NY Independence from USA

SUBHEAD: We are seeing glimpses of what an economy and culture might look like in the aftermath of the USA sprawl.  

By Juan Wilson on 4 July 2012 for Island Breath -  

Image above: Juan Wilson holding his granddaughter Magnolia in her home in New Paltz. Photo by Linda Pascatore.

We're spending a few weeks on the mainland in upstate and western New York. It has not been oppressingly hot. In fact it has been pleasantly green. Between the bigbox plazas off the interstate highways another culture is becoming visible.  

New Paltz, NY
Our itinerary has been set by making our rounds in the state to visit close family members of mine and my wife Linda. We began our journey through New York in New Paltz. It was settled by Dutch Huguenots 300 years ago. Their buildings still stand. It is a university town in the SUNY system (State University of New York).

My son, John, and his partner Katy and their baby girl live in a home, at the edge of town, that is shared with my daughter, Laura, and four other 30-somethings young adults. The house they share was built by a doctor who lives elsewhere rents the property to his son David (one of the 30-somethings). None could afford such a place in New Paltz individually.

Their living arrangement has worked well for a few years now. They share cooking, cleaning and gardening chores. They pickle and can much of what they harvest (some great kimchee). They also raise chickens and belong to a extensive CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm a short bike ride from their home.

The CSA provides not only a wide selection of vegetables but also dairy, meat and bread products. Being a university town, New Paltz offers a liberal environment of culture, art and education. This group of young adults are living in many ways outside the suburban norm. Collectively they have created their own extended family and have become food secure.

Image above: Ed Catze's luthier shop in Kingston. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Kingston, NY
My daughter Laura plays violin in a local acoustic band named the Polemech Klezmer Orchester. Klezmer music uses strings, brass, reed and percussion instruments and is usually led by an accordion. It's catchy, funny and danceable. Her violin was damaged by heat and needed repair as well as several adjustments. Fortunately, there was a luthier in nearby Kingston, New York.

 A luthier is builder and repairer of wooden stringed instruments. Kingston is another Dutch settled community. It's an old and solidly built town that was at one time the capital of New York State. It is a port city on the Hudson River and a terminal of an early American canal system that brought goods to downstream New York City. The luthier in Kingston is Ed Catze. His workshop is an open studio taking up the top floor of a mansard roofed mansion on Pearl Street.

Laying on their side on the floor are cellos and standup bass instruments. His counters are filled with fiddle heads being carved and violin bodies in clamps being glued. The space is has a high ceiling under the mansard roof and is well lit with natural light. There is hardly a power tool in sight - just a drill press in the corner. The tools he uses are wood-handled files, rasps and chisels. There are wooden mallets and clamps. Ed's work is work that could have been done any time in the last five centuries... or the next.

Image above: Copper equipment at the Tuthilltown Spirits distillery . Photo by Juan Wilson.

 Gardner, NY
A few miles south of New Paltz is Gardner, New York. I was interested in visiting Gardner to see the Tuthilltown Spirit operation there. We were given a tour by a friend of my daughter who is only 27 but the chief distiller for Tuthilltown. He and the owner of the distillery have built a sturdy barn-like building around a massive copper, German made, set of distilling equipment that looks like something out of a steampunk utopian dream. Tuthilltown is brewing whiskeys with local grains and experimenting with flavored vodkas distilled from a nearby apple orchard.

The idea is to make use of local seasonal overproduction of sources of the right sugars. They are succeeding. Their products are expensive, exceptional and in demand. Tuthilltown Spirits has broken ground on a new way to distribute and market their products. New York state has had a tradition of growing grapes for wine. The law in New York allows a grape farm winery to have a roadside stand that can sell their wine products. Crucially, the law also allows a farm winery to distribute their products through other roadside farm stands than their own.

Other than state licensed liquor stores, this is about the only way to buy wine in the state. Because Tuthilltown began as a farm growing grains and subsequently built a distillery, they were able to have state law adjusted so that they can sell their liquor in their own roadside stand that is also a tasting room. For $15 you can taste each of their four bourbon/whiskey blends. In effect the place is a saloon. On top of that, Tuthilltown can also distribute through other such farm stands and distill for other grain farms under that grain farms label. The motto of Tuthilltown Spirits is "Prohibition is Over!"

