Imagining Chautauqua 2021

SUBHEAD: Rural western New York had never really come back after the Great Depression. That was an advantage in this day and age.

[Editor's note: The following is a fictional account of the future in the region around Chautauqua Lake, New York, in the year 2021. This is part 1 & 2 of 3 parts (7,500 word). This series was developed from material originating with the Chautauqua Greens in 1991 in was an attempt to envision the future of our area thirty years forward. It is reproduced here in response to John Michael Greer's fiction challenge in ( This fiction predicted wifi communication with something much like an iPad, but is focused on de-industrialization and home food production.]  

By Juan Wilson with Linda Pascatore, Rebecca Albaugh & Mark Fitzsimmons - (

  Image above: The Farm in North Harmony, New York in Chautauqua County where I imagined Sara and Rachel began their adventure. Photo of Linda Pascatore by Juan Wilson.


Rachel turned her head on the pillow and opened her eyes. She remembered she wasn't at home in Jamestown. "Rachel!" There was the voice again. She knew it wasn't part of her dream. In her dream it was a year later and she was already ten years old and lived on Grandma's farm. It was wonderful...

"It's after six, honey, and we need those berries for breakfast. Get up."

It wasn't a dream. the year was 2021 and she was still nine years old. Darn! "OK grandma! I'm getting up." The early June morning air pushed the curtains as Rachel pulled on her tee shirt. Looking out the window she could see the white fiberglass spire of the Baptist church down in Panama just poking its head above the trees. She could tell it was going to be beautiful today as she turned and ran down the stairs of the old farm house.

 Grandma Sara handed Rachel the berry basket for their breakfast and headed for the door to the basement steps. Sara had just finished the first gallon of syrup from that spring's mapling. Her friend Norm, who ran the annual Sugar Shack Festival, had been generous and given her back five gallons produced from her own maples along the road, but now it was time to uncork another jug for the morning's raspberry pancakes.

Before she returned to the kitchen she checked the charge on the basement's array of wet cell batteries. With all the sun they'd had, the solar panels had nearly topped them off. As Sara looked through the window over the sink she could see that Rachel was afraid of the bees.

They buzzed among the old hollyhocks that stood near the raspberry bushes outside the kitchen. Sara looked out past the yard to the woods. Right after World War II, when she was born, those woods had been an alfalfa field. Next autumn her son would hunt deer there that would put venison on the table.

Bobby had told her of sighting black bear and even a wolf in those woods. This didn't frighten fact it thrilled her in some way that was hard to explain. Even with a few taste tests Rachel soon had more than a cupful of beautiful berries. By the time she got inside her back was warm from the sun and the shady kitchen was filled with the aroma of coffee.

Grandma poured the berries into the batter and started the pancakes.

 "Rachel, this morning there's a Panama class coming up with Mr. Edwards to see our goats. I'll need you to help me tend them. You won't be able to play with Bobby or the Wilson girls while they're here with their teacher. "Okay, Grandma."

 "When does your lesson from Jamestown begin?"

"I've got to link up with my class on-line at 10:00, Grandma"

 "You can use my computer to log into school after the chores. We still have the trip to Jamestown this afternoon, so it's going to be a busy day."

After breakfast Sara cleared the dishes and the two of them headed out to the barnyard. Toby barked and Rachel ran to greet him. She tussled Toby's ears and then turned to the pen full of goats. It had taken her grandparents all of her life to build the goat barn and build up the herd.

Then Grandpa had died. Now her dad was helping grandma finish the work. When it was done Dad said they could all live on the farm and the goats would support them. Rachel couldn't wait. She loved the dog and cat and goats, but she especially loved the baby goats... the kids. They were so smart and frisky.

 "Grandma, when can I move here? Mom said we weren't ready yet. But I think we should move now"

Sara turned and looked up at the roof of the old farm house. When she was Rachel's age there had been a TV antenna. She had never gotten used to seeing the funny old TV antenna up there.

Long ago it had been replaced with a small satellite dish that was already streaking the house with a brown line of rust. Now a few photo-voltaic solar panels waited to be joined by others... as soon as they they had the money. Over the years the old house had been draped with wires from the power company, the phone company, and the cable company. Thank God they were all gone. They sure had spoiled the view of the valley.


 "Sorry honey. It'll be soon. Soon as your dad can afford it. We need at least three times more PV panels, to run that new Ash milker and a larger cooler. Then we'll be free and clear." "But I don't want to wait, Grandma. I want to live here now!"

Rachel frowned a moment. Sara handed her the garden hose with the brass pistol grip nozzle. It was time to tend to the goats and Rachel would enjoy that. The hose was gravity fed from a wooden water tank on a tower that also housed the windmill that did the pumping. A mist of water sparkled in the sun forming a rainbow when Rachel squeezed the trigger. She smiled. The two Angora goats standing near the fence were startled.

The cream colored herd of the larger Sannen goats were not fazed as Rachel began changing their water and washing down the pen. Sara herded the goats into the barn for the first of their two milkings. While Rachel was changing the water she heard the Panama school children arriving. They had walked up from the Community Center.

 "Grandma, they're here!"

When Grandma had been a little girl the Community Center was only a school. Rachel couldn't understand why they would have ever needed the biggest building in Harmony just for a school.

Grandma stood in the door of the barn and wiped her hands on her apron, as the class came around toward the barn. It was hard for Rachel not to run up to her friends, but she remembered Grandma's words. Mr. Edwards led the class. He was a childhood friend of Dad's. Grandma joined them, pointing to the barn, and to where Rachel stood in the pen. She and Mr. Edwards were explaining the dairy goat operation to the class of about twenty children. They ranged in age from eight to sixteen. These were the children who lived within walking distance to the farm. Rachel waved privately to Susan Wilson, who giggled and waved back. Sara caught Rachel's eye and motioned to her.

They all headed toward the barn. Sara turned to the class and cleared her throat for attention.

"Rachel will show us how we can milk six goats at a time using power from our solar panels."

 She asked Rachel to explain the milking while she unplugged the charger and got up on seat of the John Deere flatbed electric cart. The cart had a bench seat in front with a roll bar over it. In back it had an eight foot long bed with side panels inserted into stake pockets on both sides. Sara had already strapped a milk can against the forward bulkhead.

 Rachel was a little nervous about talking in front of everyone, but she knew the milking well and the routine was easy to explain. Sara then backed the cart up to the refrigerated stainless steel tank containing the raw goat milk. Rachel climbed up to the bed of the cart and she and Grandma showed the class how they transferred the raw milk to the cart before they took it to the dairy co-op down in Panama. The plan was that the students would help with the milking and feeding of the goats. After feeding oats to twenty five goats and playing with the newborn kids, the children were feeling hot.

 Sara was in the kitchen preparing cold milk and goat fudge for everyone when Rachel came in.

"Grandma, it's almost time for my class."

 She looked up at the key wound clock above the sideboard. The hands over the old Roman numerals pointed to 9:30.

 "You've got enough time for a snack with the children before they leave."

 Rachel shared chocolate fudge with the Panama kids under the shade of the big walnut in the front yard. Susy and her sister invited her to stay over the next time she came out from Jamestown. When it was all done Mr. Edwards called them together, counted noses and headed everyone out to the road for the walk back to Panama. Sara came out of the house with the palmtop computer and handed it to Rachel.

"Be careful with this if you're headed for the tree house."

"How did you know, Grandma?"

 In a minute Rachel was high in the limbs of the walnut tree, sitting cross-legged on the platform her Dad had built. She carefully placed the 6"x9" palmtop in front of her. It was quite a machine. Black magnesium case built for outdoors and tough use. Rachel unlocked the case and flipped open the top. It began its startup routine with a little trill and the color LCD display came to life. She twisted it a little this way and that to catch the light just right. She pointed to a small icon of a phone on a desktop. The image of a small address book appeared on the screen with alphabetical tabs. Using her finger she pointed to the "J". The address book opened on the listing for "J" and she pointed to the entry "Jamestown Public Schools".

The computer's female dialog voice said; "Shall I dial 'Jamestown Public Schools' now?" Rachel directed her voice to the small microphone/camera slot above the screen, and spoke with clarity,


 Sara could hear the string of tones as the cellular phone in the palmtop linked her to school. Once the connection was made the Jamestown Public Schools access requester window opened with a crimson

"GO RED RAIDERS!" and a voice-over of the school cheer.

At the bottom of the screen were some check boxes. Rachel pointed to "STUDENT" and "3RD GRADE" and finally typed in her password "TOBY". Soon the face of her teacher, Ms. Rodriguez, filled the screen. "Welcome to class, Rachel."

She picked up the palmtop and leaned back against the broad trunk. She looked out through the limbs of the old walnut, then back at the small bright screen. She smiled,

"Good morning, Ms. Rodriguez."

