We had our first brush with the law today when a cop pulled us over for speeding in Seneca Falls, New York. He had us pegged going 45 in a 30 zone, but after spotting Paul’s Red Sox cap he decided to wave us off, seemingly proving not everyone is a Yankees fan in these parts. Indeed, the region’s split loyalties were later confirmed by our hosts for the night, an old college friend of my mom’s.
Today’s drive resulted in us reaching several milestones. We parted ways with my professor around 9 AM and caught up with Route 20 at the edge of Springfield, where we then crossed our first major river, the Connecticut. Following the road through the remainder of western Massachusetts, we soon reached New York and made our first border crossing. In due time, the rural New York landscape melted away into the open city streets of Albany and we explored our first state capital. The remainder of the day’s driving took us due west past the Finger Lakes and ended in the lakeside town of Geneva, where I slept on my first real mattress.
The most relevant firsts, however, came in two places with stories to tell: Pittsfield, MA and Cherry Valley, NY. The former provided us with our first example of urban decay. As evidenced by a drive around town and talks with locals, Pittsfield has gone through several stages. Its downtown is home to many old and impressive structures, displaying the town’s once vibrant past. Industry then came, highlighted by a large GE plant, and times were good. But then the factories shut down, jobs became scarce, and people started to move out. Pittsfield has faced these challenges head on and has tried to reinvent itself, but the loss of GE in particular has been a blow from which the once thriving town has yet to recover.
The other major first came in the blink-and-you-miss-it village of Cherry Valley. This tiny village is a mile off the current 20, but used to be a key stop on the old route: if you were traveling between Albany and Buffalo, you’d stretch your legs in Cherry Valley. In fact, Route 20 is known as the Cherry Valley Parkway for much of its run in New York, a testament to the locale’s past significance. Unfortunately for the locals, the road’s course was altered following the construction of the Interstate in a sort of domino effect, leaving Cherry Valley and its hotels and motels out in the cold. What used to be a major stopping point for travelers on their way across the Empire State has become a forgotten backwoods hamlet, demonstrating the impact of infrastructure changes. Oh, and yes, they do grow cherries. Lots of ’em.
Though many of today’s focal points ended up being major cities, the route still took us mostly through small towns. And traveling through all these small towns I find one thing particularly striking: the tallest buildings are churches. It’s not even close. Church steeples have dominated the skyline all along our route. Of course, all the skyscrapers in major cities are used for business, inhabited as they are by corporations. But neither seems to me to be the ideal choice. I ask Paul what the tallest building in a town should be and he comes up with libraries. I can’t say I disagree, as I imagine beacons of knowledge coming into view in the distance.
Lastly, here’s a picture of Harriet Tubman’s grave. It doesn’t really tie in with the rest of this post, but Paul and I went through hell finding it and I sense I’d be the victim of the evil eye if I don’t share this photo with y’all.