Tag Archives: Saranac Lake


I met Dick DePuy covering my first Village Board meeting on my first day working at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y. It was November 1986, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Sure, I had gotten a degree in journalism at a New York City college and was thrilled to be in my first reporting job but still I was a jittery wreck.

I am pretty sure my pen shook as I dutifully took notes of the night’s proceedings.

At the meeting, Dick sat at one end of the table with the trustees and then-Mayor Tim Jock.

Dick’s look was fierce: Crew cut hair, square jaw and his mouth set in a permanent grimace.

I wondered whether I should salute rather than shake hands with him.

He read from his manager’s report, gave me a copy and invited me to come by his office the next day. He said he’d show me around.

My early interactions with Dick — I always called him “Mr. DePuy” (see previous comment about authority figure) — were not unlike approaching a snarling dog: Would he merely bark or would he tear my throat out?

I was about to find out: We got into his car and he gave me a tour of the village, patiently explaining about Saranac Lake’s water system and other infrastructure intricacies.

Story after story, I’d call with a million pesky questions about the village’s inner workings, budgets, politics, etc. He unfailingly returned my calls and was always helpful. Spending time with him was like taking a master class in municipal governance.

Of course, I came to later find out that Dick had been in the Air Force and a State Police captain, which explained a lot of his no-nonsense-don’t-suffer-fools-gladly demeanor.

One thing I also found out: If you asked him a question, he’d tell you exactly what he thought, even if it got him in trouble.

Sometimes Dick had no filter and in private conversations he’d say things and I’d go: “But you can’t say things like that!”

I think he got a kick out of my naivete.

For as much as he could be a granite face, his smile and laugh really lit up his eyes behind his thick glasses.

Looking back, I suppose it could be said that at the time, he was something of a father figure to me. I was freshly out of college, on my own for the first time and in a community utterly foreign to me.

I never forgot about him, even after I moved from the Adirondacks in 1991 and advanced in my journalism career. In 2015, I wrote a column that appeared in The Enterprise and he contacted me after he learned I live in Lords Valley, Pa.

It turned out that, as a kid, he used to attend a fire-and-brimstone church near my house called Pillar of Fire Church and he wanted to know if it was still there. We spoke on the phone (he wasn’t one for email) and got caught up.

Shamefully, it took me two years to get around to checking on the church but I did finally send him photos of the building and a letter, which concluded:

“Anyway, I wanted to make good on my word to you to report back on the church. I remain indebted to you for your endless patience in explaining to me as a cub reporter the ways of municipal government and how Saranac Lake’s infrastructure and politics worked — or didn’t!”

We talked again after he got the mailing, and he still sounded sharp but a bit more frail. He talked about physical therapy and how he was getting by.

In a bizarre twist, I had communicated with Peter Crowley of The Enterprise on April 10 and asked about Dick.

Peter wrote: “No, I haven’t heard from Dick, but I don’t usually. I hope he’s well. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.”

Three days later, Peter wrote me to tell me about his death.

Mr. DePuy, when we first met, you intimidated me and I was unsure how best to greet you, but make no mistake about it now: I salute you, sir.

Rest in peace.

My Harrowing Experience in a Wildfire

The rampaging wildfires in California that have claimed the lives of at least six people are a reminder of the unpredictability of nature but also the bravery of those on the front lines fighting such blazes.

The so-called Carr Fire — one of several raging in California — consumed nearly 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 700 homes in just a week.

For me, devastation on such a scale is difficult to comprehend.

My first — and thankfully only time – reporting on a wildfire was one that destroyed “only” 300 acres and one house. By way of comparison, the Carr Fire was more than 300 times the size of the one I experienced.

Still, it was memorable.

It was May 16, 1991, and I was in Saranac Lake, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. It was around 3 p.m. and there was suddenly a caravan of fire trucks from neighboring Lake Placid wailing through the downtown.

Oddly, they were not stopping anywhere in the village but were making a beeline out of town.

That there were so many of them, that they were in such a tearing hurry and the route they were taking just made my news senses tingle.

So, I did what I’ve done since I was a kid in the Bronx: I followed the fire trucks.

That led me about 10 miles out of town to a hamlet called Vermontville. It did not take long to see the plumes of smoke.

The fire had leap-frogged ahead of efforts to contain it. More than 300 firefighters from 35 departments were called. The authorities at the time said it was the biggest wildfire in the area in 20 years.

“Water! Where the hell is my water?!” could be heard crackling over radios as firefighters dragged hoses. Later, civilian volunteers brought milk cans filled with water for the soot-covered firefighters working in the 84-degree heat.

What I am about to say next falls under the heading of “Don’t try this at home”: I roamed around alone and unescorted, snapping pictures and taking notes.

At one point I was busy taking a photo and there suddenly was this “Whooooosh!” and burst of heat. While my back was turned, flames had swallowed a tree, quickly reaching its crown.

Talk about great balls of fire.

It was like getting an instant sunburn.

This was a time before cellphones, so I found a home that was being evacuated, interviewed the occupants (one of whom was disabled and being removed by a State Police helicopter) and asked if I could use their landline.

I called my then-wife to tell her where I had gone and to assure her I was fine (I left out the part of the burning tree and that I was calling from an evacuated home) and then quickly called my editor to save me some space in the next day’s paper.

My story and photo were above the fold with the headline “Fire ravages Adirondacks” and a breathless lede: “VERMONTVILLE — A wind-whipped fire ravaged about 300 acres of woodlands here Thursday, destroying one house, forcing families to flee their homes and injuring seven people.”

Now take my limited experience and amplify it by a 10,000 percent and think of those firefighters and smoke jumpers who do this kind of thing for a living.

My wife and I visited the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in Arizona where 19 “hot shots” (wildland firefighters) perished fighting a wind-whipped fire outside Yarnell, Az., in 2013.

It was the largest number of firefighters killed in a single incident since the 9/11 attacks.

Whether it’s one firefighter saving a child from a burning building or a team of them trying to saving an entire community, what these people do is awe-inspiring and deserve our respect and gratitude.






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.

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.

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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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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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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Throwback Thursday at About Men Radio

In keeping with the spirit of Throwback Thursday, About Men Radio’s Richard Rodriguez reached into the archives and pulled out some vintage photos of the AMR crew circa 1987 in Saranac Lake, N.Y.

As you can see, we were mere lads back then.

But we were rocking the ’80s look hard.

Chris and crew-6
Left to right, Pedro, Gary, Rich and Chris (who either was cold or trying to look all gangsta).

Perhaps too hard. (What the hell is with that Hall & Oats look, Rich?!)

Here too are some of the comments the AMR crew made when Rich shared them with us.


Chris and crew-3
Top left, Gary (doing obscene things to Pedro’s neck), John, rocking that pleather jacket, Pedro and Chris.

* Did we plan on looking like gay hustlers or was that a happy accident?

* Gary looks like he stepped out of a 70’s porno. (Cue up syntho/guitar music track…Boom-cheekie-bow-wow...)

* John, you look like such a hardened soul in this pic.

* I can only imagine what Gary is doing to the back of your head Pedro.

* Chris looks like he just walked of the set of Happy Days.

* That was my favorite pleather jacket….Heyyy

* John looks well hard in that photo. Badass.

* Pedro has an evil Gene Simmons look.

Chris and crew-2
Silvio (fresh off a performance with the Village People), John, Pedro and Rich, who pioneered jazz hands before it was popular.

Chris and crew-4
A camping trip in 1987 of epic proportions — fodder for a blog post in the future. Left to right: Gary, Rich, John (nice legs), Chris (wearing a camo cap AND a plaid shirt! WTF?!) and Pedro.