Image above: The Polemech Klezmer Orchester warms up at the Transylvania Sausage Fest in Tivoli
. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Tivoli, NY
My daughter's violin was repaired in just a couple of days, just in time for her to play with her band at the The Transylvania Sausage Fest in Tivoli, New York. We partied their at a local club with a patio and yard in the back. The food was a variety of sausages with grilled pepper and onion or sauerkraut with a side of garden kale salad. Cider and beer flowed. A good time was had by all with a style of music that is timeless and always accessible without the Grid.

Image above: Part of failed mall on Route 4 in Rensselaer. From (http://blog.timesunion.com/realestate/storefronts-still-no-action-at-van-rensselaer-plaza/3549/)  

Rensselaer, NY
We went to Rensselaer to rendezvous with Linda's brother Steve, and his family,who was driving from New England back home to Hollywood, Florida after camping for a month. We had a great time with her brother's family at a nearby State Park. However, Rensselaer was the only truly terrible place on the trip. This is a town on a long hillside facing west with a spectacular view of nearby Albany and setting sun beyond the distant green rolling hills.

The backbone of the place is old north/south two-lane Route 4. Once it was populated by homes, farm stands and fish-fry joints. Route 4 is now being widened to major stripmall capacity with Walmart's, Target's and Home Depot plazas lined up cheek-to-jowl cut into the downhill side of Route 4. They have to be serviced by long access ramps. Uphill on the other side of the road developers are cutting and setting 20 foot tall retaining walls to fit more parking plazas set into the hills. There is a lot of shopping redundancy here.

Across from the Home Depot were three national coffee franchises fighting it out - Starbucks, McDonalds and Dunkin Donut. They were all ghostly empty. The Starbucks was only a few years old and looked in need of a major restoration.

The only buildings we entered in 24 hours were owned by national corporate franchises. The thinking of NY state must be the fact that this part of Route 4 with a hillside view of Albany is desirable for future development because it is only a mile from Interstate 90 connecting Buffalo NY to Boston MA with all that vehicular traffic. One cannot look at this place and not realize the huge misallocation of resources that going on.

Once the fossil fuel joy ride is over the businesses on this isolated hillside will be inaccessible to the future. People living in the region won't be expecting a refrigerated tractor trailer full of frozen Swanson's chicken pot pies to make it up Route 4 anymore. Incidentally, the only place that was moderately busy the night we were their was the Walmart Superstore with a HFCS beverage aisle as big as a old-time supermarket. The place was inhabited largely by what I can only describe as obese zombies - many on electric carts.

Image above: The upstairs entrance to the Yellow Deli in Oneonta. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Oneonta NY
My son John's life partner, Katy, grew up in Oneonta, the city of hills. Katy still has close family there. They have some property. Like New Paltz, Oneonta is a SUNY college town, however it's farther away from New York City and the Hudson Valley. It's a newer than New Paltz but a sturdy, dense town with nearby woodland and little strip development to be seen. Now that they have Magnolia, John and Katy are thinking more for the long haul and are considering moving to Oneonta.

 My wife Linda and I were to pass by Oneonta on our way to western tip of New York where much of her family still lives. I decided to stop to fill the rental's tank and take a break to look around Oneonta. I'm glad we did. The station was operated by an Asian Indian fellow who provided full service gas station. He meticulously cleaned the front and back windows. We asked him about some local restaurants across the street. He liked Simply Thai. It looked good, but we settled on a joint named the Yellow Deli across the street. It seemed to have been built by Hobbits.

They were open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. They baked their own breads (including a gluten free variety) and mixed their own teas and root beer. The place was on the side of a hill so there was an upstairs and downstairs with street entry. Each floor had a big stone fireplace for those snowy winter afternoons. The smiles on the staff could only have been generated by weed, ecstasy or god.

I suspect it was probably various combinations. Service was slow. The place was comfortable and relaxed.There was much to look at, and the staff was friendly and talkative. They were part of a self described "alternative tribe" that lived in the area. They were keeping some aspects of the 1960's hippie dream alive. At least so they declared in a hand drawn manifesto painted on the wall where we sat. This group was networked into an international association of twelve tribes.

They even had a large sailing vessel (down in New York Harbor) with which they hoped to cross the seas in the next few years. Its a 150 foot long barquentine rig with three masts. It was built in 1889 in Brazil of tropical woods. It's name is the Peacemaker. I invited them to visit Kauai if they ever got in the Pacific Ocean. I also suggested they look at the recently closed Hanapepe Cafe as a possible venue for a Hawaiian Yellow Deli.


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