"Today I'd like to see your Chautauqua Lake Watershed assignments, and review your progress. Its due next Friday."

The lower half of her screen filled with an image that looked like a page from an old yearbook. Small color video portraits of her classmates were arrayed with their names. She could see a small portrait of herself with the texture of the walnut trunk behind her head.

Next to many of her classmate's images were project icons indicating they had already transmitted their Chautauqua Regional maps. She knew if she double-clicked one of them she could review that project in detail. Rachel pointed to an icon on her screen that was her own project folder and dragged it with her fingertip to the picture of the phone and let it go. The computer's female dialog voice said;

"Shall I transmit this to 'Jamestown Public Schools' now?"

This time Rachel merely nodded her head up and down. The motion sensor in the palmtop detected this vertical displacement and began sending her assignment to school. Sara was back in the kitchen. She stood before the open refrigerator-freezer. Like all her appliances, it ran on natural gas from the well out behind the woods. She unloaded the ricotta cheese and yogurt made the day before. She packed a wicker hamper for her trip to the market in Lakewood.

Her plan was to trade the goat milk products for Chautauqua Greenbacks that she could spend anywhere in the county. She took the loaded hamper out to the cart in the barn. The John-Deere had been expensive. Next fall they would get the foul weather canvas cab enclosure option. Her son Bob had insisted that the cart be one of their first investments after getting the solar panel and storage array. He had been right. Without it she could not easily get her raw milk processed in Panama or reach Stedman or Sherman.

Its range and performance was limited but certainly adequate for her needs. Heck, hardly anyone could afford a private automobile anymore. The last war in the Middle East had fixed that. When gasoline reached $10 a gallon a lot of folks quit driving. Now most people could hardly remember a time when there were as many cars as people.

Sara again checked the charge. She turned the key and stepped on the pedal. The John-Deere was silent and as easy to drive as a golf cart. She pulled out of the barn and touched the horn. By the time she reached the side of the house Rachel was running to meet her. Rachel was smiling as she hopped up on the bench seat. She slipped the palmtop into Grandma's handbag that rested between them and strapped herself in.

 The trip down to Panama was always fun. The wind blew their hair as they passed Anderson's farm. He was working a small field with two draft horses. Mr. Anderson grew the oats that fed Grandma's goats. Rachel waved and Sara tooted the horn. When they passed the field the trees on either side closed over them, forming a tunnel. There had been almost a century of growth since the Great Depression, and what had once been marginal farmland had become a mature hardwood forest.

The Allegany Regional Authority had implemented a sustainable logging plan that seemed to be working. The furniture built from the area's maple and oak were prized everywhere. And forests certainly were more attractive now than when regulated by the old federal and state systems. In a few minutes they had passed the Community Center and Baptist Church and were coasting into downtown Panama. They rolled over the trolley tracks running down the center of Main Street.

At the center of town, North and South Street met Main Street. Things were busy there, as usual. Electric and horse drawn vehicles filled both sides of Main Street. There never seemed to be a spot available in front of Weise Hardware. At least as much had changed as had stayed the same. Sara still wasn't used to seeing the terraced three story office building where old Crouch's Garage and the Post Office had stood.

That, along with the tracks leading up to the trolley terminal at Panama Rocks, was the biggest change you could see, but there was much below the surface that had changed. What had been Scheller Brother's most of her life was now the Panama Trolley Station. And what had been the Whitney-Wood Ford agency when she was a girl had become Julia's Restaurant and Video Parlor when she was grown.

Now that she was older, it was Harmony Markets, the biggest green grocer in western Chautauqua County. It still surprised a few old timers that it was a black owned family business but it didn't keep them from shopping there. Sara and Rachel's first stop was the Dairy Co-Op on South Street next to the new Panama Grange building. Sara stopped and backed the flatbed up to the Co-Op loading dock.

Jeremy Eddy was on the dock. He used a hand signal to guide her right up to the dock's bumper.

"Howdy Sara. Who do you have with you, young Rachel? Hang on and I'll get you unloaded."

"Thanks, Jeremy. We're going into town today. Do you mind if I park over on the side for the afternoon?"

 Sara and Rachel climbed off the cart. Rachel had a little money,

 "Grandma, can I go over to the General Store?"

"Sure honey. Be careful. I'll pick you up there when I'm done here."

