Tag Archives: Adirondacks

in the heat of the night essay

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.

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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.

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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!”

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

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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.

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