Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tupperware Lake, and Other Upstate New York Adventures

Erin and I recently took a trip 4 hours north to the small town of Canton, NY. We had an exciting visit with Varick Chittenden, the creator and operator of TAUNY, Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, discussing their operation, history, and possible volunteer opportunities. We passed through many small towns along the way, and the drive was beautiful.

At some point we came to a place called Tupper Lake. (Also known to us as Tupperware Lake, the supposed birthplace of the Tupperware party.) We were running late to our appointment with Varick, but we couldn't resist stopping to photograph this little independent theater called the State. Erin and I see a lot of theaters, and are always excited to see a little gem like this one, but this one caught our eye for the unusual statement on the marquee: "Open Everyday, Religulous." We pulled over hysterically, thinking that it was a misspelling, which we later learned was not true. In any case, we snapped a Polaroid and went on our way.

Our visit at TAUNY was very informative, and Varick welcomed us immediately as friends. He obviously was prepared for our visit because we didn't even have to ask any questions before he began his speech and tour of the facility. An exhibit was up about "Hippie Houses" and other primitive dwellings of the North Country. I wish we'd had more time to explore the exhibit and take in all the various things that TAUNY had to offer. Varick had much to talk about though, and Erin and I left educated and happy.

We got some recommendations from our new friend for some interesting food spots in the area, other than the McDonald's conveniently located across the street from TAUNY. Unfortunately we were disappointed to find that everything outside the golden arches had already closed for the evening.

So we started our journey home through the beautiful countryside again, though unable to see it now in the dark. The quiet drive was beginning to get on our nerves though, as well as the lack of food in our bellies. Nothing seemed to be open along this route for some reason, until we finally found the Adirondack Hotel.

We were excited to sit down in the warmth, and the rustic timber-frame structure was a comforting mountain oasis. The obligatory deer heads on the walls were a bit discomforting, but we stuck around to be seated ... and we sat ... and sat. The waitress seemed happy to help the other diners, refilling their drinks and offering desserts, but was apparently not so interested in our being there.

We finally did get to order some food and wine. It came after Erin had gone to the restroom, and the waitress kindly scolded her for letting her food sit and get cold. Our pissy moods were intensified and it made the food difficult to enjoy, especially after being severely misinformed about how they make their pizza, which was basically just sauce and cheese on a tortilla. Regardless, we filled our bellies out of sheer hunger.

After another long wait to get our check, we finally made our way to the register to pay our bill. Erin had picked up some Adirondack Life magazines which also needed to be purchased. The waitress figured our bill to be around $10 more than we were expecting, so we asked her to ring up the magazines again to make sure she got it right, when we realized that she was adding the Canadian prices instead of the U.S.A. ones. She was obviously frustrated at our attempts to pay the proper amount, and resisted a third time to add the proper amounts after we had told her of her mistake. Finally she added the U.S. prices and this time the register rang up about $50 more than we were expecting. It was apparent that she hadn't voided the previous amount and doubled our bill. Erin and I were stunned as she announced our owed amount as if there was no problem at all. We just looked at her with jaws opened wide wondering if she was really that ignorant, or if she was just really eager to piss us off at that point. "Um, yeah, that can't be right." was all I could mutter. The lady then had the audacity to look straight back at me and sternly state, "The machine don't lie!" Wow. The machine might not lie, but she didn't know how to add. One more attempt, and our bill was finally as close to correct as it was going to get, and we paid without leaving her anything for her trouble. I think she should have left us a tip.

We eventually made it home in one piece, but the our trip to Canton will live on as yet another strange New York experience.

painting of state theater by eric lagrange

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Albany Diners

ALBANY, NY -- I've been in the northeast now for two months and everywhere I turn I find a new diner that I need to visit. I'm not used to it. I'm used to the landscape of the Midwest where the nearest diner may be nearly an hour away or more. The problem with me and diners though is that sometimes I don't get up and out of bed until after they have closed for the day. However, I did manage to make it out to two in the area already---the Miss Albany Diner (featured right) and Jake's Diner (featured below), both in Albany. Both experiences have been memorable in their own right.

I found the Miss Albany en route to a class site visit to the Albany County Hall of Records. The whole time I was there all I could think about was heading to the diner at noon when the tour was scheduled to wrap for lunch. I asked my fellow public historians if they wanted to head over with me, but no one was interested. I thought this was a bit odd because my interest in history is so directly attached to places like this and I supposed theirs may be, too. By the end of the tour, one classmate offered to go along with me, possibly out of pity after everyone else turned me down. We got there and settled in to order only after finding out where we parked was a tow zone and that they did not accept debit/credit cards (I should have been prepared for this, but I never have cash). I felt really bad for my classmate who tried ordering several different menu combinations only to be told that they were out of nearly everything. Finally, he found something from the menu that was still available and once he got the order in the food was out in no time. How was the food? Honestly, not that memorable, but I guess it was good enough that I returned soon after for breakfast!