Rachel took off running. She turned the corner by grabbing the gaslight pole and swinging around it. Rachel loved the stores along the boardwalk under the covered sidewalk in Panama. The store windows all had colorful posters announcing upcoming summer events. The 30th Annual Blue Heron Music Festival was the headliner.

The neighboring town of Sherman had become home of more than a half dozen festival sites. In fact, festivals and craft fairs were now one of Sherman's biggest businesses. Panama would have its share of Chicken BBQ's and special events too. The Panama Rocks Festival was one of the largest, but Rachel was looking forward to the Big Apple Circus that was touring the Southern Tier and was coming to Panama in a month. The General Store was next to the Trolley Station. In the window was a circular green sticker that read

"We Accept Greenbacks."

 It was a co-operative store and was an outlet for locally made dry goods. It had everything from ceramics to hard candy. They sold fabric, quilts, sweaters and other items that Grandma bought; but Rachel liked the section that had rag dolls, doll houses and doll house accessories. Those accessories were in a glass case on the second floor near a window. Rachel bent over the case. She loved the food the best. There were little pumpkin and apple pies filling painted metal bottle caps.

There was a turkey dinner so realistic and cleverly made she couldn't tell how it was done. She didn't have much money and was trying to make up her mind between getting the two pies or a chocolate cake covered in white icing with a slice cut from it, when Grandma startled her.

"It's almost time for the trolley, Rachel. Are you all done?"

"Yes, I'm going to buy these two pies for my tea set."

 On their way out of the store Grandma picked up the heavy wicker hamper and between them she and Rachel carried it to the Trolley Station next to the Little Brokenstraw Creek.

Rachel ran over to the end of the bridge and looked down into the water. She was just in time to see two large painted turtles before they disappeared into a pool in the shade under the bridge. She was thinking about climbing down to the edge of the water when she heard the clicking of the tracks as the trolley came down the hill from the terminal up at Panama Rocks. She ran back to the Station to tell Grandma, who had been sitting on a bench in the shade, but Grandma was already getting up.

"When we get to Lakewood I want you to stay with me. We'll only be there about twenty minutes, and I want to catch the trolley going to town from Mayville. We'll just go to the market and get back to the station in time. If we miss it we'll have to wait an hour for the next train from Panama."

 "But Grandma, I don't want to stop in Lakewood. It's too scary."

 Now Rachel could hear the trolley speeding down the hill from Panama Rocks. Its brakes squealed as it approached Main Street. Just then Rachel saw its nose appear as it made the turn towards her and the station next to the Little Brokenstraw Creek. The Geographic Positioning System antenna and solar array that covered the trolley's roof glistened in the sunlight. On the station bench next to Rachel's grandma was an elderly man with a knapsack.

In a moment the trolley had come to a stop in front of the station. Its windows were open and in the cab were a few tourists from the Rock's Hotel, probably on a day trip to Chautauqua Lake or the Institute. As they did over a century ago, many tourists now loved the ride around the lake by trolley just to see the sights. Coordination of steamboat and trolley schedules were becoming common again as well. Grandma reached for her heavy wicker hamper loaded with yogurt and other goat milk products they were taking to market in Lakewood. Rachel joined her to take a handle but her elderly friend was already there to help. Sara leaned to her,

 "You remember Mr. Whitney, don't you Rachel?"

Rachel nodded a greeting but didn't really remember. She was eager to get on the trolley. The three of them climbed the steps up to into the cab. The engineer winked at Rachel and then spoke into a small wireless mike headset.

 "Next stop Goose Creek Village, then Blockville, Ashville and the Lake Line. Connections there to Chautauqua Institute and Mayville. This train will continue on to Lakewood, Celeron and Jamestown."

 The engineer pushed forward on the controls, engaging the batteries that made up the bulk of the weight of the car. Smoothly they began their journey. As grandma took care of the fares, Rachel ran and got the bench seat at the back of the car.

The three large back windows were raised and Rachel got up on the cushioned bench seat on her knees and gripped the seat back with both hands. By the time Grandma and Mr. Whitney joined her the trolley had reached the Panama Union Cemetery and was starting the climb up the long hill out of town. Sara looked back at the town as it receded. The green bluff of Panama Rocks was lit in the sunshine. A turkey buzzard rode a thermal high over the ridge and then turned south towards Muzzy Hill.

