Monthly Archives: July 2019

Oswego shines: less a diamond in the rough, more just a gem

Water Street Square, a new pocket park in downtown Oswego

I spent a good portion of yesterday walking around Oswego during Harborfest and — at the risk of sounding like a homer — I don’t think the city has ever looked more beautiful. And that’s despite Harborfest being a time that can put stress on its neighborhoods.

Terry Prior, as good of a public historian as I’d ever met, said that during the Port City’s shipping heyday, the west side neighborhood nearest the lake, down the hill from around West Fifth to the river, was known as “The Flats.” It was where sailors could find everything they were looking for: women, fights, intoxicants and related items, or some combination. And for decades after, despite the lack of sailors and other “services” that supported them, it would not be unfair to say these neighborhoods still could look a little rough.

I took a turn on West Second from Lake Street, going through a stretch where I previously may have seen run-down houses, wild and unruly lawns, discarded items and refuse. Instead I saw renovated and new structures, neat lawns and hardly any litter. On one side, construction for the new mixed-use buildings rose toward completion, while on the other Skip’s Fish Fry had out a shiny and neat food truck. Sure, I passed a few parties and the occasional drunk, but it most certainly wouldn’t be a walk I’d fear making with a six year old.

Around town, I saw so much improved curb appeal, construction and renovation, new businesses. Water Street Square, the brand new pocket park, looked ready to open and cast an attractive and welcoming presence. The new brickwork in the sidewalks and the remade storefronts are so much more pedestrian-pleasing and inviting. I learned the city has gained a new gaming store called Convergence (bravo for the ascendance of nerd culture!). And the festgoers themselves, local and visitors alike, were the most diverse I’ve ever seen in every measure.

Much of the credit can go to groups like the Oswego Renaissance Association, which has supported with money and positivity the rebuilding of neighborhoods across town. The $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants are evident in the new, rehabilitating and rising buildings. Mayor Billy Barlow has made improving neighborhoods, and getting more people to want to live and work downtown, priorities and it seems to be working.

Look, I know Oswego is far from perfect. Some people could use more tolerance, more empathy, more understanding. You can find plenty of areas for improvement, such as the zombie properties that still cast a blight over too many neighborhoods. Pockets of crime and drugs still exist.

But on the whole, I agree with what Bill Reilly of River’s End Bookstore said during a Friday visit: He’d never seen so much activity in Oswego before — and he wasn’t talking about Harborfest. Bill was talking about year-round, of touches large and small, immediate and ongoing. As I walked along the West First Street business district after the fireworks, I noticed strings of lights illuminating the heart of downtown. They were both quaint and sophisticated, in the best senses of those words. I smiled and, thinking of everything else I passed that day, realized I’ve never been more proud to call Oswego my home.

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Appreciating moments that are less than picture-perfect

Fireworks explode while partially obscured by trees

Not all plans to watch fireworks turn out, well, picture perfect.

After a late-evening early-birthday picnic for my mom at Sterling Nature Center, after we bid farewell to my mother and my brother and his adorable family, I asked Arius if he wanted to check out the Fair Haven fireworks. He said yes excitedly and, even though it was already about 9, with the Wall of Fire beginning at 9:30 and fireworks launching about 10, we headed west hoping for the best.

We found a parking spot over a giant puddle just off the main street and walked a few blocks to find a large gathering of families at the east side playground stretching north to Little Sodus Inn. On the whole I subscribe to the theory of the wisdom of crowds, especially for local knowledge, so I spread out the blanket and Arius even caught a snooze as amateur fireworks hour lapsed and we were ready for the professionals.

Then the first shot went up, and everybody in the park murmured about the same thing: The trees are in the way. Whether the launch spot moved because of flooding or for whatever reason, you now had a park full of people with an obstructed view.

The young woman one blanket over who seemed to be taking notes on every absurd utterance or happening to that point could have filled several pages of her notebook on what happened next. Spectators uprooted their blankets and bodies, and I suspect this is somewhat what the California gold rush looked like. A recently awakened Arius and I joined the nomadic party because why not?

But no good options presented themselves. Little Sodus Inn was crowded, no bare patches of land emerged and the herd was clamoring toward any desirable spots. I asked Arius if he wanted to go home, and was happy that he said yes.

We managed to catch a fire nice bursts from the sidewalks of Main Street, and watched for a few more moments from the car as I waited at an empty intersection before I pointed the Jeep east — meaning we also avoided a traffic jam.

I’m all about celebrating life’s imperfect moments, and this was another example. You can catch fireworks anywhere around Independence Day, and might not recall them later. This family adventure was one to remember.

Fireworks exploded, partially obscured by trees and buildings

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Thursday travelogue: Saranac Lake, the real/rustic Adirondacks

A view into a clear Saranac Lake from a parkside pier

If one just went by a drive-by appearance, one might think Saranac Lake is kind of the scrappy little sibling of shiny, tourist-laden Lake Placid. But spend some time there (as I have this week), and you might be impressed. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Saranac Lake is more the rustic, real Adirondacks to Lake Placid’s corporate version of the Adirondacks.

If I had to describe Saranac Lake in one word, it would be “community.” This is a community where people all seem to know each other, are nice to each other and genuinely seem to like each other. Even if you’re an outsider, they’ll treat you like one of their own. There’s also a very DIY vibe to it.

An Irish band plays in a park, as kids run around

Music on the Green was a hit for all ages

I saw a sign about a free concert on Wednesday, so I went not expecting too much. But for the Music on the Green series, a little park was packed and a really good band from Ireland, JigJam, played. It was truly an event for all ages, with kids dancing and running around in circles with each other. It felt very much like a snapshot of Americana.

A breakfast burrito with home fries

Breakfasts in the Adirondacks are big and tasty, such as this Origin Coffee breakfast burrito.

My base camp was a nice little inexpensive Air BnB just a few blocks from the center of the charming village. My host Rob said to try Origin Coffee Co., best coffee in town. He was right, but also the people were so genuinely nice. Wednesday was the last day of classes, so many teachers came in and many warm congratulations and general loveliness took place. The bar Bitters & Bones looks somewhat like a shack from the outside but, like Doctor Who’s Tardis, is bigger and more awesome on the inside. I found myself in many great conversations and receiving excellent advice, including on hiking Cascade and Porter mountains.

Bitters and Bones pub hosts a variety of drinks and even has a live feed of bears on a big TV

At Bitters and Bones, you can find food and drink and conversation and if you’re lucky, live video of bears in Alaska on the big screen.

Don’t get me wrong: I still like Lake Placid and visited it yesterday as well. It’s a beautiful place with many good shops and eateries of its own. But my time there felt transactional — in stores and where I ate, I felt like a customer. In Saranac Lake, I often felt like a friend.

I enjoyed going home, but I’m genuinely missing the briefly established routine of getting a cup at Origin Coffee in the morning, or a drink and conversations at Bitters and Bones in the evening. But to find a place like that, a home away from home, only makes me look forward to visiting again.

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Unrequited love song of the vendor: A play in three acts

Act I:

Dear Mike:

In your position as director of web development[1] for Rockville University, we’re sure you’re always looking for ways to save time and money. That’s where Bugger comes in! Bugger is a combination CMS, media tracker, social media engagement platform and CRM all in one!

We provide real-world, purpose-driven, best-practices synergy to you and your team! Do you have time this week for a quick 10-minute call[2] so we can discuss how we can add value to your organization?

Talk soon!
Silas Mann

  • [1] We got this from a mailing list several years out of date but didn’t feel like taking the time to actually check out your department or website to learn this isn’t really your title or responsibility.
  • [2] This will probably be a 45- to 60-minute call where we’ll only half listen to you while plugging our product, followed by calls/emails a few times a week. Even if you say no, we’ll bug you again toward the beginning of the next budget cycle and then annually until our company goes belly up … or you do.

Act II:

Dear Mike:

We’re really surprised we didn’t hear back from you[3] about our amazing CMS/MT/SMEP/CRM yet! Maybe you’ve been a little busy; we understand.

How would a call Thursday morning work you? Maybe 9 a.m.? If not give us another time for a quick 10-minute chat so you can start delivering value to your institution.[4]

Have a good day!
Silas Mann

  • [3] Mike has marked this as spam and won’t get this or other messages, and will be thankful for the person who created that one-step feature.
  • [4] Let’s try to make Mike feel like he’s letting down his employer by not opening himself up to a lifetime of follow-up calls.

Act III:

Hey Mike:

Still surprised that you haven’t taken us up on this magnificent offer![5] Did we mention some of the exciting new additions Bugger has in the works?[6] We also offer the latest cutting-edge technology[7] that will keep you light years ahead of your competition.

Did we mention we have a new whitepaper[8] coming out that shows how our kind of product can lead colleges like yours to higher applications, better yield, less summer melt, a higher spot in the U.S. News and World Report Rankings, higher alumni giving rates and free ice cream? We’d be happy to send it to you for no charge if you want!

It would be a shame if you decide, for whatever reason, that Rockville University isn’t interested in being a market leader in adding value to your institution[9], so we look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,
Silas Mann

  • [5] That mark as spam feature is pretty wonderful.
  • [6] If you’re actually interested in these “new additions,” we don’t have them yet, but we’ll tell you they’re “on the roadmap” and we can “circle back” on them eventually.
  • [7] We call them “cutting edge,” but by the time we finish the job (late and over budget), the technology will be a couple years out of date.
  • [8] Funny how whitepapers always confirm exactly what the vendor who commissioned them wants them to.
  • [9] Passive-aggressiveness, for the not-win.


Dear Mike:

I recently took over your account from Silas Mann, so I wanted to check in on any progress. I know that as director of web development for Rockville University, you’re always looking for ways to save time and money.

That’s where Bugger comes in! Bugger is a combination CMS, media tracker, social media engagement platform and CRM all in one! We provide real-world, purpose-driven, best-practices synergy to you and your team!

Do you have time this week for a quick 10-minute call so we can discuss how we can add value to your organization?

Talk soon!
Guy Newman[10]

  • [10] Repeat cycle until the end of time.

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