Back to the Parlor City

The “new” Route 17

Binghamton, NY, was called the Parlor City. From here: The name “goes back to the 19th century. Binghamton had massive mansions with huge parlors where people would gather and spend time together. There were so many fancy parlors that people started calling Binghamton the ‘Parlor City.'” There was a Parlor City Shoe Store that I recall.

Thursday, October 5: Sister Leslie drove us from Albany. The last time she was in Albany, there were toll booths on the New York State Thruway. The tolls are still applied, but electronically.

There was a lot of road construction. In both directions, one exit was straight ahead while the road continued to the left, and though it was well-marked, the brain was slow to make the translation.

I was going to stay at the spare home of my friend C, while Leslie was going to stay with her friend MJ. However, when Leslie was flying, she got a text from MJ saying she had to go to the hospital. The day we arrived, MJ had surgery. So Leslie stayed at C’s place as well. More Plan B.

Friday, October 6: Leslie drove us all over downtown Binghamton, then to a part of Binghamton I hadn’t been to in over a half-century. Above is a map of the eastern portion of the First Ward in Binghamton. In the lower part of the faded portion, you may see Route 17. This was the “new” 17, which involved tearing down many houses on the north half of Prospect Street, the minor league baseball stadium Johnson Field in nearby Johnson City, and much more.

Lost Horizon

Intellectually, I knew houses were still north of Prospect, as Mygatt Street goes under Route 17. My maternal grandmother’s brother Ed lived up there, somewhere. I’m uncertain where, though he was less than a mile away. Grandma Williams forbade us, and even her adult daughter, my mom, from having anything to do with Ed because he was “living in sin” with a woman named Edna. Also, Leslie had a friend move up there. Though only a mile away, it was like a different world.

So, I haven’t gone up Mygatt and turned right since the walkway to Ely Park entryway came down in the late 1960s.In addition to a golf course, there were some nice houses. What’s most fascinating, though, is that a good chunk feels as though you’re in an undeveloped rural area.
Turning left at the top of Mygatt Street, I had only done once ever, attending a burial at a private cemetery in 2012.

Reunion

BCHS nametag 1972-2022My sister’s reunion was in two parts. The Friday evening “Ice-Breaker” was at The American Legion on Robinson St. I spent a good deal of time talking to the younger siblings of the friends of mine. Though I didn’t know any of them well, I knew them for a very long time and was some connective tissue. Incidentally, the hors-d’oeuvres were great and plentiful; we were encouraged to take food home.

Saturday, October 7

The “Main Event” was at The Relief Pitcher, on Conklin Ave., Binghamton. I had a surprisingly good time at my sister’s reunion, arguably more than my own the year before. The 1972 class badges were much better than the 1971 ones.

Sunday, October 8

Leslie and I went to our old church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion on the corner of Oak and Lydia. I recognized the keyboardist as someone I grew up with. She recognized my sister but not me, probably because of my vitiligo. My father’s cousin Ruth was there too. The in-person congregation was small, fewer than 10. But there were 13 or 14 tuning in on ZOOM, and two of them participated, reading scripture and giving a prayer.

That evening, we took C and her husband out to dinner as thanks for providing us with accommodations plus plenty of food.

Monday, October 9

Leslie and I returned to Albany, and we had the pleasure of seeing my daughter, who had been taking good care of her mother.

The reunions and the black eye

sense of humor

black eyeWe’ll get to the black eye soon enough.

Saturday through Monday, the weekend after Independence Day, my wife, my mother-in-law, and I went to see folks in the Binghamton, NY, area.

Saturday night, we first saw a cousin of my wife’s and her husband. They couldn’t make the Olin reunion. We talked about whether their property was actually… haunted? They made a good circumstantial case for it.

Sunday morning, we saw a bridesmaid at our wedding; we were in her wedding with her husband of 20 years. In November 2021, we rendezvoused with them in Oneonta, roughly halfway between Albany and Binghamton. But before that, it had been years. The guy had a new job where he finally felt appreciated; his previous workplace sucketh mightily, something I know about.

Sunday afternoon, we had the Olin reunion. These are my MIL’s people, whose genealogy goes back to the late 17th century in the US. I’ve described it briefly here. (There’s a cute pic of my kid from a decade ago; just noting.)

After the reunion, one of my oldest friends, Carol, who I’ve known since before my wife Carol was born, came to the reunion site. She met my MIL, and then MIL and my wife left while my friend Carol and I talked for about three hours about everything before she dropped me off at the hotel.

What about the black eye?

Yeah, right. The Friday morning before the reunion, my wife announced that she would go for a walk for about a half hour. Great, I’ll check my email and maybe start a blog post. Less than 20 minutes later, she was back. She had bruises on her knees, knuckles, and face.

She had been talking to a neighbor about a cat. As she walked away, she turned back to say goodbye and tripped over an uneven slab of a sidewalk two doors down from our house. Her sunglasses broke; I’m not sure if they were the cause of the black eye under her right eye, the cut on her right cheek, or both. Regardless, I got her some ice, as our daughter and I helped patch her up.

Eventually, she went to the local urgent care folks. They decided stitches were not warranted but did more cleaning up. She also got a tetanus shot since she couldn’t remember the last time she had gotten one.

The interesting thing about black eyes is that they go through colorful phases. Initially black and blue, with a hint of red, they morph into shades of green, gray, and yellow.

The one thing that really bugged me about the weekend mentioned above is that no fewer than five people “joked” about me giving my wife a black eye. “Did you give her a black eye?” or the like. The first time, I groaned. The subsequent times, I’d say, “That’s two.” “That’s three…”

Here’s the thing. I was CERTAIN – should have bet money on it – that someone would say that, even though, or probably BECAUSE they knew I had not, and would not hit my wife in the face. Person #5 tried to explain that there’s such a problem with domestic violence in this country. Yes. I. Know. That. This is why it irritated me so.

Solidarity

The Thursday morning after the reunions, I walked into my office and tripped over the suitcase I had not yet fully unpacked. I hit my chin, cut my right pinkie finger, banged my left wrist, and scraped my right arm. We then had matching bruises on our right knees. That afternoon, at a birthday party, time #6 of “What did you do to your wife?”

Some people GOT my irritation. Friend Carol did. The adult daughter of the birthday celebrant got it. And I appreciated that.

A person at the birthday party asked me if I’ve always had such a good sense of humor, a question I had no idea how to answer. But there are some things I just don’t find funny at all.

Binghamton and Albany, NY

140 miles

I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in upstate New York, specifically Binghamton and Albany.

A while ago, Kelly sent me a link to Walking America, part 2: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott. Photos and thoughts from Broome County, New York.

Of course, Binghamton is my hometown. But I can’t argue with the first sentence. At all. “Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.” Even when I lived there, there were people suggesting the Appalachia designation.

(It doesn’t help that there is a Census-Designated Place called Apalachin in neighboring Tioga County. It’s less than 10 minutes west of Endicott and 15 minutes from JC. Apalachin is 20 minutes from Binghamton, the Broome County seat, and the only one of the Triple Cities which is actually a city, as the other two are villages.)

It can only get better

At Binghamton’s nadir, in the 1990s, the Boscov’s was the only major retailer keeping downtown Binghamton afloat. It depressed me greatly.  In fact, for years, I just didn’t go downtown at all. I’d be in Broome County attending the Olin family reunion. But it was held in one of two parks in Endicott. And we’d stay in Endicott or Vestal, or even an hour away in Oneonta at my in-laws.

When I was a Binghamtonian, Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton seemed remote. (It’s technically in the town of Vestal.) So it didn’t have that economic stimulus some colleges provide to their locales. I’m thrilled the new businesses downtown, driven by the college kids now living there, has created new opportunities.

Still, as the article notes: “They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes [Endicott-Johnson, where my mother briefly was employed]  or making computers [IBM, where I spent five months before college], and all the good people that left because of that.”

Capital city

I saw this article in the Albany Times Union: Ex-Capital Region news anchor schmoozes with extremists in a bid for Arizona governor. Ugh.

