During my two and half years in Upstate New York, the Front Parlor Open Mic Story Telling became a very important part of my life. A community that came together to laugh, cry, and swap tales of life, Front Parlor was, every month, an avenue to express myself and grow as a storyteller. I gave a version of the story below at my final Front Parlor, 3 days before packing my bags and moving back South.
There’s a fitting quality to this week’s story theme: what we leave behind. As with most other stories tonight, I’ll be leaving a lot in the last decade - the noughts - as I look forward to the 2020s. But, as a sign that I needed to come up to the mic tonight, Front Parlor announced the theme on the same day that I discovered I would be taking on a new job in Baltimore. So I thought that tonight, I could reflect on what I will be leaving behind, here, in the Capital Region, when I move South this weekend.
I came up here for work, straight out of school. I didn’t know a single person living anywhere in Upstate New York, but I was excited about the job and welcomed an adventure in the great northern reaches of the country.
I’d briefly passed through the Adirondacks once before and still fondly remembered my pitstop at a Stewart’s for a milkshake. Beyond that, Albany was a mystery. I googled a list of “best things about the Capital region.” Between the common results found on these lists that tout the great outdoors, arts, and foods, the result that stuck with me was one article praising the area’s resilience to climate change and possible nuclear fallout.
I arrived in Albany in the dark. My first glimpse of the city: the looming agency buildings of the capital complex. My second, the tentacles of the Dunn Memorial Bridge that carried me over the pitch black Hudson to my temporary AirBnB lodgings in Rensselaer.
I didn’t sleep much that first night. I laid staring at the ceiling, wondering if I had made a mistake, moving so far from home, from friends, from any familiar landmark. Moving to a place that, scariest of all, had a true winter.
I shouldn’t have worried. Not 12 hours after my arrival, with the sun illuminating the Hudson Valley, I got my first taste for how wonderful this place could be, blessed with what I’ve come to think of as its three P’s. People. Places. Patrimoine – no, not the English word “patrimony.” Rather, the French word Patrimoine that invokes the heritage, landmarks, and customs, tangible and intangible, of a region’s people.
That first day, intent on being proactive in meeting people and carve out a space in my new community, I had decided to sign up for a bike race put on by the local cycling club. I drove down that morning to Ravena Highschool, just south of Bethlehem and Delmar. Not 3 minutes after walking up to the sign-in table had 5 people come to introduce themselves, welcome me to the area, offer advice and recommendation, and invite me to multiple events over the next few weeks, both on and off the bike. The people!
That first week, still living in a temporary shared space while waiting for my new lease to start, I kept myself busy by going on bike rides up the Rensselaer Plateau, and down the shores of the Hudson, and over the gravel road of Columbia county. I walked the streets of Troy, ventured into the caverns of the Albany plaza, and quickly I discovered how beautiful this area was. The places!
And then, as I kept exploring, passing through small towns, hiking through parks, visiting attractions, and as I met more people, made friends, got invited to parties, I began to notice Upstate New York’s deep connection to the past. Everywhere small town has a historical society, every mountain a story predating the Revolution, predating the white man’s arrival on the continent! And for everyone I talked with, even those adamant on leaving the area, the strength of cultural roots, of local pride was always so plainly visible. The Patrimoine!
A few month ago, before I knew I was leaving, I compiled a list of things to do as a resident of the Capital Region, enlisting the help of multiple bartenders, friends, and complete strangers. Many items I’ve checked off, with their own companion stories, many I never had the chance to do.
- Climb a high peak
- See an outdoor play in Washington Park
- Go apple picking, or, even better, ride your bike past an apple orchard, dart in to steal just one apple, and then quickly run off before the farmers catch you.
- Eat a hotdog at Famous Lunch, then order even more hotdogs and see how close to the restaurant record you can get
- Go visit the Olana House during the Fall
- Hike up to the Grafton fire tower and stop to see the Peace Pagoda
- Take the train down to New York City, making sure to sit on the West side of the train
- Go see an college hockey game, even if you don’t know anything about hockey
- Sit in the gallery for a legislative session and then go mingle with lobbyists at a bar later that night
- Shop at the Troy Farmers market
- And, of course, attend all Front Parlor events you can
I am leaving this weekend, moving on to new adventures, places, people and stories. I’m not leaving everything behind though. Into this uncertain future, I’ll be taking with me all these memories of my time in Upstate New York.