ad for an opening and he offered to fly me from New York City to the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, N.Y.
I booked the flight and told him I would be arriving at Gate 1. He laughed and assured me he would find me. (I discovered why when I landed: There was only one gate.)
I got the job that very day. It was on my return flight that I realized just how much this city mouse had to learn about living in the country.
The gentleman behind the counter who took my ticket at the airport was also the rental car sales agent. He also took my bag. And radioed the plane. And went to the runway with the orange-coned flashlights to taxi the plane to the terminal!
I was slack-jawed. Now, this was nearly 30 years ago and I am sure it’s not that way anymore. (Update: I am informed it still is!)
At the time, as a stranger in a strange land (correction: with my Bronx accent I was more like a foreigner in my native state), I could not have been more warmly welcomed by everyone.
People extended themselves in their hospitality and courtesies that was breathtaking for this hardened New Yorker. The small-town culture was infectious and comforting.
I spent five years working in the Adirondacks and loved every moment of it.
So when you read or hear some big-media accounts that describe the North Country as “remote,” “forbidding” or “inaccessible,” remember the folks who live there, and trade those adjectives for “friendly,” “generous” and “good people.”
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