Why Albany? Why not Albany?

Knick Arena

Albany culturalJeanne Beanne, who I know IRL, asked another question.

Why Albany? Why not Albany?

I’ve written about Albany, NY, periodically, but it warrants revisiting now and then.

Here’s a mixed issue. Ninety-eight acres of downtown Albany were razed in the 1960s to build the Empire State Plaza.

On the one hand, it has created one of the most distinctive skylines in the state. The Egg and, subsequently, the Knickerbocker Arena (currently called the MVP Arena, its third name change) have provided great entertainment venues. There is a pleasant passageway underground between the state capitol and the excellent state museum.

On the other hand, tearing down those neighborhoods have totally changed the character of that part of the city. It propelled flight to the suburbs at least as much as the suburban malls such as Colonie Center and Crossgates.

Too many houses have a red placard with a big white X, indicating “to ‘first responders’-police officers, fire department staff and building department staff, that the building is considered unsafe for emergency personnel.”

I was walking down the first block of Central Avenue, where the comic book store, FantaCo, where I worked, resided from 1978 to 1998.  That area looks much more run down than it did five years ago. Some of it, I imagine, is the effect of the pandemic, but still, it made me a bit sad.

Change takes time

In some ways, it’s getting better than the old days. It’s still a one-party rule in the city. There hasn’t been a Republican mayor in over a century. For forty of those years, Erastus Corning 2nd and the Democratic party machine ran entirely undemocratic operations.

For complex reasons – how can you get a city to see a shrink? –  it has taken time to break away from the way things were.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan is trying. The city council is far more diverse than it had been for most of its existence.

I noted recently on Facebook how some street lights were out near my house at midday while they did necessary repairs. Folks with flags in an exciting display of teamwork controlled the traffic. In the bad old days, they might have waited until they broke before fixing them. Snow removal is better than it was, not perfect, but at least the side streets are getting occasional care.


At the core, I’m happy to be in Albany. The Capital District Transportation Authority buses, at the last major restructuring of their bus schedules about 15 years ago, FINALLY provided more equitable service to the South End of the city.

The area, as noted, has fine cultural offerings.  The various colleges and universities in the region bolster this.

In the course of climate change, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. The Capital District is not prone to drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, or extreme weather. And Albany, specifically, resides in a  valley, so it’s less likely to get snow than, say, Averill Park, just 15 miles to the east. Indeed, and probably unfortunately, the winters are much milder and less snowy than they used to be.

Finally, as Albanians acknowledge yet hate to admit, it’s easy to travel to New York, Boston, and even Montreal. So it’s convenient to get to Somewhere Else, which is not the worst thing.

Where would you be if you weren’t where you are?  

that “third place”

Jeanne Beanne, who I know IRL, asked some Ask Roger Anything questions.

Where would you be if you weren’t where you are?  

What a metaphysical query!

Several points in my life are, if not this, then that.  One was made for me, as I’ve mentioned. If my mother didn’t work outside the home at McLean’s in downtown Binghamton, NY, I would have gone to Oak Street Elementary School. So I wouldn’t have met Karen, Carol, Bill, Lois, Bernie, and others, with whom I went to Daniel Dickinson, then Binghamton Central HS, until seventh grade. It would have totally changed the dynamics of our relationships.

I wouldn’t have met Ray at Dickinson until seventh grade and likely wouldn’t have been in Cub Scouts, with Ray’s mom as our den mother. Probably, I wouldn’t have met Dave at all.

If I wasn’t watching JEOPARDY with my great-aunt Deana every day at noontime, I might not have become obsessed with the program so much that I tried out for the show in 1998, made the cut, and won a game.

If I hadn’t attended New Paltz college, I wouldn’t have met Mark, who turned me onto comic books. So we wouldn’t have gone to the Crystal Cave comic book store, where I met Raoul and Tom, who I would later work with at FantaCo in Albany. Also, Mark introduced me to the Okie.

The Wanderer

1977 was pretty chaotic. Still, I met friends Deborah in NYC and Judy in New Paltz. Judy and her friend Jendy would be pivotal in my going to library school at UAlbany in 1990.

And if Mark and MK52 had not moved to Schenectady, I wouldn’t have crashed with them there from December 1977 to  March 1978 and ended up working at the Schenectady Arts Council, whose offices were in the run-down Proctor’s Theatre.

If  I didn’t know Nancy at SAC, I wouldn’t have met Shazrak, with whom I moved to Albany, in 1979. In May 1980, I worked at FantaCo.

I’ve mentioned this before, but FantaCo was that “third place”  –  not just a retail store, mail order place, publisher, and comic book convention purveyor, but a gathering place of people interested in art, music, and popular culture. Besides Raoul and Tom, there was Mitch, Hank, Rocco, Marky, Augustus, Sinisa,  Mayor, Peter, and one other, who bears special mention.

I met artists and writers like Fred, Bill, Steve B, the Pinis, and members of the band Blotto. I’m still friends with at least one of the customers, ADD, and others still remember me from the place.

I met Debby through Mitch. She introduced me to lots of other people. Though she didn’t play, she was indirectly responsible for my playing racquetball from 1983 to 2010 at the YMCA, where I met even more folks.

Walter, a customer turned FantaCo employee, was even more of a person who interacted with many others, many of whom I know today. He was also the epicenter of the hearts game.


Being in Albany meant going to church in Albany and all the connections I made at church #1, then church #2. I wrote about the drama and trauma of leaving church #1  here.

I could write much more about other jobs and volunteer organizations and their impact.

Then there are the romantic relationships, which would take several book chapters. Suffice it to say that there were things said or left unsaid, things done or should have been done, that altered that trajectory in many ways.

Three things that manifested in your life that you did not expect.

Comic books, JEOPARDY, and being a librarian. Being a dad was a “well, maybe, if…” thing.

How have they changed your path? And purpose?

They’ve definitely changed my path. I don’t know that my purpose, which to be, for lack a better word, useful, has fundamentally changed, even when the circumstances did.

Coke or Pepsi?  Lol

Diet cherry Pepsi.

Education of Black Children in 19th Century Albany

Albany School for Educating People of Color

AfricanFreeSchoolWhile looking for something else, I came across something very interesting on the Albany County, NY webpage. It was a document titled The Struggle for Education of Black Children in 19th Century Albany.

“Albany Common Council laws were rigid in their allowances of land and financial aid for schools for ‘children of color,’ so leaders in the black community decided to use their own land and places of worship for this purpose.

“In 1811, Benjamin Lattimore purchased a lot on Malcolm Street (now known as Broad Street) from Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the widow of
Alexander Hamilton. On this lot, the first ‘Albany School for Educating People of Color’ was established.” Other schools followed. The article documented the work of Lattimore, Thomas Paul Junior, and John Quincy Allen.

“By July 1845, a new public elementary school house for black children was built at 37 Chestnut Street at a cost of $830 to the city. The Wilberforce School, named after a British abolitionist, became the only public school that black children could attend until 1873, when the law was changed to accept them into the Albany Public School system…

“The Wilberforce School closed in 1873, after desegregation of New York State schools. It was renamed School 16 and was located where the Empire State Plaza is currently located. In 1906, the school was moved to the Pine Hills neighborhood and is now the Pine Hills Elementary School.”

This was a fascinating piece of local history I had not come across. School 16 was torn down in 2005 and replaced by the current Pine Hills Elementary School, which my daughter attended from first through sixth grade.


I went to the New York State Department of Education website to retrieve current data about the Albany City School District.

In the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent data provided, I found this:



HISPANIC OR LATINO   – 1,613 (20%)
WHITE – 1,565 (19%)
MULTIRACIAL – 553 (7%)
Yet the Census data for 2020 notes that the population breakdown for the city of Albany is 52% white, 26% black, and 7% Asian. Hispanics, who can be of any race, are 10% of the population.
Albany has 98,617 people (2020 Census), 11.9% of which were under 18 but over 5, or about 11,735 children of school age. The Albany City School District had 8,610 kids.  
One of the quirks of Albany is that it has long had several nonpublic schools.  There are data for this that my computer won’t open, but one can infer the trendline. A bit of irony, I think.

Where I live for Sunday Stealing

Nat Geo maps

Albany culturalI didn’t realize the Sunday Stealing questions for Where I Live were only visible if one highlights the page. 

What did you do today?

On Sunday, I went to church, put my wife and her sister-in-law on the prayer list, sang with the choir, attended a Black History Month organizational meeting, changed the dressing on my wife’s leg, and had a ZOOM meeting with my sisters… Is that enough?

5 things about where you live.

1. The #106 CDTA bus goes pretty close to five of the seven branches of the Albany Public Library. 2. Within easy walking distance of my house is a CVS, a movie theater, a grocery store, my bank, a police station, several restaurants, and a branch of my library. 3. It was listed as the best place to live in New York State. 4. Before the Europeans came to Albany, the Mohicans inhabited it. 5. It is the second oldest city and also a state capital in the nation, just after Santa Fe, NM.

What are the must-sees sights around you?

Thatcher Park in Albany County has a great view. We have some nice refurbished vaudeville theaters, notably Proctor’s in Schenectady, which was pretty run down when I worked in the building in 1978, but it is a jewel now. And you should probably see the Egg, which is n the picture.

What’s your favorite restaurant meal?

I like most Indian and Italian. But I like the occasional restaurant (not Mickey D’s) burger.

What was the last thing you cooked or ate?

Lasagna. It was good.

What is something you learned from your grandparents?

Canasta (Grandma Green), gin rummy, and love of Nat Geo maps (Mac Green)

What’s the weather like as you are writing your postcard?

Above freezing, dry.


Share an interesting fact you’ve learned that most people are unaware of.

The 2022 World Series is the first one since 1950 with no black US players.

Are there any local events or festivals in your area?

Live at Five in the summer, the Scottish Games, and quite a few other things, actually.

What was the last concert you attended?

The Albany Symphony in February 2022. The last pop concert was Cheap Trick in February 2020.

What is your favorite charitable organization?

The FOCUS Churches. A food pantry, and much more.

The Gilded Age, starring 1st Pres!

everybody’s in show biz

gilded age
The sign First Pres parishioners saw Sunday, 14 August 2022. The historical plaque was removed during filming.

The Gilded Age, an HBO Max series, has been well-received. It’s one of my sister Marcia’s favorite shows. “Old New York in the 1880s. Old Money and New Money are the opposites that attract to create a Post Civil War Era New York society.” I haven’t seen it yet.

But I may have to because my church, First Presbyterian, is a filming and production site for the program! The building “will be featured in the opening scene of the second season, and it will also be used as a production and cast holding site throughout the month of August,” according to the church office.

Apparently, the 2022 Capital District is more representative of 19th-century NYC than 21st-century NYC. Preparation for filming began on 1 August, “and related activities will continue through August 25th. We will be able to attend worship on Sundays as we normally would since the production company works only on weekdays. However, access to the building during weekdays will be restricted to the production company and church staff in order to observe strict COVID-19 protocols.”

No closeup for me

I had seen the casting call for extras. “Grant Wilfley Casting is seeking paid actors to play 1880s pedestrians and church-goers. According to the casting call notes, women will be fit for corsets, should have shoulder-length or longer hair and ‘natural’ hair colors only will be allowed. No balayage, undercuts, wigs, weaves, braids, ombre or unnatural looking highlights will be considered. Shaved heads and dreads will also not be permitted.” And no, I didn’t try out.

Costume fittings began on June 27, and all background actors had to “attend a costume fitting and mandatory COVID-19 testing before filming. Extras must also be up-to-date with all COVID-19 vaccinations as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The casting company reports that background actors will be paid $60 for COVID testing, $30 per two hours for fittings, and $165 per 10 hours for filming.” And you thought show biz was glamorous.

“The Gilded Age filmed sections of its first season around Troy, New York, completely transforming the city. The TV series is a period drama that follows the millionaire titans of New York City in the 1880s, including Marian Brook, an orphaned daughter of a Union general, and a ruthless railroad tycoon named George Russell. Played by Louisa Jacobson, Marion moves into the New York City home of her wealthy, old money aunts, played by Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon.”

During the second week of production, “a team of horses pulling a carriage went up on the sidewalk forcing an actor to fall. But she was not hurt, and production resumed.

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