Category Archives: Upstate NY

More fantastical Upstate landscapes…

Some time ago, I commented on the ABC special Earth 2100 and how, like other dystopian sci-fi visions, it at the end embraced Upstate New York as some sort of idyllic promised land for people to escape to in the event of asteroids, global warming, nuclear war, etc. Nobody else will be living up here, and it will be the perfect place for brave urban castaways to settle down and build new lives.

I can’t help noticing that more TV shows seem to be using Northeastern locales. The shows occasionally include Upstate in their geographies, such as The Office and its “Road Trip” episode which stopped at “Utica Branch.” Sometimes the geographies are fanciful or downright demented, however. My latest guilty TV pleasure in the Boston-set Fringe on Fox, which mostly stays in Massachusetts (or “Massachusetts,” ahem), but whose central dramatic event occurred at a fictional frozen lake west of Albany, somewhere north of Westerlo. Pretty cool… except that the lake is allegedly located just near an ocean beach. Okay, whatever! And this map from an alternate universe in Fringe seems to indicate something horrible has happened in the greater Buffalo area. (Wait, maybe that’s our universe.)

I used to assume that General Hospital‘s Port Charles, N.Y. was meant to be on Long Island. With ship’s bells and so many unsavory characters hanging out at “the docks,” wouldn’t you assume so? Nope, apparently it is supposed to be Rochester – on the rough and tumble coast of Lake Ontario. (Not that Rochester is on the coast…) All righty then!

Any other fantastical Upstate locations or landscapes out there in popular culture? (I’m thinking maybe it’s not worth discussing Slap Shot for the umpteenth time and instead focus on the probably far greater number of TV and movie productions that just make stuff up.)

Will the real CNY please stand up?

You might not have heard, but a couple of tinhorn Utica-area politicians with nothing better to do have, with their mighty and authoritative voices, changed the fate of a region.

State officials agreed Sunday to officially rename the Greater Utica area to “Central New York” after retiring the name “Central Leatherstocking Region.” Senator Joseph Griffo (R) and Assemblywoman RoAnn Desito (D) announced that for tourism purposes, the seven-county region will switch to the new name that is used more frequently anyway. The former “Central Leatherstocking Region” encompasses seven upstate counties of Oneida, Otsego, Madison, Chenango, Montgomery, Broome and Schoharie Counties. The Chairman of Empire State Development Corporation, Dennis Mullen, notifies the region’s tourism partners that the name has officially been changed after careful consideration and meetings with consultants.

At this point, don’t we have to consider “consultants” to be useless boils on the butt of humanity? Do they ever produce anything of actual value or insight? (Emerald City, anyone?) It’s not like they actually asked the people living in the actual Central New York that has been called that by the locals for decades, if not more. Onondaga County — the only county in America shaped like an actual human heart — is no longer the heart of Central New York, but rather a far-flung corner of the Finger Lakes region, according to distant people who have probably never visited here in the first place.

Our petty regional names are kind of important. New York is one of the least homogenous states in the country, and we’re all uncomfortably bound to “New York” as the name of a world city that often we feel has emotionally and economically nothing to do with us. We cling to a shallow “Upstate-Downstate” divide partly as a means of ego defense, and to avoid having to deal with the scary reality that “Upstate” is really fragmented and always has been.

You can see the map of the new Central New York over at New York Traveler, which has some wistful thoughts about the banishment of the term “Leatherstocking Country.” (Note that – like everything else in our economy – the geographic location of Central New York has now slid downstateward.)

This name game reminds me of another game you might have played when you were a kid. Remember those puzzle boards covered with numbers, which one had to shift around (up, down, right, left) until the rows added up correctly? Since there were only limited numbers of empty spaces to slide the numbers to, it was often a frustrating or even pointless exercise. One began to suspect that the game came from the factory rigged for unsolvability. It’s gotten to the point where our economic guardians have decided that calling one economically empty space by the rightful name of another economically empty space is the solution to the intractable problem of New York’s future existence. (Here are some more name and number solutions recently tried.)

I know how the numbers game always ended at my house: dug out with the fingernails, and then discarded for a new game.

Rod Serling speaks

Stepping away from the Twilight Zone of the NYS state parks for a moment, I just had to post these ancient videos of Rod Serling talking about the craft of writing for television.

Also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5… and I think there are 10 parts in all, which you can find linked from these videos.

(“Shut your eyes, and you won’t know who’s talking… because they all talk alike.” Yes, Albany does need new writers…)

From Copake to Camillus, we’re all indigenous now

Last week there was a particularly disturbing news story out of the hamlet of Copake, in Columbia County east of the Hudson. A despondent dairy farmer committed suicide, shooting dead 51 of his cows before killing himself. Although the scope of this private tragedy caught the collective breath of nationwide news consumers (for an hour or two), there is of course nothing new about the desperate struggles of the family farmer, particularly dairy farmers in our own state. Northview Diary has more.

Andy Arthur (your expert blogger on the rural issues of eastern New York) has a thoughtful post up today about the physical, economic and social landscape where this sad event occurred. He points out that Copake is on the very front line between Upstate New York’s economic struggles and a rising tide of affluence coming ultimately from New York City (and Wall Street). It’s a line that used to lay much farther south. This is an on-the-ground situation which is still only abstract to us in other parts of Upstate, although became somewhat less abstract to more people during the regional anti-NYRI protests. Here’s a story about a “farm” (also in Copake, and on the same road as the farm with the 51 cows) that is not really a farm, but apparently a construction-debris dumping ground. With the advance of development-crazy newcomers, Columbia County farms are bearing some strange fruit.

Speaking of dumping — and closer to home — residents of the Town of Camillus’ Golden Meadows subdivision (a homedebtors farm?) are only just realizing how Honeywell has successfully managed to turn the Onondaga Lake sludge-dumping cleanup plan into a fait accompli. This is the same plan that the Onondaga Nation and other local activists have been vocally opposing for several years, but the residents of Golden Meadows seem not to have heard about it. I lost some nice neighbors a couple years ago to the lure of Golden Meadows, and I’m guessing they’re feeling like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them; they probably didn’t think the waste beds would ever see use again, or were not warned. The sad thing is that if only the Nation, the local activist friends of the Nation, and the residents of the Town of Camillus had connected with each other a few years ago, they could have made a much more effective bloc to demand a better examination of the cleanup issues.

“Divide and conquer” still works, however. It works particularly well here, because some people don’t want to consider that while they may be in different boats, they are still riding down the same river. Simply put, the Camillus situation illustrates perfectly something I’ve been trying to imperfectly express for years: we here in Upstate New York are all “indigenous” now in the eyes of certain other people. We are seen as being as exploitable and disposable as the other natural resources on the land we occupy, whether it is over in Copake or over in Camillus. We’re becoming invisible. The people from the corporations, and maybe the second-home owners too (who are probably more intimately bound up with the interests of corporations than those who can’t afford second homes), tend not to consider “the locals” to be people, any more than the land speculators of the 18th and 19th centuries thought that the Haudenosaunee were people. No, they’re not evil, but they are losing their sight. All natives of this region, regardless of cultural background or skin color (but particularly those with brown skin, and also people of any color with farming or working-class backgrounds), are “removable.” How did this change in identity happen? I don’t know. But I do know that our historical ignorance and pride keeps us from acknowledging this new reality.

I’m not a second-home-owner who works for a Wall Street corporation (although I currently serve them) and I have never been able to think like they do. They see things differently. We’re not all the same people. But the even more ironic thing is that the second-home-owners are desperately seeking authenticity by (usually unconsciously) sweeping away the actual authentic culture (the indigenous peoples of all kinds, from the native nations to the farmers to the factory workers) and building artificial, pretend versions in their place. Yet their desire for cultural authenticity never seems to be sated, and they use their affluence to travel the world seeking it, creating “ideal communities” Upstate, or clearing out cities for gentrification, or buying dead factories to make shrines for art that strives to get them back in touch with the “authentic.” They’re always chasing the indigenous peoples away — but in the end, they’re always chasing after them.

What an absurd cycle. Does it have to be this way? And does there have to be conflict? The Two Row Wampum says no. It seems to me the indigenous peoples of today’s upstate regions, and the “new people” from elsewhere (I mean the affluent, not the immigrant), ought to work out a new agreement. But such an agreement won’t happen if we don’t have any good local leaders to articulate and respond to what is actually happening.

Welcome to Erie State

This unconventional Senate reapportionment map, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, would divide the U.S. into regions with more or less equal representation by population. As usual, upstate NY gets cut into pieces, but that’s not surprising.


CNY is handcuffed to WNY in this scenario, but I suppose worse things could happen. The name seems well chosen (resonating with Lake Erie as well as the Erie Canal), although the northern boundaries ignore CNY’s current media market, which does so much to foster a sense of regional identity. I’m not sure if the North Country belongs with “Northern New England,” but maybe it does.