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Finding my happy place

A private home with red Adirondack chairs is seen on Mirror Lake, Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Gayle Kirschenbaum)

I’m a New Yorker — a Manhattanite. After spending four months in my apartment sheltering in place, then witnessing the looting by opportunist and career criminals of businesses that were barely surviving due to being closed, it was time for me to leave my beloved city and get into nature.

I leased a condo in Lake Placid, rented a car and hit the road.

As soon the mountains became visible, I pulled over and got out. I stood like a kid in a candy store taking it all in. As I gazed at the overwhelming beauty of the peaks, my eyes welled up. I felt alive again. I could breathe the uncontaminated fresh air.

During the rest of my drive, I passed lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Turning into Lake Placid, emerging from the horizon was the 1980 Olympic ski jump set against the green pastures. I wanted to stop at almost every turn to take a photo.

It was July 4 weekend, and although Lake Placid had canceled all its events including Ironman, concerts and even fireworks to avoid pulling in crowds, the streets were filled with people — many tourists, all eager like myself to leave their homes, cities and confinement and get to nature, where they could enjoy the freedoms and recreation. Most of the people were wearing masks in the streets, and those who I asked who were not turned out to be visitors.

Having been here over two weeks, I’m in awe of how this area has managed COVID-19 and the respect the community has for each other. I’ve never felt safer.

Mayor Craig Randall commented, “We’re a resort community and want visitors and locals to feel comfortable and welcomed, but no one wants to see a spike of COVID cases.”

Since March 14, the county of Essex, with an approximate population of 39,000, according to the mayor, has had only 53 people testing positive, in which 15 are prison inmates. All have recovered. (Editor’s note: Those numbers are out of date. As of Monday, Essex County reported two active cases of COVID-19 and 72 total cases since the pandemic began in March: 56 of whom tested positive and another 16 suspected positive from a time when testing was scarce. Of the test-positive cases, 16 were inmates.)

As I started my daily walk around Mirror Lake, I discovered a happy place to work in the morning — sitting on an Adirondack chair in the covered bandstand, facing the windows looking at the lake. It didn’t matter if it rained, as I was protected. 

When hunger struck and I wanted a snack, I packed up and found the Adirondack Popcorn store on Main Street, which sold many flavors. I ordered sweet and salty. The server was behind a plexiglass divider when he handed me my selection. Then he slipped underneath the divider an open, flat, plastic container for me to put in my credit card.

“Oh, you’re going to touch it, now?” I asked in my smartypants New York City voice.

“We have a protocol. I’ll clean it afterwards.”

He did just that. Sprayed it with disinfectant, put it back in the container and slid it to me.

Next he passed under his clear barrier, the credit card slip for me to sign with a pen.

“Oh, now I have to touch this pen?”

I was sure he was about have enough of me. 

Kindly, he responded, “We clean them in between each person.”

I left with my delicious box of popcorn and moseyed on down the street while window shopping.

A couple of days later, I found myself at a restaurant, which came recommended, called the Cottage, right on the lake, where I sat outside. When I asked to see the menu, the masked waitress pointed to the framed QR code sitting in the middle of my table.

“Do you have an iPhone?”

“Yes”

“Just aim your camera at it, and it will direct you to our website with the menu.”

I was impressed and wondered about the patrons who didn’t have a smartphone.

 The waitress explained, “We do have some paper menus. It’s just that in the beginning we ran off 500, as we throw them away after each person uses it, and we were killing a lot of trees.”

“This is brilliant.” I responded as I then looked down at my phone to read the menu.

A few days later I decided to take a stroll and enjoy the sunset by the lake. As I sauntered into town it was close to 9 p.m., and my stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten dinner. The restaurants had stopped serving when I noticed Chinese take-out was open. The kitchen was behind and under the menu on the wall. They had built a plexiglass divider with a tiny sliding window.

When I ordered, the woman on the other side in the kitchen responded and her voice came through a little speaker that was right in front of me. Clever, I thought.

“How long will it take?” I asked.

“Fifteen minutes.”

I set my timer and headed out. When I returned, I was waiting by the window for my food when the women’s voice came through the speaker.

“It’s in the box.”

“What box?” I asked.

She pointed to a large wooden box that was placed between the inside, where she and her cook were, and the side where I stood. I lifted the door and discovered a brown bag with my pad Thai in it.

“Ingenious” I thought.

A few days later, I discovered the Adirondack Mountain Coffee Cafe, a gem located in Upper Jay. As it was in the 90s, I chose to sit inside where there was air conditioning. The waitress asked me to sign their contact tracer. This was the first time in months that I was eating inside a restaurant. My eyes welled up again with joy. I felt safe and happy.

If I could spend the rest of COVID-19 time up here, I would. As I will be leaving and heading south to help my elderly mother in Florida, which has now emerged as the global epicenter of the coronavirus, I wish their leadership and residents could follow the proper protocol. I look forward to the day this virus is behind us.

Gayle Kirschenbaum (gaylekirschenbaum.com) lives in Manhattan.

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