If you travel NY’s Route 69 through Camden, you’ll find a business with a sign proclaiming it sells Things You Might Want. One of the rewards of taking back roads is finding such statements of refreshing honesty among a world of puffery and self-promotion.
Blame Charles Kuralt or William Least Heat-Moon or that I just don’t like driving on superhighways, but I take more pleasure traversing the blue highways on the maps that take you past village squares, 19th-century Main Street storefronts and modest yet homey houses. By eschewing the Thruway, my trip to and from Albany this weekend took me through places named Rome, Paris and Mexico. Past the Soap Opera Laundromat, a wood store called Knotty By Nature and the Petrified Creatures Museum.
Thanks to the iPhone’s GPS, I navigated a numeric maze of routes such as 104, 69, 233, 5, 8 and 20. Much of it on Route 20: Once a main east-west thoroughfare, 20 now seems a ghost highway for much of Eastern New York. That it was April with recent snowfall, and the temperature dipped to freezing as I drove the four-lane road through a lonesome valley just made the whole scene more haunting.
Another advantage of traveling Route 20 was that it brought me within 10 miles of Cooperstown, so I took a brief jaunt down Route 80 to enjoy the beautiful village. It was the opening day of baseball season, though I didn’t stop into the National Baseball Hall of Fame — I probably would have spent all day there — but did browse the local souvenir stores and shops.
If you think about it, most of us already spend our days speeding down information superhighways. We’re always doing something, on our way somewhere. But sometimes we really need to take our foot off the gas and smile as we coast into some charming real community. Who knows? If you do a little old-fashioned exploring, you may even find things you might want.