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All Your Worries, Such a Waste of Time

All your worries, such a waste of time.
      --Amanda April June

I take the back way when I drive home from Ithaca.

I take the back way when I drive practically anywhere—I loathe thoroughfares, tollways, big highways with lots of cars. I don’t care if a country road adds an hour to a trip. These days, I have time to spare.

Since I’ve been driving the same stretch of back road to and from Ithaca for more than five years now, the drive has taken on an oddly ceremonial aspect. Stations of the cross!

JUMP: Trumansburg to Ithaca: 12 miles

What’s the fastest-growing city in New York State? Ithaca! Sleepy, backwater Ithaca! Giant cranes are everywhere, obliterating the history embedded inside centuries-old structures:

The rents are astronomical. There are even traffic jams now. One wonders how long this stretch of country road between T-burg and Ithaca will remain a stretch of country road. Some real estate developer is sure to gobble it up, colonize it with condos and convenience stores.

That was the odd thing about Ithaca back in the day: It was a real city. But drive two miles outside of town, and you found yourself in Alabama—Alabama with snow.

I suspect those days are gone forever.

The T-burg to Ithaca stretch passes by Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies. (Eat your heart out, Niagara!)

It snakes past the Trumansburg Fairgrounds and what was formerly the world’s worst-smelling antique store: once a chicken farm, now a storage facility and a studio space. B’s girlfriend Sarolta rents studio space there; she’s reviving the lost art of Hungarian heavy metal music. B tells me (with some pride) she was once a guitarist in a famous Chicago punk band! Of course knowing B, that could mean she busked for quarters on West Monroe Avenue.

(Back when I was working for People Magazine, I stumbled across an enchanting letter B had written to a friend describing an idyllic afternoon he and I spent at the Lucas Ranch. The only problem with it was that to the best of my knowledge, I’d never spent an afternoon at the Lucas Ranch. And neither had B!)

The road goes past the Big Hospital where B spent 48 hours in a hepatic encephalitic coma and past the Museum of the Earth, home of the Hyde Park Mastodon, which was excavated some 20-some years ago from a pond not two miles away from the house where I’m now staying.

Who knows what other bones I’m living on top of?

Mastodons are not the same thing as mammoths.

JUMP: Ithaca to Whitney Point: 32 miles

The city of Ithaca lies at the bottom of a deep gorge. To get in or out of town you have to drive up a steep hill.

Late one night, six or seven years ago, I got a 911 call from RTT. Stranded downtown! No place to crash! Mommy! He-l-l-l-p! He wanted me to pick him up and bring him back to the Cement Bungalow, which was in Freeville, about ten miles outside of town and on its way to becoming the Meth Capital of Tompkins County.

One of those calls no parent can ignore, right?

However much they may want to.

He’d woken me up from a deep sleep. I climbed into the car in my pajamas. I was still only half awake as I maneuvered down State Street. I ran a red light at Stewart Street.

A cop saw me and pulled me over to the side of the road.

Interactions with armed officers of any type scare the shit out of me. I’m always terrified one of them is gonna shoot me that death’s head grin and ask, “Shall we dispense with the niceties? It’s time for you to go to the camps!”

This cop, however, was very, very nice.

Sniffed me for signs of intoxication. Found none. Listened gravely to my story: Even now violent thugs may be stealing his lunch money! I must rescue him!

“I’m not going to ticket you for running that light,” the very, very nice cop said. “But did you know you have a headlight out? I’m going to have to give you a mechanical ticket—“

Of course I knew I had a headlight out. I’d been agonizing for weeks over how I was going to scrape together the $50 or so it would take to replace the headlight bulb. ‘Cause that’s how I rolled back in the Cement Bungalow days.

Still. The very, very nice cop restored some of my faith in humanity.


New York State has a very confusing system of administrative districts. The city of Ithaca is actually inside the town of Ithaca even though cities are larger than towns. Wrap your mind around that one.

After it leaves the city of Ithaca, Highway 79 metamorphoses into Slaterville Road. Once upon a time, the Elmira Central and Northern Railroad hauled holiday-makers along this route so that they might splash and cavort in the artesian wells discovered in Slaterville in the latter part of the 19th century. The discovery motivated the village elders to change the village’s name to the more upscale "Slaterville Springs. "

Big hotels were built all along the route. At the Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago, Slaterville Springs water won an award for its salubrious properties and sold for $2.50 a gallon—roughly the equivalent of $70 today.