“Former WNYT Channel 13 television anchor Kari Lake… is greeting supporters who include a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an anti-mask advocate, and a Nazi sympathizer… ” Of course, she’s being supported by 45.

“In August 1998, she moved to the Capital Region… At the time, Lake told the Times Union she ‘just wanted to live in a real nice place. And that is Albany.’ Some 15 months later,  Lake was finished in Albany…”

But I think she was right about one thing at the time. “‘It is so parochial here. I could be here 30 years and feel sort of new… We came all the way across the country, to find out just how much we miss home.'”

I used the P-word when I wrote about the place back in 2013.  My theory was that it does take about three decades to fit in with the unspoken norms. I moved here in 1979, so I’m nearly as close to a native as can be.

98 acres

Still, I wasn’t present when 98 acres were leveled to build the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, “a massive modern office complex” designed to transform ‘historic but shabby’ Albany into a ‘brilliant, beautiful, efficient and electrifying capital.'”

Well, there are modern office buildings, performance spaces, and many other amenities. But at a cost. “7,000 people, old and young, black and white, immigrant and native-born” were displaced as well as “more than 400 businesses, most of them small—neighborhood groceries, grills, taverns, tailors, and shoemakers.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, as the State demolished 1,150 structures to clear 40 city blocks, residents and businesses were forced to move out.” Occasionally, I STILL find someone who will lament the loss.

Two visits

Walking America has made TWO visits to Albany, The first contains this paragraph: “Here, the poverty and wealth are juxtaposed against a downtown filled with politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who claim to care about the very inequality they are surrounded by, making it a physical metaphor for the failures of our political class.” Ouch. 

And he had avoided the aforementioned Empire State Plaza the first time, so he came back. “Avoiding it wasn’t fair though, because the Plaza dominates Albany, both spatially and as the manifestation of a technocratic philosophy found in every modern political center: The idea that government, empowered by the best and brightest, wielding ‘Science!,’ can mold humans, cities, and societies into their better selves…

“While the [surrounding] blocks are poor they also have what the Plaza doesn’t have. A genuine humanness.” The last part, alas, is certainly true. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for the place – and changing it back is impossible -but the downtown, in particular, is a bit soulless.

Still, I’m not looking to live elsewhere. Given the vagaries of climate change, being here suits me just fine.

Dad’s observation

Here’s one thing my late father, who grew up in Binghamton, but moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974, noticed. He made a comparison between his old city and his new one. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, just as Charlotte is close to South Carolina. One has to travel northeast to get to the state capital, 140 miles to Albany, 175 to Raleigh, NC.

The way-too-detailed diaries

The General

diary.Burgwyn.1862.Civil War.NC
diary of Burgwyn, 1862, Civil Wa r.NC

Some years ago, I thought I would share some items with y’all from my diaries after 50 years had passed. I initially found one notebook from March 1972, but since then, I found one that starts on November 23, 1971.

The problem is that my way-too-detailed diaries haven’t yet gleaned much info to blog about. For instance, my father must have picked me up from college at New Paltz on 11/23. Then I went to my old high school and saw a plethora of students, former students, and teachers, all named, with some discussions dissected. Other parties in January are cited with a wealth of names interesting only to a very few people.

Hey, it was snowing in Binghamton on 11/25. I watched the Baltimore Bullets beat the Atlanta Hawks on 11/26. In fact, I have likely documented every single television show and movie I watched, and with whom. I hated the movie Fellini Satyricon.

I wrote or received letters from people A, B, and C. I did homework X. Cramming for a calculus exam in 1/1972, I amazingly passed. Then, there are the details I’m not willing to share because it affects still-living people, some of them significant.

Also, there are people mentioned that I have ZERO recollection of. Three of my friends and I went to Woodstock to the 18th birthday party for some young woman, who was taking care of a four-year-old developmental disabled child. (I used the word “retarded” because that’s what I knew then.)

Worth sharing

But there were some revelations. The Okie brought up the idea that we should get married way back in mid-January of 1972 when we had only gone out for four months. I was surprised; I thought she’d be disinclined because of sexist marriage laws. Also, she didn’t want to alienate her parents if we were to have lived together. I did not remember this info at all.

