Five Statements, Five Questions II: Albany Edition

1. I am in Albany tonight. Did anyone notice a disturbance in the force?

2. The Albany-Colonie area has about half the population of Des Moines, but the traffic is orders of magnitude worse. Why?

3. I put my suitcase in the back seat of the wrong rental car, and now it’s gone. Do you have my clothes?

4. I had dinner with Jed Davis tonight, who’s one of my favorite songwriters ever. Who are yours?

5. I drove from Great Barrington to Albany tonight taking a shortcut on Dugway Road, which is a gorgeous dirt path southeast of Spencertown. Why does it feel so good to drive fast on dirt roads?

10 thoughts on “Five Statements, Five Questions II: Albany Edition

  1. 1) No, but I was stacking firewood in the dark. I may have been distracted.

    2) No one knows the answer to that question, but it may have something to do with the fact that drivers in the 518 are dumb and getting dumber. Too many of ’em can’t even handle driving in snow anymore. Interesting, though: I just got back from Denver and had the same impression.

    3) How did you end up in the wrong rental car? That is some serious bad luck.

    4) Makes up for number three, IMHO. I have a lot of favorite songwriters, but I might well trade a testicle for dinner and conversation with Richard Thompson.

    5) Driving on a dirt road always feels faster. And it’s always more fun.

    Enjoy your time in Albany.

    • In re 3) I got my rental car Thursday night, then drove over to Great Barrington in the dark for a two-day board meeting, so I never actually saw it during the daytime. At the end of my meetings today, I went out to where it was parked, tossed my bag in the back, got in the driver’s seat, plugged in my iPod, and put the key in the ignition . . . and it didn’t start. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out what was wrong, then looked out my window and saw an identical car next to mine (different color, though, but I didn’t know that from the dark) . . . I was mortified about being in someone else’s car, so grabbed my briefcase and iPod and hopped into the correct car and drove away. And forget my clothes in the back seat. I didn’t realize that I’d done it until I got back to Albany. I am hoping that whoever actually had that car notices the bag in the back seat and gives it to staff over there so they can mail it to me, but if they don’t see it until they turn it into Enterprise, then I guess it’s going into the lost and found there until it gets shipped to Goodwill . . .

      I love Richard Thompson, too. I really feel blessed that three of my fave songwriters (Jed Davis, Stephen Gaylord and Gaven Richard) just happened to live in Albany, and just happened to become my friends during my 19 years here. I think that’s a rare occurrence!!

  2. 1. No, but I pay no attention to the force.
    2. There are a couple of reasons our traffic is “bad,” by which I mean to say so negligible that no one from the Boston/NY/Philly/DC area would even notice it exists. Try driving around suburban Philadelphia for a while, out in the country where there should be nothing at all, and there is nothing but insane traffic. First, you have a lot of distributed cities here, not one central one, so there’s a lot of coming and going to and from different points. Two, you have a lot of traffic going through here to get to somewhere else — NY, Montreal, Boston — and that adds significantly to the traffic. All that backup at Exit 24 ain’t locals.
    3. I’d probably adapt to that experience by creating a new ritual by which I started the car before putting my bag inside, just so it would never happen again. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark or not, I can never tell one silver/gray econobox from another, so I frequently don’t know what I’m driving. I’ve developed the habit of pressing the key button to make the lights flash so I know which car I’m supposed to be using.
    4. Don’t know Jed Davis. Right now I’m on an Aimee Mann/Amanda Palmer/Amanda Rogers jag. All-time? Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Kurt Weill.
    5.It’s all the noise.

    • In re 2 . . . yeah, I know it’s all relative, having lived near “The Meatgrinder” (junction of I-95, I-495 and I-395) in Northern Virginia for five years. But the Albany area really is bad for the size of the market . . . . Des Moines is also a major crossroads (I-80 from Chicago to Denver, and I-35 from Twin Cities to Kansas City meet here), but we just don’t have the kind of grinding congestion that you get at bad times in the Albany area. I think part of it has to do with tolls and toll booths . . . we don’t have them out here. Another part has to do with urban and regional planning: there is nothing in the Greater Des Moines are as badly designed and developed as the clusterf*ck between Crossgates, the Wolf Road/Central Avenue/Albany-Shaker Road area, and you can get to our airport without having to go through that godawful zipper ramp arrangement on the west side of Exit 5 when you’re coming into Albany from the north. It may just be a function of Des Moines being developed in more a grid format, but anytime you have a traffic problem, there are ALWAYS alternate ways to get around it. It’s a cliche out here that you can get to anywhere in Des Moines in less than 15 minutes . . . but it’s a true one, even though the actual physical size of the city is much larger, too, than Albany-Colonie.

      In re 3 . . . I got an e-mail tonight that my bad was returned to staff at the Institute, who will be mailing it to me, since it has my initials written on it, so they figured it was mine. Of course . . . it will be a little awkward to see the finder of the bag (the grandson of the organization’s founder, as it turns out) when I there in the spring, since he probably assumes I was hobo camping in his car while I was there . . .

