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


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

Accessible: the hotel and the motel


Late in September, I went to my hometown to do research and attend my 50th high school reunion. I wanted to stay at a hotel downtown so that I could be near the county clerk’s office and the main library.

But, though I had booked with on MAY 19, I couldn’t find a place to stay downtown on Saturday night. There was some sort of Parents’ weekend at Binghamton University

So I booked the Holiday Inn for Thursday and Friday nights, and the Motel 6 on Upper Front Street on the third night. Checking into the former, I was surprised to discover that the reservation indicated that I requested a “Disabled Accessible Room.” The woman at the desk, looking at me and not seeing me obviously physically impaired, wondered if I actually wanted that room. I, now very curious, said it was fine.

Maybe she didn’t notice me carrying a stick as a cane. My right knee has been killing me since 1995. Moreover, the neuropathy in my feet makes walking on uneven surfaces, such as lawns and gravel roads, uncomfortable and a tad treacherous. My friend Cee’s husband made me a legitimate walking stick that weekend; it’s green at the top, of course.

Made in the shade

There were two aspects of my Holiday Inn room, right off the elevator, that I noticed right off. One was that the bar for hanging up my shirts was at chair level, so someone with a walker or wheelchair would have an easier time.

The other involves the bathroom. I found a video here showing all of the bars in the bathroom. I got to say, I LOVE these! On one hotel visit in 2021, I almost slipped on a wet floor.

Another feature of the room was a pair of shades that operated electronically. One allowed the light into the room but maintained privacy, while the other cut off the light from outside. I did like my view of the Chenango River, pretty full from a lot of rain but not overflowing. I could see the wooded area behind the houses on that section of Front St, with my high school peeking through the trees. Court Street bridge was to my right.

Actually, the first thing I noticed was that there were lots of plugs. And not used outlets plugged into the lights, TV, and the microwave, but three sets of three plugs, one on the desk, and sets on each side of the bed. It was quite civilized.

Conversely, Motel 6 had no elevator, and my room was on the second floor. So not accessible at all. I was walking my suitcase up one step at a time before a young man, who was coming down, hoisted it to the landing. Not all of the plugs worked, and at least one looked as though it was coming out of the wall. I had a great view of the highway.

Now the Holiday Inn room was nearly twice the cost each night of the one at Motel 6. I would have gladly paid the difference.

One last thing: I saw dogs in both venues. When I was checking out of the Holiday Inn, there was a dog in the elevator. Another dog owner wisely decided to wait for the next car.

Meeting my wife; hometown hangouts

Spring Forest Cemetery

Amy is looking forward to hearing my replies to two questions:

Where did you meet your wife? Always wanted to ask that one!

Meeting my wife was not that interesting a story, actually. Now getting back together…

I was going to my former church, the Methodist one, and sang in the choir. I was also chair, at different times, of the Administrative Board and chair of the Council on Ministries, which essentially provided for “planning and implementing a program of nurture, outreach, witness, and resources in the local church.”

When I was COM chair, I recruited her (I think) to be chair of the Membership Committee, even though she was a fairly new member herself. So when my previous relationship went south, we went out for about a year and a half. Then we broke up, for good and understandable reasons.

But we were still friends, even though we went out with other people. I even attended an intense 34-week Bible study called Disciple at her house in 1996-97. that was the last time I read the Bible all the way through, BTW.

It was a strange time. I was in her brother’s wedding in September 1996. Eventually, around August 1998, I decided that we should get back together, though she was apparently unaware of this until October 1998, when I kissed her; I think we were at Five Rivers.

Apparently, she had sought the opinions of her family that she should get back with me. And right after my win on JEOPARDY, we did. And since we were, er, older, we got married six months later, with her late brother John, who had always been a Fan of Roger, in the wedding party.

In my hometown

Also, what were your favorite places to go to in Binghamton when you were a kid?

Spring Forest Cemetery was very close to my grandma Williams’ house and only a block from my K-9 school. Sometimes, we would go sledding there, on the roads, not near the headstones, thank you.

And cutting through the cemetery was the shortest way to Ansco field, where we played baseball. I loved baseball, but I wasn’t that good at it. I didn’t even get to be almost competent until I was in college. As I mentioned, Valley Street Park and miniature golf were very near my home.

Movies! I went mostly to the Ritz on Clinton Street, and the Strand and Riviera on Chenango Street, very close to where my mom worked, at McLean’s department store. Occasionally, the Crest on Main Street. BTW, these are all defunct.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial