Thursday, May 19, 2016


Elmira College was about 20 miles
from Columbia Crossroads. It was an
easy ride, a sort of straight line up
along Rt. 14, a really goofy road, 
through places like Gillette, and 
other weird names. It tried to 
remain a country road but, with
speeds and the way people drove
out there  -  fast and faster  -  it
bore more the earmarks of a real
nasty highway. There were farms
and farm fields, where the road 
went right through the middle  
-  you'd have cows and pasture on
one side, and, on the other, a huge
oat field, or rows and rows of corn.
Dirt roads leading to barns and
silos, old-style farm houses from
a hundred plus years back, before
this was a paved, race-tracked 
speed road. Everything seemed 
just a little out of kilter. And
then you'd see a beautiful little
stream creek, tree-lined, running
down over some rocks, really
nice, and then the road would 
bend and there'd be some 30
house trailers, people living in
real rural poverty, things thrown
about, strewn along a hilly entry
road. A real 'community' of
like-minds. Then a bar of some
sort, a creepy, little general store,
a lean-to guy selling 5 hot dogs
for a dollar, hay for sale, fuel,
and maybe used clothing.  It
was just all over the place. A
crazy 20-mile stretch. Basically,
I'd guess, it was 'living in the
country' but hugging a really
un-country roadway that must
have changed things for everyone.
It was a flat basin, like perhaps 
five thousand years ago it was 
an entire riverbed  -  geological 
stuff. Now? Silted over, water
way reduced, people settling 
on it, and  -  on all sides  -  
ringed with the hills and 
mountains of all those 
highland people. Funniest
thing was, in all these little
towns and things out there
you'd always see or find a
steeple and a small little 
church, from when people 
settled and moved in. But 
along this stretch, there was
none of that. I guessed the
churches and such, the more
quiet 'town' things, were in a
few blocks or something, 
off the roadway. This 'Gillette'
place, being real, must have 
had a 'center' and a church
somewhere, even if it was for
twenty people. 
Two stories here, of some note.
Three, actually: During a time 
when I drove this route everyday, 
well before we'd eventually 
moved to Elmira instead, there'd
be a guy out at the roadway, at
the end of his trailer park, with
his lunchbox and tools, workclothes
and all  -  a real sad-sack sort of
guy. He'd be awaiting his ride, the
person who'd pick him up each day
just at about the same time I went 
by, or thereafter anyway. I figured
he had no car, or no money to
get one, or had lost his license 
for DUI or somesuch. He just 
looked that way. Then one day,
just like fate!, there he was, in a 
big, old Impala, pulling out in 
front of me from that driveway.
I let him go, slowed down a bit, 
and he fell in ahead of me, and
started booking it  -  way-fast
driver. I guess he'd just got the
car, or the license again, or 
whatever. I was being Mr.
Nice Guy by letting him in, 
but he took way off, and 
quick. Wouldn't you know
it, five miles up the road,
there he is, the car all 
crumpled up, at the side
of the road. He'd managed
to hit, and kill, a deer. First
day out, no less! And had 
I not let him out ahead of 
me, could that have been
my deer-kill? What 
unmanageable luck was 
all that. I almost wanted 
to go hug the guy, just to
show my support for
him in his plight.
A second occurrence was,
on my way home one day,
completely without any real
means of avoidance, I clipped 
a cat, which had darted out in
front of me at about 50mph.
It was dead, and I felt horrible. 
The only real house around was
about 100 feet back, so I went
to it, with the dead cat. I was
pretty broken up  -  the guy 
came to the door, and said, 
'That damned cat, always been 
one to jump out like that onto
the highway  -  had it coming.
Just lay it over there, I'll bury 
it later. Sorry it had to be you.'
How strange that all felt. I was
flushed, drained, and sorry, but
this guy seemed not to even
care what had happened.
At the same time, whenever 
this was, 1973 or something,
Harry Truman was dying. It 
took him like a month to die, 
some really slow heart-disease 
kind of death. I'd hear it on the 
car radio each morning, as if it
were some big Harry Truman
death watch event. I used to think,
all that time he took to slowly
die, he was first having to meet,
one by one, each of the people
incinerated and killed in the
Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic
bombings  -  in that time of his long
death-coma  -  which had been his
decision (the bomb) and command  
as President. Probably just a real
dumb thought on my part  - war
is war, people were dying 
everywhere and this was a
chance finally to stop the 
damned war once and for all  
-  but it was just the way my
mind took to it all. Plus the
dreariness of the same 
commute, every day, and 
all that.
On that roadway, when you
got up towards Elmira, there was
a border crossing, into the State
of New York. Things instantly
changed : the first town in was
called Southport. All the beauty
and rustic feel of the rambling,
old Pennsylvania route instantly
evaporated, into this dingy, 
grubby, industrial landscape, 
just as if no one cared. 
Oil-stained truck-yards
with hard-black dirt, chain-
link fences, trucks and storage
bins of just the rawest 
cinderblock construction. It
was all pretty disrespectful, 
and right quick too. Then it 
all softened up, eventually, 
as you entered the environs
of old Elmira, but that took 
a while. When I got involved,
years later, in local, politics, for
a while, in Metuchen, NJ, all
the big-ass council-people and
Mayoral staff and all that were
always referring to this 'entry' 
area to town, as the 'Gateway' 
to Metuchen. What people first
saw, from any direction. They 
wanted it perfect  -  all tree'd and
flowered, landscaping 'donated' by
any or another of the local boro
companies. It was really stupid,
and made little difference in a
shit-hole entryplace like that, 
being flung off Rt. One, or the 
NJTurnpike, or 287, who cared
what the 'entry' looked like. You
just want to get where you're going,
and keep out of traffic. 'Do me a 
favor, let the place look like it 
wants, and instead just keep 
traffic flowing, ok? But, up
there, it really was a difference.
Like entering Hell from Heaven,
or something.

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