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Thirty-three years ago today, I walked into the newsroom of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise and started my full-time career in journalism.

This year also marks the 125th anniversary of The Enterprise. Here is an essay I wrote for its special edition to toast its success:

In 1986, when I was just out of college and starting my journalism career, I aspired to work for one of the big outlets, The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times, or even what were then statewide dailies, like The Miami Herald or The Newark Star-Ledger.

Instead, I started at The Enterprise in a part of New York State that, at the time, this Bronx native had never heard of.

As a stepping stone, The Enterprise, a five-day-a-week newspaper, felt like the size of a pebble.

Looking back though, it turned out to be the bedrock upon which my career was built. I’ve never stopped being grateful for and proud of the experiences I had working there from 1986-88.

Today, as the print newspaper industry undergoes paroxysms of change (read: steep decreases in revenues and readership and sharp increases in job losses and other cutbacks, including closures), The Enterprise celebrates 125 years as a pillar of community journalism.

By the time I arrived at The Enterprise newsroom as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I had spent my entire life in New York City. My sense of scale was always big: skyscrapers, mass transit systems, museums, food, movie theaters, sports teams — you name it.

That sense of big extended to news as well.

I grew up with The Daily News and its delicious tabloid sensibilities of covering the city, its politicians and their foibles, and sensational stories like the Son of Sam serial killer, and disasters like the 1977 blackout.

So, imagine the whipsaw I had coming to Saranac Lake and covering stories like the theft of the “Keep Right” sign that stood where Broadway and Main Street meet or calling Bob Kampf every morning to collect the latest readings from his weather station in Ray Brook.

It was not that I thought those assignments were beneath me. Far from it, in fact.

I was a newbie who was being schooled in daily journalism by the likes of Bill Doolittle and Carol Bruce, then the editor and publisher, and city editor, respectively.

It was exciting and fun and learning experiences abounded.

For instance, I learned what it meant to work and live in a small community.

On one memorable occasion, in a fit of pique, I randomly complained to an Enterprise advertising rep about a village employee, referring to him in a way unsuitable to be retold in a family newspaper.

Without batting an eyelash, she looked at me and said: “Oh him? Yeah, that’s my brother.”

I can’t be sure but I either spit out my coffee or swallowed my tongue. (She agreed with my assessment, by the way.)

What I came to appreciate — and truly embrace — was the vital role a newspaper plays in a community.

With its obituaries, police blotter, coverage of high school sports and annual events like the Winter Carnival, a newspaper like The Enterprise binds a community and promotes a shared experience among its readers.

I learned about the importance of holding those in power to account but doing it in a way that I could look them in the eye on the supermarket line the next day and we would share no ill will. 

I learned about the importance of sources, of ongoing relationships and how newspapers can help a community heal in times of tragedy and loss.

I’ve been in newspapers for 33 years and now I’m at The New York Times as a senior staff editor and weekend editor for its breaking news desk, the Express Team.

But I spent 28 years in community newspapers – The Press-Republican, The Times Herald-Record in Middletown and The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa.

I wouldn’t give up a second of my time at those community dailies. They enriched my life and taught me valuable lessons, much the way The Enterprise did.

I know the press has its critics and some will derisively refer to some news outlets as “fake news,” but I’m here to tell you The Enterprise is the genuine article (pardon the pun) and has a special place in my heart.

Enterprise, here’s to another 125 years of great community journalism!

How Kate Smith Got Me In Trouble

Kate Smith, the singer famous for her rendition of “God Bless America,” is in the headlines and that calls to mind the headlines she made after her death nearly 32 years ago when I was a cub reporter at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

My coverage of Smith, who was a longtime summer resident of Lake Placid, also drew some uncomfortable attention to myself, but more on that in a minute.

As you probably have read by now in news accounts, including an excellent one in The Enterprise, the Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers have stopped playing Smith’s “God Bless America” at their games after it came to light that she also sang songs in the 1930s with racist titles like “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.”

That news brought me back to 1987, when I was a reporter at The Enterprise and for months covered a different controversy involving Smith.

Smith died in June 1986 and in her will she stipulated that she be interred in a pink or rose-colored granite mausoleum at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid but St. Agnes Church, which oversaw the cemetery, had a ban on above-ground burials.

And thus, a stalemate was born.

Making it all a bit tawdry was that she left $25,000 to the church and half the residuals of her estate. Some critics said the church opposed plans for the $90,000 mausoleum ($201,000 in today’s dollars) because it would eat into its share of the money.

“Time running out to bury Kate Smith this year as mausoleum debate rages,” read the headline on a June 24, 1987, front-page story in The Enterprise in which I breathlessly reported how the feud showed no signs of resolution.

(The church and estate ultimately compromised and allowed a scaled-down version of the tomb she wanted. Almost 18 months to the day after she died, the church hosted a regal sendoff for the woman who was known as the First Lady of Radio.)

Back in 1987, even The New York Times wrote about the battle over her burial. As a new reporter hungry for stories, I was hooked on covering every jot or tittle about this one.

Professionally, that was great. Personally, not so much.

Here’s why: My first wife and I were newly married and newly relocated to Saranac Lake from New York City. She was an elementary school teacher in search of work, and found a job teaching at — you guessed it — St. Agnes School.

My repeated hammering of the controversy in the news pages of The Enterprise caused a wee bit of tension with the parish pastor, the Rev. Robert Lamitie.

My wife had taken my surname in marriage and let’s just say that “Mele” was not a common Adirondacker family name, so he asked her if she was related to this muckracking troublemaker journalist Chris Mele.

As I recall, I think she joked that she had no idea who this Mele character was. Nope, didn’t know him. Never heard of him.

To his credit, Lamitie didn’t give her any more of a hard time. Naturally, though, I found a way to make things more difficult for myself.

Much like Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners,” I have a big mouth and opened it wide when a columnist, Jim Six from The Gloucester County Times in New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, began writing about the prolonged Smith saga.

Smith was revered among fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, where her version of “God Bless America” was played for decades and where she even made personal appearances to sing.

Six called me at The Enterprise to get, I thought, some background. Bewildered, he asked, “So while this is all going on, where the hell is her body?”

Good question.

I explained as how in the Adirondacks the ground was essentially permafrost in the winter and no burials took place until the spring at the earliest.

He was incredulous and again asked where her body was.

And this, dear reader, is when I learned you ought to be careful about what you say to a reporter because they might actually just quote you accurately.

“Oh, Kate’s in a Kelvinator!” I said, referring to one of those large commercial freezers and delighted with my clever little bit of alliteration.

Six wrote a column expressing outrage about how this American icon was being mistreated and, as promised, he mailed a clipping to me.

He quoted me as an authority about the controversy — and he also used that Kelvinator quote.

My city editor at the time, Shawn Tooley, was not at all amused and reamed me out, though the editor and publisher at the time, Bill Doolittle, shrugged it off.

Thankfully, this was at a time before there was an internet and few people were exposed to my insensitive, stupid comment.

Yep, all of that was in the past in those pre-internet days.

Yes indeed, nobody will ever know about it.

Oh. Wait a second…

Iceland: Loved Too Much?

Iceland, which bills itself as the land of fire and ice, has also become the land of foreign visitors.

I should know: My wife and I honeymooned on the island nation in July 2010 and returned for a 48-hour visit in January.

We love it there and so, apparently, do many, many others.

And therein lies the problem.

Consider that the Icelandic Tourist Board reported that 502,300 people visited in 2008.

By 2014, that number had climbed to nearly 1 million. Two years later, that number skyrocketed to 1.8 million.

That means in 2016, visitors outnumbered locals by a ratio of about 6 to 1.

The steady stream of tourists — and its consequences — has not gone unnoticed.

In March, The Financial Times quoted Paul Fontaine, news editor of the English-language The Reykjavík Grapevine: “It’s got to the point where even the tourists are complaining about too many tourists.”

There was a perceptible difference in what I observed in Reykavik during our recent visit compared with 2010.

We had walked Laugavegur, which is one of the main streets in the capital, in 2010, but when I was there in January, I was struck by how tourist-y, bordering almost on honky-tonk it had become.

The lower end of Laugavegur. As you progress along the street, the number of tourist shops increase.

Souvenir shops catering to out-of-towners and hawking sweatshirts, mugs and Nordic-themed seemed to be bountiful.

One chain retailer, cleverly called I Don’t Speak Icelandic, sells “Enjoy Our Nature” condoms with names such as “Volcanic Eruption.”

Iceland’s penis museum, technically known as the Icelandic Phallological Museum, also had a different, um, feel to it. When we visited in 2010, it was located in the small fishing village of Húsavík.

There, it had a rebellious almost cheeky vibe. Now located in downtown of Reykjavik, it felt more like a gimmicky tourist trap instead of being a genuine reflection of someone’s hobby and passion.

Even the Icelandic people who we found to be reserved but friendly in 2010 now had a certain resigned demeanor/brave face that comes from dealing with hordes of tourists.

Wherever we turned in a public setting — hotels, the city hall, stores, transit hubs — I was struck by the huge arrays of brochures touting visits to glaciers, ice caves, the Northern Lights, helicopter tours, bar crawls, various museums, etc.

As a city, Reykjavík might be accustomed to heavy foot and vehicular traffic, but what about the areas outside of the capital, such as the waterfalls, the glaciers, the farms, the beaches, etc.?

These are places that are I am sure ecologically sensitive and not ready for the stomp-stomp-stomp of thousands of LL Bean boot-wearing outsiders.

It recalls to mind when I worked in New York’s North Country. The Adirondacks, with its clean air, hiking trails, lakes and other natural attractions, were alluring for visitors.

The High Peaks, particularly Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, were in danger of being loved to death, however.

Rare plant species and wildlife habitats were being damaged or endangered by so much foot traffic. Long holiday weekends saw a parade of cars filled with hikers.

The idea of getting away from civilization and enjoying solitude in nature became increasingly harder to achieve with so many people coming.

So it is with Iceland and its tourists. Sure, outsiders are good for the local economy, but ultimately at what price?

Cranes are a common site in the city, as new construction seems to be going on everywhere.

Related:

A Visit to the Penis Museum

Celebrating 30 Years as a Newsman

This is a time of year when we pause to give thanks for our blessings.

This is also a significant time of year for me because today – the Monday before Thanksgiving — marks my first day as a full-time reporter.

It is what I consider the official start of my professional career as a newsman.

It was 30 years ago today that a 22-year-old newcomer from the Bronx walked through the doors of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y.

I have many cherished memories from my two years there.

When I started, I had no concept of the Adirondacks, small-town politics or municipal government.

I did not know a village board from an ironing board.

I benefited from a number of people who were generous guides. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me offer my gratitude to:

* The circulation manager, Jimmy Bishop, who broke my chops for showing up on my first day wearing a tie.

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My very first story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in 1986 made the front page: “No opposition expressed to bond issue at hearing.”

* Pressman Rick Burman aka Moose for having the patience and fortitude to teach me how to drive a stick shift — in the middle of an Adirondack winter.

* The librarian and assistant to the publisher and mom to us all, Bea Drutz, may she rest in peace, for being a force for calm in the chaos and for ALWAYS being able to find a clip file when I needed it.

* The Carols: Carol Bruce, my city editor, who helped break me in, dusted me off when I fell and gave me the encouragement to keep going; Carol Baker, one of the design paste-up technicians who always had a good word for me (and choice news tips!); and photographer Carol Sawyer, may she rest in peace, who had a tough exterior and scared me at times (!) but who showed great patience in showing me how to work a camera and improve my photos.

* Dave Munn, who walked every morning from his house near North Country Community College and would be the first one at the newsroom in the morning. He’d say he always checked the obituaries first to make sure he was not listed.

* Editor and publisher Bill Doolittle, a delightfully incurable gossip and veteran newsman to whom I owe a deep debt of thanks for teaching me so much about reporting. Working at the ADE was like a journalistic boot camp minus the calisthenics.

* To the folks in advertising, such as Sharon Branch, Cathy Moore and Debbie McDonnell, who cheerfully took calls for me and kept me clued in about what was happening in the community I was learning to cover.

* The Saranac Lake Village Manager Dick DePuy, who, despite his gruff exterior and military buzz cut that telegraphed he did not suffer fools gladly, found endless hours to teach me about infrastructure, politics and how things worked.

* Village Clerk Marilyn Clement, who put up with my pestering questions about budgets, resolutions, meetings, etc. with cheer and took the time to help me make sense of it all.

* David MacDowell, the community development director; Ernest Hohmeyer, the head of the Adirondack Economic Development Corp.; Tom Tobin, the head of the Adirondack North Country Association, and Jim McKenna, the director of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, for being good sports, keeping me flush with stories and helping me adjust to my newly adopted home.

* My fellow reporters, especially Nancy DeLong, with whom I covered the fire at the Mirror Lake Inn; Liza Frenette, a former ADE reporter who worked at The Press-Republican and who kept me on my toes, and WCAX-TV reporter Jack LaDuke, with whom I shared many uproarious jokes, news tips and time at news scenes waiting for something to happen.

Today I am a reporter at The New York Times, a job unthinkable to me 30 years ago. While that is a crowning achievement, I have never lost sight of my formative experiences at The Enterprise — and all the people who helped make them.

No Moose, No Peace

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick.

Wile E. Coyote had the Road Runner.

And Elmer Fudd had that wascally wabbit.

My quarry for 25 years has been a moose.

Not one in particular, just ANY moose. And for the record, not to spear, eat or shoot, but to merely glimpse one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.

It is an obsession that took root when I was a reporter in the Adirondacks in 1990 and participated in a search with wildlife biologists for a moose nicknamed Big Richard (more on that in a minute).

Since then I have been to Maine (three times, including to Moosehead Lake twice, most recently this summer), gone on a moose-spotting adventure tour and traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire (including to a section of roadway known as “Moose Alley”).

Do you think that in all of those trips to places heavily populated by members of the deer family that I have spotted a single one?

Nope. Every time, they have flipped me the hoof.

IMG_0185
In Moose Alley and yes, I am wearing a moose T-shirt.

My enthusiasm for moose started when I was a reporter at the Press-Republican, a newspaper based in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

I was invited by a wildlife biologist from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to tag along with a contingent of researchers who were tracking a moose to change the battery on its radio collar.

As a kid who grew up in the Bronx, my experiences with wildlife were limited to squirrels and pigeons, animals I saw at the Bronx Zoo and whatever I encountered on the subway.

IMG_2595
My collection of moose friends at home.

So when the chance arose to observe a moose in the woods, I seized it.

I felt like Marlin Perkins minus the safari jacket.

My first revelation was about the name of our quarry.

When I asked the researchers why he was called Big Richard, they gave me a look that conveyed “Are you that naive?”

And in that moment I had an Edith Bunker epiphany and went “Oooooohhhhh! OH! OH! NOW I get it!”

IMG_2594
Yes, this is a bona fide moose antler that I bought at a taxidermy shop in the Adirondacks.

FullSizeRender
Yeah, right. Didn’t see a single moose, much less crash into one.

A contingent of researchers trailed by reporters tromped through the thick woods in a tropical downpour. We were soaked, having taken on more water than the Titanic.

Nonetheless, we trudged on as radio signals indicated we were getting closer to Richard.

But at that point I had to break off from the search since my wife at the time needed to get to her graduate class in Plattsburgh, and we only had one car.

Of course, after I left, the search party spotted Richard. The researcher raised his tranquilizer rifle, aimed and fired. The shot went wide. Richard, spooked by the noise, took off.

A second search for him that I joined weeks later was equally fruitless. Alas, his remains were found about a year later, apparently having succumbed to natural causes.

Despite my absolute dismal record for finding moose, I remain fascinated by these creatures and as interested as ever in seeing one in the wild.

When the rut is on, they are quite active and can travel vast distances in search of a mate.

My no-fail plan?

Hitting the woods during the mating season, bathed in Eau de Mrs. Bullwinkle.

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I Crack Myself Up

I remember the date well because I still have the hospital discharge paperwork.

My first wife and I were living in Saranac Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. She was a teacher and we became good friends with her school principal and his girlfriend (later to be wife).

Christine was an artist who lived in a small upstairs apartment on the village’s Main Street. She had a pair of saw horses and resting atop them was a large rectangular piece of glass that had come from a New York City bus shelter.

(How she came into possession of New York City Transit Authority property, I am still not sure.)

The glass on the saw horses served as a flat space for Christine, who would paint and draw. She was moving in with Dan and he asked if I could help carry the glass to a van.

Sure, I said. What could possibly go wrong?

It was summer, and even though we were in the mountains, it was sweltering hot. I sized up the glass and swallowed hard but was confident we could do the job.

Leading to Christine’s walk-up was a very narrow, serpentine staircase.

Dan and I grunted and carefully maneuvered the big pane (that should more appropriately read “big pain”) down the stairs, sweating bullets the whole time.

We got out the downstairs doorway — home free! — and made our way to the van. Dan was closer to the van’s rear doors.

Nearly done!

First I heard the noise. It sounded something less than a gunshot but more than a firecracker.

And then my eyes fixed on what caused it: thousands of bits of glass, like flecks of Styrofoam, blanketed the van, the street and the sidewalk.

Somehow we must’ve just tapped the edge of the glass against the van with the right amount of harmonic convergence to cause it to explode.

The noise and the mess were so great that people literally stopped in their tracks.

My forearms were pockmarked with blood as tiny glass meteorites shot into my flesh. But Christine’s arm was a full rivulet of blood as the glass had cut her more deeply.

Dan, who incredibly escaped largely unscathed, took one look at us and whisked us to his car and headed pedal-to-the-metal to the hospital ER.

My problem was not that I was bleeding out but was almost PASSING out from the sight of my own blood.

My face looked like it had been bleached.

Yes, truly.

In the end, the doctor elevated my feet, got me some Band-Aids for my boo-boos and gauzed up Christine like the second coming of the Mummy.

This all came to mind recently when my wife and I had to take a large broken mirror to our garbage center and the attendant there saw what I was doing and said to me: “Don’t cut yourself.”

Don’t worry, pal.

Been there, done that and have the mental scars to prove it!

cracked mirror

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It’s Never About the Destination, It’s About the Journey

This is how these things usually breakdown: Chris gets a crazy idea. I say “sure, what the fuck, I’ve lived too long anyway” then Rich, John and Silvio decide if they want in too.

It’s been our M.O. for 40 years and, as evidenced in this latest episode of our fine podcast, things won’t be changing any time soon.

We all firmly believe that if it ain’t broke, why fix it? You see, for us the destination or the activity is always secondary to the fun we have getting there.

In true AMR fashion, Chris suggested we check out Rail Explorers which lets you pedal through the beautiful Adirondacks on old train tracks. I immediately agreed to go along and Rich and Father John joined us there.

We roasted each other mercilessly and had a great time doing it. If we had missed the rail bike appointment, so what. More fodder for stone-busting.

Take a listen to our Adirondack adventure and be sure to read Chris’s post about the trip. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry.

(That last part is a lie. You’ll probably just roll your eyes.)

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Pedal Power Fuels Friendships

If you want to gauge who your true friends are, come up with a ridiculous idea for an adventure that requires five hours of driving (one way) to visit an attraction for 90 minutes and then see how many of your buddies raise their hands.

In my case, it was a perfect score: Three out of three.

That says three things about my friends: They are committed to maintaining and keeping alive connections among us that date back 40 years. They are giving of themselves. And they’re completely nuts.

Last fall, I convinced two of my buds to come with me to Minnesota to drive a tank at a place cleverly called Drive A Tank.

This fall, it was the (railroad) ties that bind.

I read a story in The New York Times about this rail biking adventure in my former stomping grounds in Saranac Lake and Lake Clear, N.Y.

Rail Explorers puts you on open-air cars the deep red color of Radio Flyers that are equipped with seats, safety belts and pedals. The cars can accommodate from one to four passengers.

The premise is simple: You pedal six miles along a section of an old rail line through the Adirondack wilderness, passing lakes, ponds and woodlands during the fall foliage.

Now picture four middle-aged guys on one of these contraptions. We were not exactly the “Fast and Furious.” More like the “Evenly Paced and Moderately Angry.”

That said, we did reach downhill speeds of about 20 mph (nowhere near the sound-barrier-smashing speed of 516.7 mph Pedro and I achieved in our feat of derring-do on the Olympic bobsled run in Lake Placid).

Rail bikes like the ones we rode have been operating in South Korea for about 10 years, according to Alex Catchpoole, the owner/managing director of Rail Explorers.

The ones in the Adirondacks mark the first operation to bring these specially engineered and designed vehicles outside of South Korea, he said.

Since its start in July, the company has hosted 10,000 riders.

It’s easy to see why: The scenery is magnificent and you get to easily access parts of the woodlands that ordinarily would require you to hike.

The big question we faced before we got to Rail Explorers was whether two of the About Men Radio crew – Rich and John – were going to make it on time.

Pedro and I drove up the night before and stayed at a hotel. But Rich and John were going to have to get up at zero-dark-thirty to drive five hours to make our 11:30 a.m. start time.

Not only were they on time, but John – aka “Mannix” – got them there early! (Talk about pedal power! He applied it to both his car AND the rail bike!)

The outing was a chance to enjoy a glorious day in the breathtaking outdoors of the Adirondacks. We also enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch overlooking the lake at the Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat courtesy of Ernest and Cathy Hohmeyer.

But more important, it was a day punctuated by ceaseless chop-busting, laughter bordering on tears and great company.

I got a chance to spend five hours in a car with Pedro heading north and got caught up on things in his life, and then five hours back with Rich catching up on things in his life.

For busy career guys/dads/husbands, this was important time we had together.

Much the same way we enjoyed the rail biking from Lake Clear to Saranac Lake, this trip was not about reaching our destination, but very much about the journey.

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The Worst Interview Ever

Marc Maron, host of the podcast WTF, made headlines recently with his interview of President Obama.

In a later interview, Maron described being a nervous wreck leading up to the presidential sitdown but how he sought to engage the president.

All of which reminded me of the worst interview experience of my nearly three-decade career as a newsman.

It happened in the first year of my career.

I worked in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and was assigned to interview the Woodsman of the Year (or maybe it was the grand marshal or Lumberjack of the Year — I cannot recall) for the Woodsmen’s Days event (“Celebrating the Logging Industry and Tupper Lake’s Roots”) that takes place each year in Tupper Lake, N.Y.

These festivities were a big deal involving tractor pulls, ax-throwing contests and other displays of manly skills.

I was a newbie reporter at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, newly relocated from the Bronx, and still adapting to and learning the culture of the North Country.

So when I went to meet with this honoree, I was ill-prepared for his Canadian accent.

It was as thick as maple syrup on a cold day.

I could barely understand a word of what he was saying.

I kept asking him to repeat himself, hoping my ear would become attuned to his speech and I would pick up on what he was saying on the second pass.

Forget it. Nothing doing.

So here I was, with my Bronx accent, trying to interview this guy with his thick Canuck accent.

I recall sitting on his back porch and it was hot outside.

His wife came out with cold drinks and she saw (or heard) me struggling with the interview.

“Here, let me help,” she said, to my great relief.

Yes! I thought. Salvation!

She would translate my questions into French and then translate his answers into English.

Problem solved! Or so I thought.

Instead, what she did was loudly shout my questions at her husband as if he were hard of hearing! (For the record, I don’t think he had any trouble with his hearing.)

It was just like that old “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Garrett Morris during a newscast of “Weekend Update” and Morris is in a circle in a corner of the screen to help “translate” the newscast for viewers who are hard of hearing.

So what does Morris do?

He cups his hands to his mouth and shouts the newscast!

I don’t know how, but somehow I finagled a story.

But in the words of Garrett Morris from that SNL skit: “IT WAS THE WORST INTERVIEW OF MY LIFE!”

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Reforming My City Mouse Ways (Or Life in the North Country)

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.)

lp office

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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Bobsledding in a Bathtub

I have never engaged in a sport or activity that required the use of a helmet.

So it was an unnatural feeling to have this gray sphere snugly nested around my noggin as Pedro and I prepared to hurtle ourselves on the bobsled run at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Mele in helmet 2
Helmet on? Check! Ready for bobsledding debut!

Thanks to the New York Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs the venues from the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics, the public can enjoy the “Bobsled Experience,” an abbreviated 10-turn, half-mile course, compared to the full-length 20-turn course.

Trust me, this was no simulator.

Imagine four people seated — their legs extended around each other in V-formations — in a 500-pound Fiberglas bathtub.

Now imagine taking that bathtub and its passengers and hurtling it at speeds in excess of 60 mph (80-plus mph if you are competing in the Olympics) along a twisty water park slide coated in ice.

The experience is a bit like getting into a cab in New York City at 3 a.m. barreling down First Avenue with all the traffic lights green.

Except bobsledding is less dangerous.

I was relieved when the ride started out gently enough. I thought, “Oh, this isn’t too bad.”

But faster than you can say “Jamaican bobsled team,” the sled started to pick up speed.

Bobsled_LP

Things became a blur of white. I strained to sit forward as the driver had instructed, but one of the forces that works on your body — aerodynamic drag — kept pushing me back.

I would no sooner start to collect my thoughts when …

WHAM!

We’d accelerate through a turn at teeth-rattling speeds. Sledders can experience g-forces from 1g on straightaways up to 4g or 5g on tight, high-speed bends, according to Mark Denny, author of “Gliding for Gold: The Physics of Winter Sports.”

And to top it off, we were sideways to the track, like a spider hanging off a wall.

Jon Lundin, public relations coordinator for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, explained it this way:

“As the sled maneuvers its way down the twisting icy chute and reaches speeds of between 55-60 mph, participants will feel the pull of the sled as it climbs halfway up the curve, with some curves as high as eight to 10 feet.”

The curves have such innocent-sounding names: “Shady.” “The Labyrinth.” “The Heart.”

Really, they should be renamed: “The Vomitron.” “What Was That?!” and “Oh. My. God.”

Just as I was thinking I could not bear another turn, we skidded to a slowdown.

Forty-eight seconds. (Watch a video of our exciting run.)

That was it.

Our wives greeted us like conquering heroes, and Pedro and I enjoyed a celebratory Kodak moment on an Olympic medal podium.

With each chest-thumping retelling of our experience — for the benefit of our wives — we amped up in increments our alleged speed.

So when we started telling our tale, we said we went in excess of 100 mph (big exaggeration), but by the time the weekend was winding down, we were bragging of having gone 512.5 mph (whopper of a lie).

We’re even convinced that we came away from the ride younger since we were going so fast that time reversed itself (pants on fire).

So now when you watch Olympic bobsledders go for the gold, you can recall the efforts of Pedro and I going for the aluminum.

At 516.7 mph.

bobs2
Pedro and I after completing our bobsled run. We were a bit dazed and confused!