Troy, Albany and Schenectady

Last week, business travel definitely put a damper on my blogging. While traveling on business gives me a chance to see parts of the country I would not ordinarily see, it mostly involves business. It started daily at 6:30 AM when my alarm went off. I hustled to shower and shave, and then grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel’s breakfast room. In this case, it was the breakfast room in the Fairfield Inn in East Greenbush, New York. There the accommodations are clean but modest, the scrambled eggs taste powdered but coffee, decaf and tea are available twenty-four hours a day in the lobby. Each day ended around 8:30 PM when our bloated bellies staggered back from our evening meal after a day in a conference room, punctuated only by brief breaks and running out for takeout for lunch.

By 8:30 PM I was exhausted and ready for bed, not blogging. Some in our group were party people, anxious for more time together, a night on the town and various activities from karaoke to Frisbee golf. The business week meant scuttling from place to place with a few others in a rental car, long and tedious discussions on various projects under consideration and near the end of the day searching Trip Advisor for good places to eat. It meant a lot of dining out, principally in places serving pub food and locally made beers. It meant morning stops at Starbucks, not for myself, but for my traveling companions. It also meant some technical glitches: my laptop inconveniently died on Monday morning and left me keyboard-less, until a tech at the place we were hanging out gave me a loaner laptop to carry me through the week.

Still, I did get to spend some time in these triple cities: Schenectady, Albany and Troy, about two hundred miles north of New York City. They are clustered within about twenty-five miles of each other. My principle interest was in Schenectady, the city of my birth, which I saw briefly in 2004. After we landed early Sunday afternoon I managed to convince two coworkers to join me for a few hours in Schenectady and Scotia. Schenectady has the dubious privilege of being the city in New York State with the highest crime rate. It did not feel particularly unsafe during our brief visit, but like much of upstate New York it had seen better days as most of its manufacturing had left decades earlier. There were some abandoned houses but there were many houses just somewhat neglected: decks deteriorating and siding or trim in need of repainting if not complete replacement. Still, even in Schenectady there were charming areas. Parkwood Boulevard, where some of my family lived briefly in the early 1950s, retains a fading charm, enhanced by the glorious autumn leaves and cool autumn breezes. Downtown Schenectady, under remodeling back in 2004 during my last visit, was still a work in progress, with its streets torn up, steel plates on the roads and kidney-punching bumps in the road.

The Village of Scotia just across the Mohawk River was of more interest. This was where I spent the first six years of my life. I found it curious that I could still sort of navigate around Scotia without my GPS despite being in kindergarten when I had left. We wandered into Collins Park, where I was hit by a baseball in the bleachers as a child, and where baseball was underway as we visited. Clouds had settled in over Scotia. The geese honked noisily on Collins Lake in the park.

There is still baseball in Collins Park, Scotia NY
There is still baseball in Collins Park, Scotia NY

Our old house on North Holmes Street looked in good shape with an American flag proudly blowing in the breeze on its stoop. The street did not look as sad as it did in 2004, and the sidewalks were fixed as well. Driving north several blocks toward the high school, the houses turned from occasionally shabby to charming. The houses on Broad and Seeley streets felt out of Norman Rockwell. The church and kindergarten I attended on MacArthur Drive got several pictures but raised no particular memories. Much more memorable was Lock 9, a few miles up Mohawk Turnpike by the bridge to Rotterdam, which allows barge traffic to traverse what used to be the Erie Canal. As children it was a frequently weekend destination. We would sit there over the lock and watch the water be raised and lowered and ships went through the lock. Not only did we learn much about hydraulic engineering, but it also gave my poor, hassled mother a couple of hours a week free from the otherwise ceaseless din of children. Today, the lock is private property so I could only take pictures from the road. In the autumn the Mohawk River looked serene, except for the water cascading over a dam under the bridge. Overall, Scotia satisfied my limited nostalgia for the area. It is a pleasant and walkable village where a car is not a necessity and life proceeds at a simpler pace.

Lock 9, on the Mohawk River near Rotterdam, NY

Sunday evening found us in Albany at a brewpub near the capitol. Albany was bigger and with buildings much taller than I expected, but sleepy on a Sunday night. The New York State Capitol itself did not fit the mold of state capitols: no dome but spires, and looking more like a cathedral than a center of government. The whole Capital Hill area looks a bit strange, but strangest of all is The Egg, an egg-shaped building used as a performing arts center on the capital’s mall.

I found it strange that just across the Hudson River from Albany there was so much undeveloped country. To be fair there is the city of Rensselaer, but drive over the Hudson River on I-90 to the highlands of East Greenbush where we stayed and you had undeveloped country with a commanding view of Albany, with both the capitol and The Egg easy to see just a few miles to the west. There are more people than you think, as evidenced by the traffic on Troy Road around eight o’clock in the morning. Our destination for the week was an office in Rensselaer Technology Park a few miles up the road, but in the evenings were usually spent dining in Troy.

Troy is a bifurcated city that can’t decide if it wants to be ugly or grand. The grander parts are in the hills to the east of the city. The more ugly parts are its downtown areas. Troy too is trying to do some urban revival of its downtown with mixed success. Along with the brew pubs there are also bums, as well as excellent dining. I am part Polish, but until last week I had never dined at a Polish restaurant. Muza in downtown Troy offers excellent Polish dining. One of my coworkers said he had the best meal there he had had in many years. If only the road had not been chewed up for repaving and a panhandler was not aggressively pushing for “just seventy five cents” as we wended our way back to our rental cars.

I am confident that I gained weight last week. There was virtually no time for exercise but lots of opportunities for sitting and restaurant dining. I was glad to come home on Friday and glad to leave the powdered eggs at the Fairfield Inn in my rear view mirror as well.

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