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Townie to townie

Although I’ve never been asked to show my credentials as a Saranac Lake townie, if I did, I’d pass with flying colors.

I’m a 100% local, a native even, having been born here in the old hospital (now the North Country Community College admin building).

I went to local schools, beginning with kindergarten in the long-gone Broadway school and graduating from equally long-gone Petrova High in 1964. OK, so my academic career was perfectly mediocre, graduating 38 out of 75, but at least I did it locally.

I was a Cub Scout in Den 5, Pack 9, and later a Boy Scout, and my performance as a scout was about as drippy as my performance as a scholar. I skied at Pisgah, skated at the Petrova rink and swam in all the lakes. My sugar addiction was sated at local candy stores and lunch counters. My childhood Saturdays were spent at Pontiac Theatre matinees, and after what seemed like decades of tortuous waiting, I became a card-carrying member of the Teen Canteen.

I feasted on Altamont ice cream and Dew Drop’s pizza, and I danced to the Persuaders.

If there’s anything more local than that, you tell me.

After high school I was gone from town for eight years: first at college, where I was a SMOC, and later in This Man’s Navy, where I was a ditty chaser (Morse code operator).

In 1972, I came back to town, have been here ever since, and if I leave, it’ll be horizontally.

Now that you know I’m at least as Townie as Thou, let me get to this column’s raison d’etre (a phrase I learned in Mme. Klein’s French class), which is about some great ironies of My Home Town.

And they all revolve around one day — the first Saturday of Winter Carnival.

That day itself is ironic, in that it’s at the start of Carnival, but it seems to have the greatest attendance — even more so than during parade day. And I’m not just making this up — I’ve got it from a credible authority. My office manager, Buffy VanAnden, said Lakeview Deli’s busiest Carnival day has been that first Saturday.

But even if I didn’t get Buffy’s report, I’d still think it was the busiest day. How could I tell? Simple. All I’d have to do was have a moderately functional brain and one equally functional eye. Hell’s bells, the sidewalks and streets are jammed putz-to-butts from the ungodly morning hour of 10 till after the fireworks.

And when I say jammed, that’s exactly what I mean. As for pedestrian traffic? People were over the whole town, filling the sidewalks. As for vehicles? Fergit it!

But no matter how busy the sidewalks were, you could still move along at a decent pace, but the vehicles moved at a pace that was at best glacial. It was unreal — cars were bumper to bumper from the bottom of Berkeley hill almost to Pizza Hut. And they stayed that way throughout the day and night. This led to an unfortunate reaction among too many of my fellow townies, namely indignation and outrage that their streets were so gridlocked they couldn’t just hop in their jalopy and cruise hither, thither and yon with impunity. Au contraire, in fact: If they drove downtown, in short order they found themselves moving at a snail’s pace (and a really old, really sick snail at that).

“They need better traffic control,” one said, scowling.

“It’s shameful,” said another. “I pay my taxes here, and I can’t go 50 feet in any direction in under an hour.”

“Damned tourists,” snarled a third. And then, echoing a sentiment too-oft-heard these days, “I wish they’d all go back where they came from and leave us alone!”

Those are the most moderate and least obscene utterances I heard; the others aren’t fit to be printed in a family newspaper.

So what do all those people have in common? Just this: They all need a session of Dopean Reality Therapy. And luckily, they’ll get it if they’re reading this column.

Time to chill

They need to consider several things in order to raise their consciousness and at the same time lower their blood pressure.

First, while they do pay their taxes, good burghers that they are, they don’t own the town. Their taxes provide for our services and upkeep; they don’t allow citizens to enact and enforce their own personal laws. It’s like the peeps, who by dint of their taxpayer status, keep insisting that somehow they should be able to tell a cop what his duty is, or tell a teacher what book they can or can’t use in class. Would if ya could, but ya can’t. Sorry I have to be the one to break the bad news, but someone had to.

Second, as far as I’m concerned, the traffic control was fine. The cars kept moving, albeit slowly, but kept going they did. And keep in mind, because there were so many pedestrians and bunches of them were crossing the streets to get to the Ice Palace, for example, there was a lot of necessary stopping of cars. To folks who complained about that, I say, tough nougs.

Third, anyone saying they wished fewer tourists came here during Carnival should either bite their tongue or have their mouth washed out with soap. If Lakeview Deli has their best day that Saturday, I’m sure other businesses do as well. Or if not their best day, at least a darn good one. So why would any townie want our businesses to make less money? For starters, we’re blessed here by having so many independent businesses — that endangered species owned and run by our neighbors and friends, not some nameless faceless goniff in Houston or Hong Kong or wherever.

Beyond that, guess who contributes a lot of the moolah that makes Winter Carnival have so many dirt-cheap and free attractions? The local businesses, you say? Correct. Go to the head of the class.

And if you think you’d have an Ice Palace if we had to pay for men and equipment, you’d better think again … and again.

We grin, we win

Now lemme let you in on a little secret. If you can’t drive through town, so what? You’re a local, after all — have you forgotten locals’ navigation? In this case, if you want to go to Aldi, for example, and the road is jammed, whattaya do? Simple, you go to Ray Brook via McKenzie Pond Road, and go to Aldi from there. Yeah, it’ll take you maybe 12 minutes instead of the usual six, but so what? It’s not like you would’ve used those extra 360 seconds to work on a cure for cancer or promote world peace. Or, given all the complaining, not even village peace, for that matter.

Ultimately, we need to stop the whining, whinging and puling about the crowds here during Carnival and how they inconvenience us. That’s the first step.

The next step is to actually embrace the Carnival crowd scene. If you can’t drive through town, then why don’t you get off your duff and walk through it? Not only will you get some fresh air and exercise, but you’ll also get to be surrounded by bunches of people having a hoot. Why pass that up?

Then there’s one final step. It is to not just go downtown and wander among the crowds, but smile and say “Happy Winter Carnival” to one and all, whether you know them or not.

When our Carnival visitors go home, I know they all remember how wonderful it was.

I’d like them also to know how wonderful we are.

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