The Panama Spur took twenty minutes to reach the main Lake Line. In a few minutes the trolley crested the hill at Eddy Road and began the long descent down and up and around to Randolph Road. It was the most exciting part of the trip, almost like a roller coaster. Rachel felt her heart rise in her chest as they bottomed out at the bottom of the first hill. On the way up the hill to Randolph Road they passed an Amish carriage and a couple wearing helmets and bright spandex on high performance bicycles. Rachel let go of the seat-back with her right hand and waved to them.

Mr. Whitney had been speaking with Grandma and Rachel noticed for the first time. She remembered now that he was a dairy farmer who was a member of the Co-Op and Grange in Panama. Grandma was saying,

 "You'll be fine Ted. And you know the Grange will be there for you if you need it."

But he sounded worried.

"Sara, you've got the right idea. Keep it small and specialized. It's the only way dairies around here will survive. The regional authorities are putting plenty of pressure on the larger farms to convert to grain or bean for human consumption or get out of the way for those who will. It's not that easy, especially when you're losing money... Well, it's for my boys to decide now. I'm just glad Nancy and I got the land trust in place and can keep the farmhouse and out-buildings."

 For a few minutes they passed a large field to the north planted with soybean and then another field with alternating rows of corn, squash and beans, in the classic Iroquois Three Sisters mix. Soon the trolley was slowing the stop at Swede Road...named Goose Creek Village.

 Rachel looked South and could see the entrance to the new co-housing development that had been completed last autumn. She could see just a few roofs between the trees. While it was still under construction, she and her Dad had ridden bikes to the site. He had said it never would have been built if it weren't for the trolley service. She remembered how all the houses were connected through a long zig-zaggy basement.

They all shared a heated pool and gym her dad said would be covered by an inflated dome. Sara turned to look, too. A few young adults and a mother with two children stood in the shade of a partially enclosed trolley stop designed in rustic Adirondack style. The train engineer spoke into his tiny microphone,

 "Goose Creek Village... Next stop Blockville... Ashville and the Lake Line..."

 The trolley came to a stop at Goose Creek Village.

About forty families lived there now with more coming. Some worked down in the new office building in Panama, and a few commuted into Jamestown but most worked at home. Half of the first floor spaces were taken up by specialized shops and services. Sara's doctor had moved there from Jamestown. Goose Creek Village met the new regional planning criteria for clustered housing.

Over 75% of its 200 acre property was designated undevelopable woods, another 20% was earmarked for gardens or recreational use, while only 5%, or 10 acres, could be hard surfaced (roof or road). The taxable property was calculated on the 25% of the site that was occupied. It was a formula that was drawing people from what had been suburbs, without the sprawl associated with single family dwellings and universal automobile dependence. Soon the smooth acceleration of the trolley began again. A dog from the village tried to keep up with them, and Rachel laughed and called to him, but soon he was out of sight. Before they pulled into Blockville the trolley came upon a new chrome yellow Chrysler Photon that was going out toward Panama.

The Photon was a solar powered two-seater that was getting popular even in the Northeast. It must have been cruising at about 45 kph because Rachel gasped when it passed her window and disappeared within a few seconds. They passed Mill and Water Streets and the trolley's brakes squealed as they came into the four corners of Blockville. It was busy. There were at least three Amish style buggies at the blacksmith's and Stull's Grocery Store had no free parking spaces around it. Sara spoke to Ted again.

"When was the last time Blockville had a grocery store? 1955?"

"Well, Nagel's garage was there on the northwest corner as late as the 1960's. I think Bruce and Cecil Bush had the grocery across the street sometime into the fifties."

 The stop in Blockville lasted only a minute, but it added several more passengers on their way towards the lake. Soon they were passing the new lumber yard just to the east of Blockville.

Others said it was because of the lumber mill, but Sara thought the growth and popularity of the Harmony Historical Society had put Blockville back on the map. Certainly their historical reenactments and restored farm and shops had contributed to the new sense of community. Rachel got up and went to the window looking south. Once past the tree nursery, as they approached Ashville, she would get a long view of the dam pond and the ducks and geese that populated its banks.

Whenever Rachel was in Ashville she would try and get over to the pond to feed them. It was a beautiful spot. Sara leaned to her a said softly,

 "Sorry honey, not this time"

The trolley banked as they rounded the big curve by the cemetery. Sara leaned against the force of the curve and saw the tall stone obelisk memorial to "Hetfield" slide by. It had been a familiar marker all her life. Rachel gripped the window sill. It meant Ashville was coming up. They passed the dam with its small hydro-electric generator rolling past the center of town and over the bridge crossing Goose Creek.

 The trolley stopped at the old renovated station across the street from Ashville General Store. Next to the station was the Trolley Simulator. It was a big building. Inside was a detailed working scale model of the entire Chautauqua Lake region trolley system. The model worked in real time and mimicked the movement of real trains. The model was kept up to date reflecting new buildings and actual stands of trees. Geo-positioning technology on each trolley forwarded its location and speed by satellite to the regional dispatcher and that information was shared with the Simulator. It was always fascinating to Rachel to think that a model train one inch long was pulling into a miniature station just as their real trolley arrived. Every school age child within a day's travel had spent a day in Ashville exploring the Trolley Simulator.

There were now plans with the Army Corps of Engineers for the Simulator to expand its functions to include certain Chautauqua Lake watershed activities. Already an office of the Allegheny Regional GIS Coordinator was housed within the building running detailed computer environmental simulations of the Chautauqua area. As passengers entered and left the train the engineer spoke into his mike headset.

 "This stop Ashville. the next stop is Cottage Park with our connection to the Lake Line. Passengers going to Chautauqua Institute and Mayville should transfer there. This train will become an express and continue on to Lakewood, Celeron and Jamestown."

Trolley started again and pulled out of Ashville. After a curve it started down the long straightaway towards the lake. As they approached the lake, Rachel moved forward in the car. Even though the train was now full there was a spot behind the engineer where she could stand and see over his shoulder. They were passing through a flat wetland, managed by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.

 There were no houses on either side of the roadway for almost a mile here and the area had become famous for its aquatic bird population. Rachel had walked on the raised boardwalks that wound through the marshes and seen egret and heron fishing in the clear shallow water before it reached the lake. As they neared the lake a vista opened up to reveal a broad view of Sherman's Bay.

The Strip had never reached this far up the old Fairmount Avenue, and consequently the view was unhindered. When the economic collapse hit the Strip much of the commercial property that was unrelated to recreation and water activities had been torn down as an improvement to lakeside amenities. On the left was Sherman's Bay Marina.

Beyond a row of new lakeside townhouses, known as Cottage Park, stretched towards Maple Point. As they got nearer Rachel could see dozens of colorful sails shining on the westerly breeze. They were not the sails of boats like her grandmother and Mr. Whitney had seen as children. These were KeelKites. Developed originally in the Finger Lake Region of what had been New York State, KeelKites had become the rage everywhere in just a few years. Already second and third generation designs were finding their way to the growing market.

A KeelKite consisted of a submersible keel about eight feet long that was attached to a kite-like sail by stainless steel cables. When in motion, the pilot hung below the sail in a harness, about twenty feet above the water. The keel ran about two feet under the water like a submarine. It had fins and a rudder that could be controlled by the pilot in the harness.

The keel provided the resistance to keep the sail from blowing away, while the sail captured the energy to pull the keel through the water. In effect the KeelKite was a sailboat without the boat. Due to low water resistance, KeelKites could sail significantly faster that comparably sized high performance catamarans.

The KeelKite depended on a small waterproof computer to assist the pilot in balancing the inherently unstable dynamics between wind and water. As in water skiing and hang gliding a successful launch was critical. The KeelKite needed a running start and the pilot needed to be in the air at launch. KeelKites could start off by being towed from a power boat, if one was available.

The Sherman's Bay Marina had two launch towers, thirty feet high, on a pier about a hundred and fifty feet from shore that used a spring to launch the keels like torpedoes. Apparently a regatta race was starting out from the Marina. More than a dozen pilots tacked back and forth getting into a starting formation for a race up the lake to Bemus. As she watched a bright pink sail blossomed with air as a pilot was launched from one of the towers, then the trolley man startled her,

"Cottage Park and Sherman's Bay. Connections with the Lake Line..."

Rachel turned and ran back to the rear of the car. Several passengers were already preparing to disembark. The trolley passed through a switch and swayed and rattled as it joined the easterly track of the main line. Just past Big Tree Road the train turned to parallel the embankment of the old Conrail right of way. They climbed to the top of the embankment and Rachel could see the houses near the lake above Summit Avenue.

In a minute they coasted into the Lakewood Station near Chautauqua Avenue. Rachel grabbed a pole as the train slowed to a stop. She swung around it and seated herself next to Grandma.

There were two stops in Lakewood. The first was Lakewood Center. It was the second stop, near Burtis Bay, that had given Rachel the spooks. People mostly called the place Striptown. "Don't worry honey, this is the just the Center." She looked into Rachel's worried eyes and added,

"Rachel, I can get a good price for our yogurt there. We should only be in Striptown about half an hour."

Mr. Whitney was going to get off at Striptown too. In his knapsack he carried two family heirlooms that were of cash value... accurate spring wound watches. Every week there was a open air flea market in a park near the lake on Fairdale Avenue.

Cash, alternative currencies and barter were exchanged for goods and services. At another time and place it would have been called a Black Market.

 "Well Sara, I need the cash. At least my boys do. Once we can get past this year, things will be different"

Grandma turned to him and said only...

"It's too bad, Ted."

Soon they were moving again. As the landscape flattened out the train embankment rose. In a few blocks they were high enough to pass over the bridge that straddled Shadyside Road. The embankment had few other streets penetrating it and therefore sharply segregated the lake homes to the north from the remains of what had been the Strip along the old Fairmount Avenue. Rachel began to get nervous.

Looking south the light glared off the flat roof of industrial style buildings. What had originally been a marshy area had once been completely developed. Now it was in ruins. They passed close to the back of the old Quality Market. The back wall and much of the roof had collapsed in a forgotten snowstorm after the store failed. Rachel couldn't help but look into its looted bowels and shudder.

The Red Lobster next door had been built on top of a creek. When it burned to the ground the watershed authorities decided no one could rebuild on so sensitive a site. Now no one had the money to clean up these commercial carcasses. Marsh weeds grew through the old blacktop in their parking lots. Once past the Quality the passengers on the train had a wide view south to ruins of the Chautauqua Mall. There was no traffic. Most people tried to avoid the area. The only "patrons" appeared to be a few gulls sitting on the few rusted sodium lamps that were still upright.

Some years earlier there had been an effort to clear and pile up some of the useless acres of asphalt to return the site to its original state of wetland, but money had run out. Over the years the blacktop had been broken up by spring thaws and blistering summer heat.

From the trolley you could even see clumps of grasses and a few saplings growing on the mall roof. All that was visible of the hard surface of the parking lot was a lumpy green and brown field dotted with Indian Paintbrush, White Clover and other opportunistic wildflowers. In places small birch trees had grown through openings in the pavement. A few abandoned cars punctuated the scene and as Rachel watched, a pack of wild dogs ran from behind a burned out van. The leader held something in his mouth that the others raced to grab. Ted spoke,

 "When I was young I took a train into New York City from Connecticut. We passed through the South Bronx. It was worse than this then. Bigger, scarier. I couldn't understand what I saw at the time. Now I know its just that people gave up on one way of doing things and began another."

Sara was aware of Rachel holding her arm tightly.

"But so much has gone to waste. When we can afford to, we are going to have to clean this up."

Rachel had turned to look away from the ruins of Fairmount Avenue. She still held Grandma's hand and she looked to the north as they approached the Striptown station at Fairdale Avenue. The trainman spoke again, "The next stop will be Fairdale Avenue...Striptown..." The train slowed again. Below them, to the north, Rachel could see the building that once housed the Chautauqua Lake Association.

Nearby was the ancient and still active Lakewood Rod and Gun Club. Burtis Bay no longer existed. What had been open water had become a meadow six feet deep in burr reed, cattails and other marshland grasses. In school she had learned that the decades of runoff from the commercial development around the lake had caused the silting in of its south eastern part near the outlet into the Chadakoin River.

The hundreds of new acres of marshland was a blessing for the flora and fauna of the lake. It acted as a buffer and filter for the toxic material that seeped from the abandoned commercial strip up on Fairmount Avenue. Many lakeside homes, marinas and recreational facilities between Lakewood and Celeron were now as far as a mile from open water. Needless to say, they had lost their value. In fact, they had become a slum and were for the most part abandoned.

The Chautauqua Watershed Authority was concentrating on plight of these properties first, before turning its attention to the strip area south of the tracks. Rachel could see the tents, booths and other temporary structures of the flea market as they slowed to a stop at Fairdale Avenue. This was the commercial hub of Striptown. Those with suburban homes up above the mall now came down to this area along the north of the tracks to shop for everything from fresh vegetables to illegal kerosene.

As they got off the train Grandma and Rachel stayed close together. Mr. Whitney had his knapsack on his shoulder and was again helping with the wicker basket. They worked their way slowly down the steps from the station that led toward the market.

