Ten Things I Will Not Miss When I Leave Albany

I’m down to my final seven weeks in Albany, which means that I’ll be regularly doing a lot of routine things here for the last time. Many of these final passages are bittersweet, or make me wistful, and I will write about those sorts of fondly appreciated things in more detail later as my days here get even shorter. Today, though, I’d like to examine the flip-side of this season of closure, and provide a brief overview of some of the things that I am totally looking forward to bidding adieu, forever, world without end, amen, when I leave Albany for the last time.

1. Price Chopper Advantage Cards: I got so sick of being bullied by cashiers about having to put gas in my car from a certain gas station (where I don’t buy gas) before a certain date, lest I lose my points (or whatever they were) that I actually cut up my Advantage Card, and now just demand that they give me the discounted prices without it, simply because I am in their store, spending my money, and that’s the right thing to do. The thought of our sole locally-based major grocery chain running such an information gathering scheme so obviously and zealously is kind of sad, and I suspect that it plays a role in local longing for other, better grocery chains hereabouts.

2. The New York State Thruway: I have spent a lot of time driving from Albany to Long Island and from Albany to Geneseo over the years, and I’ve reached a point where the thought of paying high tolls to drive on one of the most efficient, but skull-crushingly boring, highways in the world makes me crazy with dread. I’ve developed alternate routes that don’t take too much more time when I head to Geneseo (west of Syracuse, anyway), and I’ll often go south on the Taconic Parkway or New York Route 22, rather than watching the mile markers crawl by between the New Baltimore and Suffern Rest Areas, but even so, I’ll be glad to toss my EZ Pass in a dumpster once I get west of our Nation’s Toll Highway Zone.

3. Crossgates Mall: I only go inside this Shopping Abomination when I absolutely have to, but its toxicity taints much of the area around it, often generating traffic clogs that impede my progress to and from the University at Albany. You know something is bad wrong when a major retail shopping center has to put curfews on young people during evenings and weekends. Here’s hoping the vastly superior Colonie Center and Stuyvesant Plaza slowly choke it to death, so that it can crumble back into the Pine Bush that was raped to birth it.

4. Northeast Public Radio: A tidbit of history: the very first public radio broadcast in the United States was made in 1922 from station 9YI (now WOI) at Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, some 30 miles north of where we will be living. Here’s hoping that Iowa Public Radio does a better job today of hewing to the intended regulatory purposes of public broadcasting (service to minorities, children, and localities) than our local public broadcasting syndicate, which seems instead to be focused on empire building, shaking down listeners to fund the ever-growing infrastructure needs of the ever-growing empire, serving the needs of affluent tote-bag carrying white urban and suburban professionals, and smugly dismissing all products offered by commercial broadcasters as inferior, along with the people who enjoy such products. No thank you, snobs. You don’t get to decide what’s good for us all.

5. Summer in Saratoga: Being in the nonprofit sector, I’ve had to spend a lot of time working the Saratoga summer scene, and I’m delighted to ponder a future where I can be happily oblivious on matters of deep urgency to the local media hereabouts, such as which matron is wearing what hat to which event being put on by what diva, and which feminine hygiene product she uses on her face to keep it young and taut looking. The horses are spectacular to ponder, sure (well, except when they have to be executed on the track after breaking their legs), but the scene always feels ugly to me, as the privileged rich flaunt their status, while the addicted wannabes circle around them, betting their kids’ college funds on a chance to rub shoulders briefly with the beautiful people, who snub them.

6. Not Having My Vote Matter: I am a dutiful voter, in primaries and general elections, but in the 18 years that I have lived here, I have never gone into a voting booth with any sense of mystery about what the outcome was going to be the next morning. Our voting districts and habits at a local, regional and state-wide level are so ossified and compartmentalized that the act of voting always feels like we’re just going through the motions of a process orchestrated by the career political elite (more on them a little later). At least in Iowa, the Presidential caucuses are early enough to be influential, so I look forward to participating in that process, and not knowing what its results are going to be before I do so.

7. No Hands-Free Gas Pumping: Of all of New York’s nanny state laws, this one probably bugs me the most, since it is so patently, objectively stupid and needless. I like to put the gas spout into the tank inlet, lock it down on full flow, and then go check my oil or wash my windows while the gas pumps, knowing that it will knock off at the appropriate moment, since the technology required to make it do so is pretty rudimentary and dependable. In Iowa, I will be able to do this. In New York, signs warn me that it’s a crime to use my gas cap to lock the pump in place. Guilty as charged. Now what?

8. Calories Being Printed on Restaurant Menus: Look, when I go to Ruby Tuesday or similar chain restaurants, I’m not going there for a healthy meal, and forcing the restaurants to list the calorie counts on all of their menu items isn’t going to change my ordering habits, since anything good on the menu is going to be upward of 1,000 calories anyway, so shifting from a 1,400 calorie dish to a 1,200 calorie dish in the name of health seems sort of pointless. This one is an Albany County special, and since its inception, I have secretly hoped that its sole impact would be to drive local customers to outlying counties, where they can eat their Parmesan Chicken Pastas in peace, blissfully ignorant of the 1,400 calories of tasty delicious goodness they are ingesting, even before they woof down the garlic cheese biscuits and add bacon to their salads.

9. Three Men in a Room: New York’s state-wide political process is notoriously non-representative, with the Governor, Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the Assembly (and their unelected staffs) generally running the state in an imperious fashion, ordering their respective troops into tidy lines, then leaving them sitting there while the real work of the State is done behind closed doors without them. This approach is made possible by a professional political class that is willing to do what it is told to preserve its ill-earned compensation, as well as deep-seated political machines and an entitled sense of “incumbency for life” (especially in Albany, where Gerald Jennings now lags only Erastus Corning 2nd in mayoral tenure). In Iowa, the legislature is seated the second week of January each year, and they generally finish their business on behalf of the State within 100 days, when their per diems expire. I like the thought of politicians who have to spend eight months each year doing something other than politicking.

10. The Times Union: When we moved here in 1993, I was honestly delighted by the quality of our local news daily, which was edited at the time by the heroic Watergate newsman, Harry M. Rosenfeld, and had some great editorial writers and reporters working on its behalf. But sometime after Rosenfeld’s retirement in 1996, things took a serious turn in the wrong direction. If there was a single moment when I began to think that our local newspaper had definitely lost its bearings, it was when the Times Union purchased naming rights for the Arena Formerly Known as Knickerbocker, which seemed (and seems) wrong on so many planes. Since then, the print version of the paper has atrophied into meaninglessness, its lifeblood and energy sucked dry by its bloated online doppelganger, where comment mobs run amok, paid staff spar smugly with their readers, and unpaid bloggers are duped into believing that the “exposure”  they receive is adequate compensation for their intellectual property. I don’t believe in regret, since all we are is all we were, but if I did, donating my work to such an unsavory organization for nearly four years would be high on my list of things to deeply rue. I occasionally still have to check in at the Times Union website for work reasons, and when I’m there, my rubbernecking instinct often leads me to the blog portal to gawk at some of the more awful train-wrecks there. Ugh. Here’s a telling fact: The Des Moines Register has 16 Pulitzer Prizes under its belt, while the Times Union proudly and regularly reports on winning “best blog” or similar honors in annual state-wide media trade contests. So it will be a happy day when my personal and professional lives have no further overlap with this tedious media enterprise and my chosen hometown will be served by a newspaper with some dignity and standards again, beginning some seven weeks from now.

COMING SOON: Indie Albany’s first birthday will be celebrated this Friday, and after that, I will be focusing on the things that I actually will miss when I leave Albany. There’s a lot . . . this has been our home for 18 years for a reason . . .

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

23 Responses to Ten Things I Will Not Miss When I Leave Albany

  1. Tony Abell says:

    Inasmuch as I don’t live in Albany, I have no reaction to most of these indignities. As as regards number 7: many states seem to regard relying on the automatic gas shut-off as dangerous for some reason. That is indeed annoying, but I live in New Jersey, which is one of only two states (I believe) that forbid citizens to pump their own gas at all. It astonishes me that this law is still on the books. I’d vote it down in a heartbeat if given the chance. Maybe it survives only because New Jersey has (for other reasons) relatively low gas prices, but it’s probably really the result of the usual East Coast corruption and cronyism.

    • In the early days of self serve, when most stations charged different prices for self and staff pumped gas, I got the New Jersey model more, since it leveled the playing field. These days, though, it does seem to be an anachronistic preservation of a job sector that has (somewhat sadly, I think) disappeared most everywhere else . . . and, yeah, I am sure that your State Machine(s) are actively working to maintain that particular status quo at this point!!

      The fallacy, to me, of forcing a customer to pump gas is that if the customer is going to do the same thing that the locked pump itself is going to do: hold the pump handle down hard until the automatic shutoff kicks in. If that shutoff fails, there’s gonna be a lot of gas on the ground regardless of whether or not someone has their hand on the pump, since our reflexes aren’t going to be quick enough to realize and respond to the failure before a geyser of fuel erupts from the our tank . . .

  2. Oh, I like living here too . . . there will be many more “this I will miss” items that there are on this list . . . but I wanted to get this one of the way (and out of my head) first, so I could concentrate on those more favorable experiences last . . .

  3. Gman says:

    Gannett owns the Reg, Dude. Prepare to be just a little disappointed.

    • Yeah, I knew that going in . . . but at least they still seem to want to be in the newspaper business, and I got more valuable local perspective in my couple of trips out there than I get from the TU anymore . . .

      • Jeff Claus says:

        Best move I ever made vis a vis newspapers was to drop the TU and subscribe the the Gazette instead. They actually still do some local reporting.

        • I did the same, Jeff . . . . I get the Gazette at home, and when I go out for lunch, I buy the Record. I know more about Albany in real time now than I did for the last three or four years that I got the TU . . .

  4. Jennifer says:

    Awww … I really like WAMC. But, in fairness, your points about the station are well taken … and the seemingly endless fund drive make me nuts.

    I agree on many of your other points, though. *Especially* the gas.

    • I have some really great personal friends who work at WAMC in both on-air and back-of-house capacities . . . . but that doesn’t alleviate the sense of utter icky that the station leaves me feeling anytime I am inadvertently exposed to it . . .

      • LB says:

        I used to drive to work around 9:15 AM, and my game was to see how long I could listen to the Roundable without wanting to punch the speakers in my car out. Sometimes I would make it the entire drive to the Empire State Plaza. Sometimes I wouldn’t even make it out of my neighborhood. Every syllable would ring out, “this program is not for you,” even as it covered theater, books, food: things that I love.

        Some of WAMC’s programming is a treasure (I love the Media Project, even when I knew how much of what’s going on in local media couldn’t be discussed on the radio) and a lot of it is crap, but they’re a true local radio station, which is rare among NPR affiliates in smaller cities. Anywhere else, it’s just feed after feed of national programs interspersed with local news updates and station identifications in carefully modulated East Coast educated-class tones.

        Unfortunately, public broadcasting everywhere is geared toward the kale-munching, jazz-listening, self-satisfied yuppie. Is yuppie what we call that type of person anymore? “Pretentious asshats” works, if it’s a bit crude. I have cruder ones.

        • They’re a true local station within Albany, I’ll spot you that . . . but their Borg-like assimilation policies mean that they’re imposing their Albany-centric views on far-flung communities that aren’t really interested in what’s happening on Central Avenue (Plattsburgh, Hartford, Worcester, Port Jervis and Utica don’t really have a lot in common, with each other, or Albany). While decrying the strip-malling of radio imposed by the likes of Clear Channel, etc., they do the same thing to our region . . . except that they think it’s okay, because their strip-mall looks more like Stuyvesant Plaza than like Crossgates, with more Kale R Us, and less Orange Julius.

          Pretentious ass-hats? Yeah, I’ll buy that one. (Except, of course, that it doesn’t apply to you, Marcia, my honey, my love . . . since I am sure you are just listening to WAMC to give me fodder for my research into public broadcasting and what ails it, and not really enjoying any of it, right?? Right?????)

    • LB says:

      WAMC’s fund drive has some entertainment value. Other stations’ don’t. I’d switch off WRVO’s as soon as I realized my programs weren’t on. And WCNY…the memory of it makes just makes mzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      • Jennifer says:

        That’s a good point. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s not BORING.

        Like you, I adore the Media Project. It’s probably because of my former and your current line of work that we enjoy it so much; Chris rolls his eyes when I put it on. :) Vox Pop never fails to make me laugh. The Roundtable was a LOT better when Susan Arbetter was on it (IMO). I can’t abide it anymore.

        I do, however, like their local/regional reporting, which is the main reason I keep it on the radio. Additionally, I like the national/international reporting of NPR, in general. Unfortunately, the pretentious ass-hats make the rest of us listeners look bad.

  5. BC says:

    Enjoyed the read… Don’t know if it is good or bad that some things are universal…

  6. LB says:

    What’s odd, though, is that the station has always felt like it cares more about the second-home residents of the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley.

  7. Pingback: Nippertown!

  8. Pingback: Things I Will Miss When I Leave Albany, Part One: Restaurants « INDIE ALBANY

  9. Rob says:

    I’m a big WAMC fan, but I’d sacrifice a few of the local shows to hear more NPR fare. In particular, I’m getting a little weary of the disease of the day program for hypochondiracs. Could also do without some of the local news from far-flung places like Springfield.

    As for the newspaper, you’re right on the money.

  10. Pingback: More Things I Will Miss When I Leave Albany « INDIE ALBANY

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