      In re 4 . . . Jed would be on my all-time list, if for no other reason than the fact that he writes great songs, and then puts them out on wax cylinders . . . see: . . . or because he recorded what I consider to be one of the greatest live albums ever at Albany’s QE2 when he was in college . . . . . . that album includes a song called “Sugar Smack” which is his mashup arrangement of The Archies “Sugar Sugar” and the Velvet Underdounfds “Heroin,” with some other ace references tossed in for good measure. His new album is really outstanding, too . . . . . . . . all highly recommended!!!

      In re 5 . . . That’s a good point!!! I was thinking about the dust plume, but that sound of crunching and grinding is definitely an important part of the experience!!!

      • Here’s a recent example of what I’m talking about in re Albany and its traffic planning . . . . . . this was the area where I was driving when I formulated that question: I went from the UAlbany campus to the Desmond via Fuller, Central, Wolf and Albany-Shaker, and it was a nonstop crawl, with too many lights, too much construction, too many cars, too many awkward lane changes, etc.

        • There is a real dearth of north-south through-routes out in that part of the city, no question. It’s even more challenging on a bike, where certain death on Fuller Road is such an unattractive option, and yet the next way of getting from 20 to 5 is way out at New Karner. And a couple of years ago I experienced a summer of weekly afternoon trips to Colonie that often took 45 minutes, sometimes more than an hour, to get from Rensselaer. Unfortunately, “planning” always comes down to building more concrete and asphalt, rather than telling people to stop building homes out in nowhere, and to stop spreading mini-malls and office parks all over the place. We’re unable to plan in this area because we have so many cities, towns and counties, and the only thing they can care about is increasing their own tax base. It’s the tragedy of the non-commons.

          • Yeah, agreed on making the jump from 20 to 5 . . . . the Thruway, with its small number of access points, turns into quite a formidable barrier in that area. In Des Moines, when they built I-235 through the middle of the city, they did a better job of making sure you can get across it . . . in my part of town, there are vehicle crossings at 19th, 25th, 28th, 31st, 35th, 42nd and 47th Streets, with additional pedestrian/bike crossings at 40th and 44th. So you never have to go more than three or four city blocks to get under/over the big Interstate barrier, hence fewer awful choke points like Fuller Road. Des Moines is an INCREDIBLY bike friendly city, too . . . loads of bike lanes on roads, loads of paved trails between various parts of town, and less glass on the roadside!!!

  3. 1) Why yes, I most certainly did.

    2) What’s going on at UAlbany construction-wise could be the subject of its own whole blog. It’s the new Nano Reality. And it seems to be filled with rotaries. Not just I90/Washington/Fuller but on campus itself is a danger zone. I was in a hurry and not paying cloose attention, and accidentally walked to the right of a barrier last night and had to go through buildings rather than walk on the podium on the way to class to avoid being late.

    But the Albany / Colonie / Northway congestion is what keeps southern Rensselaer / northern Columbia / east of Hudson River “almost” rural. We have a rush minute! (See your #5 for details.) Folks really dig the suburban track house / retail strip utopias. So SSSHHHH!

    4) John Prine, Dolly Parton, Ed Robertson.

    • Re 1) and 2) I swung by the campus to check out the projects I’d been involved with, and, wow, I really was astounded at how many new buildings had gone up and how many old buildings were being ripped down as I circled the perimeter. We had our shop in the old Commissary building in SBC on the southwest side of campus . . . that building had been build specifically to be a food service/kitchen facility, but the evolution of the campus moved away from that central on-site food prep model, and now it will be the home for the campus server farm. There’s probably a story to be told about computer space replacing food space, but it’s too late for me to spin it tonight!

      I had no idea that it was Homecoming weekend when I showed up, so I actually did park (illegally, in faculty parking east of the Campus Center, sorry!!!) and then puttered around a bit and saw some folks, so that was a nice, unexpected side treat to being back in the area.

      Rev4) Good choices. Jed Davis actually worked at UAS for awhile while I was there (he was the creator and graphic designer of the “UAS Loves You!” campaign), and he still DJs at WCDB on occasion . . . so he might cause a disturbance in your force sometimes too when you’re on the podium!!

      Re 5) My copilot ( and I spent a couple of years driving from Albany to Great Barrington and back five days a week, and we literally tried every road, trail, deer path, creek bed and/or any other passable route to find the coolest and/or most efficient ways to make that trip. I know those dirt roads of eastern Rensselaer and Columbia County like the back of my hand as a result. It’s a glorious part of the world over there!! (Shhhh . . . don’t anybody pay attention to what I just said!!!)

      • They just arrested a New Jersey woman for running into an East Greenbush cop car in the Couse Corners roundabout. She was VERY drunk, and thought she was already in New Jersey. I’d be insulted as a Rensselaer County resident, except that she had a point — she was driving down Route 4, and all she’d seen for the past mile was Home Depot, Staples, McDonalds, Target, WalMart, a FedEx distribution center, several econobox hotels, and a Dunkin Donuts. What used to be a road I loved has pretty much turned into New Jersey, so I can forgive her confusion.

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