There a variety of traffic on the road. An old diesel truck smoked as it waited for an oxcart carrying a heavy piece of farm equipment. Grandma led Rachel to a nearby area where horse drawn carts displayed local peas, lettuce, and leeks. Sara had an arrangement with a friend who operated a stall here to sell her goat milk products.

A teenage boy behind the counter explained that Sara's friend was away and would return shortly. Mr. Whitney put the wicker basket on the counter and said good-bye. Rachel watched him move off through the crowd to sell his watches. Grandma was busy unpacking her basket and Rachel turned to entertain herself with the market scene.

The ground was muddy, even though the sun was shining. She noticed a young chocolate Labrador sniffing around the food booths for anything interesting. It was just past being a puppy and seemed very friendly.

Rachel smiled and suddenly didn't feel so nervous about the place. She bent to stroke the Lab's head and then scratch behind his ears. Before she did, one of the vendors shouted at the dog and threw a stone at it. The young dog yelped and bolted from the curb. Under other circumstances the sound of a passing gas relic with no muffler would have alerted the dog. But the Labrador noticed too late. The dog was knocked to the muddy road by the front tire.

The next tire rolled over its rear leg. Rachel was only feet away and heard the bone snap and the dog scream. She had never heard anything like that in her life. The car didn't stop, it accelerated. Rachel's eyes flooded and she went to comfort the dog. Already the crowd was so thick around the accident that she couldn't see Grandma. The dog couldn't get up for a moment. As Rachel reached out she saw the panic in the Lab's eyes. It was up in a second and hopping south to the Fairdale Avenue underpass beneath the tracks. Rachel had to help. She followed, her heart pounding as she went through the underpass.

The dog was up on Fairmount Avenue and hobbling badly. Rachel followed further. She was sure she could catch up to the dog in a minute and get him some help. The young dog looked back at her and hurried on. She wasn't thinking of her own safety, even though the sight of the Strip frightened her. She was getting tired. Up ahead on the left was a place that looked open. Maybe she could get help there. It was an old building, from before the time of the Strip. It had a big painted sign that was peeling and faded, "Johnny's Lunch: Our 9th Decade of Service: Three Texas Hots Only $1.29". The dog spotted the teenagers before Rachel did.

There were five of them and they looked mean. The Lab crossed the road to avoid them. Rachel looked across the road at the wreckage of a Burger King and McDonalds that moldered in the glare of the afternoon sun. She crossed the five empty lanes of the big strip after the pup. She wasn't quite sure now if she were following the Lab, or was being followed herself by the teenagers. Rachel saw the wounded dog continue south up the hill between the wrecked burger outlets. She followed the dog up the access road that climbed to the big Wegman's shopping plaza. A faded sign read "Bio-Hazard Containment Area: Keep Out! Alleghaney Regional Authority".

The closed plaza loomed over the devastated strip below. There had once been 50 acres of parking here that funneled cars down to this ramp onto Fairmount Avenue. Rachel heard the sound of a bottle breaking on the pavement behind her, but she was too frightened to look back. Next to the access road was a depressed area the size of a large playing field. It was the catch basin for the site. For decades the oil, gas, antifreeze, transmission oil, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid and road salt worked their way to this basin to be mixed with the drippings of dumpsters and blowing litter. There were even several rusted out cars down there in the soup.

The dog passed through an opening in the old chain link fence and it headed down into the catch basin. The Lab lost its footing and yelped as it slid down the steep incline. It rolled the last yard or two before it splashed into an old truck tire locked in the muck. The dog cried and struggled in the slop.

Besides shopping carts and tires, there were unrecognizable shapes in the muck. Rachel thought she heard someone up on the access road behind her now, but she was already on her way down to reach the young Lab. She must get the dog out of here and to help. She got down to the bottom of the incline without falling and for the first time began to sense how much danger she was in.

The dog was looking past Rachel fearfully up the slope. She chilled inside as she realized that she and the pup were standing in the shadow of something coming down into the pit after them. Her heart was clenched as she turned to face whatever it was.

 "Rachel, hold on! Let me get you two out of there!"

 She could see the profile against the sun now. It was Mr. Whitney moving sideways down the slope.

By the time he reached her, she knew she was safe and that the puppy would get help.

For Part III see ( .

1 comment :

Hadashi said...

The story (so far) has a lot of carefully thought out detail. Nice to see something told from the viewpoint of a child.

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