The hotels burned down some time in the early 20th century as was so often the case with big commercial buildings in these parts. The artesian wells are still there, and if you know how to find them, you can drink from them for free.


Richford in the slough between the east and west branches of Oswego Creek is the birthplace of John D. Rockefeller. After viewing Richford, you can almost understand the avarice that drove Rockefeller all his life. It’s an awful place, so lost in the forest, you can barely see the sky. The fishing in Oswego Creek is said to be good, though.

It is also said that when John D. Rockefeller was dying, he hired wet nurses so convinced was he that a diet of human milk would miraculously prolong his miserable existence. John Steinbeck stole that detail and used it in the final pages of The Grapes of Wrath.

Every year, Richford hosts a Potato Festival where they serve potato-flavored ice cream. I’ve never attended.


In 2010, I worked for the Census, which took me out into deepest, darkest Broome County and inspired one of my most memorable dreams ever—about a town called Decennium that only appeared every ten years. Just in time to be counted for the Census!

In consequence, I know the village of Lisle much better than anyone should have to know it.

There were all sorts of hideous old houses in Lisle that were falling apart but that apparently still had occupants whom the Census wanted to know about. I knocked on many doors. Confronted a whole lot of wild-eyed people in their skivvies. Lisle, I was told, had once been a relatively upscale suburb of Binghamton, but when the Endicott Shoe Company began its slow decline in the 1960s and IBM pulled out in the early 70s, the whole of Broome County collapsed in upon itself like a dying star, and Lisle turned into a version of Stephen King’s Castle Rock—with marginally better weather, snowfalls of 80 inches per year instead of 90.

Lisle was remarkable for having a series of signposts that led to hamlets and villages that were nowhere on the map and had names like Killawog and Nanticoke.

(“Have you ever been to these places?” I once asked B as we were driving through. He grew up around there.

“I’ve never even heard of them,” said he.)

In the times of GPS, it’s likely that those maps have been updated.

Lisle appears to be getting a little of its mojo back. In the handful of times I’ve driven through recently, it seems to be growing more kempt around the margins. There’s a distillery in town. The old tavern has received a new coat of paint. On the ground floor of that dilapidated studio with the condemn-me-now balconies, someone has opened a tai kwan do studio. In my experience, tai kwan do studios along with tattoo parlors and cafés are one of those bellwethers that signify coming economic prosperity.


Just south of Lisle comes Whitney Point. I’m never really sure about the “Point” part of its name, but I suppose the geography in those parts was very different before the WPA dammed the Otselic River in 1936.

The river got dammed because a 1935 flood destroyed almost the entire town. There actually wasn’t very much town because 40 years before the flood, a big fire had taken out the entire downtown. Floods and fires; fires and floods—this is a pattern that’s constantly repeated in the narratives of many of these old upstate New York towns. You understand why people once lived there: Waterways were distribution networks; railroads tended to spring up alongside them. Yada, yada, yada.

You just wonder why people continue to live there now.

JUMP: Whitney Point to Windsor: 23 miles

After Whitney Point, 79 wends its way through isolated country. Dairy farms, abandoned forests, poorly tended cemeteries, rickety steel bridges crossing nameless rivers.

It twists through the ghastly hamlet of Chenango Forks, which has a huge abandoned factory building just outside of town, leading one to believe that at one time—maybe even as recently as a decade ago—it was more prosperous than its desolate, dilapidated buildings might have you believe.

The roads in Broome County are ploughed only very selectively during the colder months. I know this because I made the mistake of visiting Ithaca one winter and attempting to drive home over my usual route. I got stuck on a road at the top of a very high hill that was covered by six inches of snow and ice. It took me an hour to make my way down it, a nerve-wracking experience as you may imagine. My car does not have front-wheel drive.

Eventually, you come to Windsor—where I pick up Highway 17. Windsor is the site of a Seneca village that was destroyed during the American Revolution by General Sullivan on his march north. That’s even spookier than being built on the site of an Indian graveyard, and as you might expect, the bad karma in Windsor is an almost palpable aura.

Nevertheless, I always got wildly excited when I reached Windsor because Windsor was the location of one of my very favorite places on the planet: Amanda April June Oddities & Tattoo Parlor:

No, I never went inside. I always wanted to. But it was never open. The window, though, was crammed with a fresh assortment of wonders every time I drove through Windsor. Brass bullet casings stuffed with magic crystals. Scorpions encased in Lucite. Mini-octopuses in heart-shaped perfume vials. A deer skull whose sockets were occupied by spiny spiders entombed in pieces of quartz.

Amanda April June, read the calligraphy on the small card where a normal shop would post its hours. Not just a tattoo artist and a taxidermist but also a professional sword swallower! She only worked with roadkill, she wanted you to know. Or laboratory specimens because they were already dead, right? Sometimes, she found old fur stoles in junk shops and used the mink heads or fox heads off of those.

She inscribed this epigraph at the bottom of the card: All your worries, such a waste of time.

When I drove through town last October, I saw that someone—Amanda April June herself?—had made a Halloween monster entirely out of used bleach bottles and hung it from the electrical meter box:

So clever! So creative.

But when I drove through Windsor on Thursday, the storefront was empty. Instead of dainty calligraphy detailing Amanda April June’s qualifications for your patronage, there hung a rude placard: For Rent.


My heart is broken.

I’m gonna have to find another route to Ithaca. Or stop going.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 4th, 2018 10:24 pm (UTC)
You made me curious about Amanda April June, so I googled. She has FB accounts, etsy, twitter and YouTube, but they still list her 108 address and there isn't anything for the last month or so. Wonder if something happened to her.
Aug. 5th, 2018 12:04 am (UTC)
Oh, I hope not!

I don't know her, but I love her.
Aug. 5th, 2018 08:12 am (UTC)
I love love love that mural on the side of the curved building in Harold's Square.
Aug. 5th, 2018 02:04 pm (UTC)
Here's a better view of that mural:

Ithaca has some spectacular murals.
Aug. 5th, 2018 04:50 pm (UTC)
The city of Ithaca is actually inside the town of Ithaca even though cities are larger than towns. Wrap your mind around that one...

Er. Is a quantum thing?

A fascinating post and wonderful pictures. Thank you.
Aug. 6th, 2018 06:46 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome, and maybe it is a quantum thing. :-)
Aug. 5th, 2018 10:44 pm (UTC)
Google maps lets me get a visual for what you are describing.

Back in 2007, 2008 I worked for that company my uncle took public. That's where I learned ADA compliance. That company had a contract with Yum! and so I spent many hours driving through towns like that which featured maybe one Taco Bell. I got a very different sense of this country then which shifted my feeling for what Los Angeles is.

Now we have a very different political situation. Is the end of an era something that happens or are people thinking it's around the corner so they jump in and hasten it?

Mao Zedong had a philosophy that is like Go. He would take all the roads and backwater towns, blend into the forest. Rather than like Chess, where one takes the big cities, major positions hold them, which is capital intensive, he would take all the negative space and thus drain the Nationalists of all their resources.

He did that to the Japanese too. And then after WW2, the Nationalists left because they couldn't muster enough force. If WW2 did not happen then Mao Zedong would have probably ended up executed by the Nationalists, a pawn of the USSR.
Aug. 6th, 2018 06:49 pm (UTC)
Rather than like Chess, where one takes the big cities, major positions hold them, which is capital intensive, he would take all the negative space and thus drain the Nationalists of all their resources.

Kinda Trump's strategy too, no? :-)

Thing is, though, that people are leaving those small towns in droves! So at some quickly approaching event horizon, it will cease to be an optimal strategy. :-)
Aug. 6th, 2018 06:24 am (UTC)
We used to have a bunch of those milk jug skeletons. I found the how-to in Family Fun magazine.
Aug. 6th, 2018 06:45 pm (UTC)
They are so creative and wonderful!!!!!
Aug. 7th, 2018 12:51 am (UTC)
I don't know that part of the state so thanks for the tour.

Sorry that you never got to go to that shop.
Aug. 7th, 2018 02:27 pm (UTC)
If you like wine, the Finger Lakes area is definitely worth a trip in the Airstream. :-)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )