Back in 2001 my Boy Scout troop took a trip to Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It was a very long, very dull drive from Michigan up into New England, but one thing that sticks out in my memory was our inadvertent detour through Schenectady. I don’t remember why we got off the highway - I think we’d decided that taking Route 50 up to Saratoga looked like a shorter route than following I-90 all the way to the Northway (I-87) and then going north, but I might just be making that up. Either way, we got turned around and ended up plowing right through the middle of town.
Schenectady thirteen years ago was pretty awful. Granted, a lot of it still is awful but in recent years it seems like city authorities have made big strides in cleaning up the downtown area and demolishing burned-out houses. Having grown up in the shadow of Detroit I wasn’t really fazed by what I saw but I remember thinking that Schenectady was kind of a shit-hole. At one point on State Street we pulled up at a red light beside a shiny gold car with even shinier gold rims. The other guys in my troop seemed highly impressed by this. Someone managed to get a picture of it and it found its way into the trip photo album beside the pictures of us on top of Mount Washington.
That was years ago and apart from Mount Washington itself the only thing I remember about that trip is Schenectady. Even today you can ask anyone else who went on that trip about “scary Schenectady” and they will all tell you that Schenectady is a dump and should be avoided at all costs. Unless you’re in the sight-seeing market for cars with enormous gold rims, in which case it’s a top destination.
Today, as I woke up in my house in Schenectady I tried to imagine going back to 2001 and talking to my younger self as he experienced the city for the first time.
Me: “You know, in thirteen years you’ll be living here.”
Young Me: “As a punishment for something?”
Me: “Well, no. Schenectady in 2014 is nicer - uh, parts of it are. The house is in a good part of town and you and your wife will-”
Young Me: “Holy shit, I’m married in 2014?”
Me: “Yes, and you can grow proper facial hair in 2014, instead of...whatever that is.”
Young Me: “So this means I’ve finally gotten laid by 2014?”
Me: “I...uh...I’ll see you in thirteen years. Bye.”
When I think back to how memorable that experience was (the adventure in Schenectady, not getting laid) I do start to worry that this might be karma for all the bad things I’ve done.
As punishment, you’ll have to live out the rest of your life in that shit-hole called Schenectady.
Maybe that’s the case, but as I stood out on the back deck this morning, drinking coffee and listening to the birds sing in an otherwise silent neighborhood, I decided that if this is hell, heaven probably wouldn’t suit me anyway.