The second visit was a bit uncomfortable for both myself and Eric. It was nearing 2:45 p.m. when we arrived and they closed at 3:15 p.m. It's an odd time to close up, but I assumed it was so they could be out of there by 4:00 p.m. This was very understandable. I thought getting there a half an hour before close would be plenty of time to catch some breakfast. The waitress had something scheduled to do right after closing time so she was rushing us however possible. There were zero coffee refills and she turned off the diner's flat screen t.v. (gasp!) shortly after 3:00 p.m. I wasn't upset about this because I don't want to watch t.v. I'm eating in a restaurant, especially in a diner. The flat screen really sticks out like a sore thumb in that classic diner interior. The owner, however, became very upset when he noticed the t.v. was turned off. He had just made himself a bowl of ice cream and sat down in a booth with the newspaper. He called her over, sat her down within full earshot of us, and scolded her for what a terrible impression he believed she was providing the customers. He continued to make several other chiding comments about her job performance that made us uncomfortable to overhear. We got the hint from the both of them and tried to finish up as quickly as possible to get out of there. We were out the door by 3:20 p.m.

I'm more satisfied with the photos that I got to take of the interior while waiting for the meal to arrive than any other part of the experience. The food was OK, but I'd like to go back and sit a bit after my meal with a cup of coffee and take in more of the diner atmosphere, minus the staff arguments and  distraction of the flat screen.

Jake's Diner on Central Ave. is a diner that I had passed by many times before finally visiting last weekend. I had even stopped just to take photos one day roughly a month ago, but they were already closed for the day, or so I thought. The diner has conflicting signs posted all over the windows that indicate "Yes, We're Open" alongside "Sorry, We're Closed." I can never  determine when they are open as I'm driving by. However, I thought for sure they would be open at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday when I next had a chance to visit.

I first noticed the very diverse group of diners in the restaurant. Secondly, I noticed that a single waitress was on staff to serve all of them. She was being pulled in every direction by customers as she tried to keep the orders moving. It took over ten minutes for her to take our order and quite a bit longer for our food to arrive. There were, however, plenty of coffee refills! Several regulars also entered the diner while we were there waiting and they were greeted by the entire staff.

The real problem arose when I hit the bathroom before paying the bill. I noticed a sign on the door warning patrons not to lock the door, so I didn't. I simply shut it behind me, but by the time I was washing my hands I heard a panicked voice from outside alerting me that I may be locked in. It was my waitress. I tried the door several times and it wouldn't budge. I now heard two people on the other side trying to break it open. I was starting to panic, too, when they weren't able to free me right away. After a few more tries the door finally unlatched. But, the second woman who had come to my rescue went in after me and shut the door again to test it. She, of course, got locked in, too. The waitress was now very anxious and as she went to retrieve a screwdriver to try to free her co-worker so she told us to leave only $6 to settle our bill. $6??? There was fresh squeezed grapefruit juice in our order! There was no way it was that cheap! I think she felt sorry for me getting stuck in the bathroom and so in turn she "forgot" about the other half of our bill. In the end, she received a nice tip and I forgot about our initial wait time.

We left before the second woman was broken free from the bathroom and now I wonder, Which diner will I go to next???

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Our First Soundslides Piece: Discovering Route 20

If you have seen the photos documenting the exploration over at, you already know that we've been quite obsessed with exploring Route 20, just west of Albany, NY this autumn. We also have become interested in creating short audio documentaries after my (Erin's) time at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in combination with Eric's knowledge of sound recording and editing. We had actually both signed up for a Digital Storytelling workshop at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY in mid-October, but could not think of a story worth telling in the days leading up to the workshop. When the day of the workshop arrived, we both backed out for fear of having nothing to create and instead traveled back west down Route 20 in search of the tourist cabins that had caught our attention a few weeks prior. It was here that we found the inspiration to create our short audio story.

We used the most basic of equipment for this project: a small Sony cassette recorder, microphone, and a number of (film) cameras. The intent was to document the perspective of a modern day traveler, exploring the remnants of the former tourism route's rich history. We also made the decision to interview one another for our first project because we 1) didn't know anyone else and 2) didn't happen to encounter anyone to interview during the trip. It would have been ideal to have the opportunity to interview those who remember these cabins in use, as well as travelers who may have actually stayed in them at one point.

There are several tourist cabin colonies and motor court motels lining the route, several of the latter still in operation. We have been back to explore them with hopes of expanding this project. With the introduction of the Soundslides software and Cakewalk, there should be more audio projects to come. I know already that I have an oral history project that is due very soon for school. We are looking into other sound recorders, but are quite pleased with what our very basic equipment produced this time around.

The blog creation was also simply a way to post Soundslides projects without the annoying advertisements that are posted alongside them with the free web server URL, from WebNG, that we are using. I figure it will also be a way to post future stories and images associated with my/our explorations of the area outside of flickr.