My parents were in the process of moving from 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton to 29 Ackley Avenue in Johnson City. It was quite stressful. I noted on 1/22/72, “I knew this intemperate unreasonableness would come in moving.”

My dad had recruited friends to help fix up the new place. When he got into the task mode, my sisters and I used to refer to him as The General. “The General, a side that [a couple we all knew] had never seen, is obnoxious and is annoyed easily.”

I have about 15 notebooks of various sizes filled. The oldest volume I found is #3. I lost about half of them from a flood in an apartment in the 1990s. This pained me greatly at the time, but now I have a sense of relief; I don’t have to read them all! But periodically, I’ll leaf through the surviving books and generate more posts. I do know there will be some share-worthy events when I get further into 1972.

 

Going to my 50th high school reunion

1971

bchs1971-50th-roger-o-greenAs I mentioned, I attended the 50th Binghamton Central High School reunion on Saturday, September 25. It was held on a pavilion in Ross Park, a place I went to a lot in my childhood. I felt that I really should attend. For the 45th, I dithered publicly online about maybe/probably going and ended up not making the trip.

Actually, there was a gathering at a bar called My Uncle’s Place the night before this year’s event. It’s on something called East Service Road, which turns out to be a service road parallel to I-88/Route 7. I called a couple of taxi companies. The first dispatcher actually asked me, “Who is your uncle?” “No, it’s the name of the place…” Anyway, I met about 20 people, give or take, there, and I had a pleasant time. I also got a ride back to my hotel with Yvonne and Sharon.

I had to change hotels the day of the reunion and had to check out of one venue before checking in the other. So I ended up hanging out at… OK, you might be able to guess… at the library. The downtown facility of my growing up was on Exchange Street where I worked as a page for a few months during high school, reshelving older magazines and putting on microfilm for patrons. That Carnegie library in the midst of being repurposed. The current library on Court Street is where there was an old Giant grocery store. It’s actually quite nice.

At the pavilion

My friend Bill, who I’ve only known since kindergarten picked me up at the library. He was with his wife Brenda, who is delightful. I went to their wedding in 1983(?)

I know my family and folks from my church spent a lot of time at the park when I was growing up. I’m sure Bill’s tribe did the same. Yet we were not as certain of precisely how to get there, though we made it there easily.

There were some people I was really happy to see. Keith, who’s been known to read this blog. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten. Lonna who I knew from the drama club. I spent some time talking with Mike, one of the organizers and who lived two blocks from my house growing up, who got injured by trying to do the right thing. I liked Mike’s wife Diane, though she had gone to a different high school. 

Barbara is the cousin of one of my oldest friends. I didn’t recognize one guy because his nametag said Alex; Rusty, I DID remember. Two teachers were there, Jack Sinchaski, who I had for physics, and Carl Young, who was a history teacher who eventually became the County Executive for Broome County.

What we needed were those nametags 1) printed, with a larger font than the handwritten pieces, optimally with 2) their high school pictures. It’s because I’ve been one of those people who is not great with names and faces.

In fact, I didn’t recognize one guy twice in a four-decade span. When I went to my 10th reunion, one guy I was friendly with in high school I simply didn’t recognize because he had a severely receding hairline. He was really ticked off with me too. Didn’t recognize him this time either.

More information, please

For me, It’s like seeing a picture of James Taylor from the Sweet Baby James era of 1970, then one from That’s Why I’m Here in 1985. If his name wasn’t printed there, I’m not 100% sure I would have recognized him.

This explains, I suppose, why I tended to recognize the women at the reunion, and similar situations, easier than the men. There was a segment on some show years ago, probably 60 Minutes, where the correspondent could show pictures of noteworthy people when they were children and the subject of the piece could identify the celebrity; one was the correspondent, Mike Wallace. That is SO much not me.

high school reunion.JanK.Jan1971
The January 1971 BCHS graduates. The June 1971 class was also present. Used with permission of the photographer (C)2021 JK
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial