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On Coming to Cobleskill

Concurrent with a move to rural upstate New York after more than 40 years of night life in the Big Apple, writer Thom O’Connor chronicles his arrival and progress in a new life.  His column, The View From Here, appeared in the Times Journal, Cobleskill, NY for close to three years.

My journey to Cobleskill started at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning in September 2003.  Unable to sleep, I headed to the corner diner, knowing that it would be alive with the 24-7 nightlife that spilled over into the daylight of every Chelsea morning.   There, I spotted a dog-eared copy of a popular digest.  I paged my way to the real estate section.  Only four listings; none in places I knew.  The prices and acreage were right, however. In a few hours, I was talking with a realtor before heading up the Thruway to a place called Cobleskill.

When I arrived, two of the houses already had sold.  I looked at the other two. Then a dozen more. Too much money. Too little land. Too isolated.  No septic. No well. No sale.  The realtor asked if I could stretch my budget by a few thousand bills. Within minutes, we were parked by a small house on a man-made lake.  The price was tenfold a few thousands more.  I hurriedly calculated.  The view was breathtaking.  It was serene.  I could write here.  Maybe.  Before getting out of the realtor’s car I said, “I’ll take it!”

Since Sept. 11, I had been thinking about moving from New York City – despite having lived there since the late 60s.  Standing then by that tranquil lake, which had all the fascination of any ocean, short-circuited any indecision.  By Thanksgiving, I was unpacking in a place where I knew no one — and nothing.  Eerie.  And exhilarating.

Shocks and surprises followed.  Despite an Internet search that indicated that the job-scene in Albany was “happening,” it was a graveyard from my perspective.  I learned that the SUNY system pays too little to adjunct professors.  I learned that most of the people I met, worked at two — and even three — jobs to make ends almost meet.  I learned that there was no end to Schoharie snow and that even the high-speed embrace of I-88 could become a treacherous death-grip in a momentary whiteout.  I learned uneasily how spring plays standoff with the Valley.

But I also experienced the kindness and cheerleading of many people as I tried to integrate into a new life in a new town.  I bought a wreath on Main Street.  The woman who sold it to me told me to return in an hour.  She took it home and decorated it over lunch as a holiday/welcome gift.  She said I’d like it here.  She is one of the reasons why.

I joined the Schoharie Chamber of Commerce and found that there is more to do here than could be accomplished in a lifetime.  One stress-filled day, I discovered the kindness of the ER at Cobleskill Hospital, then the incredible care at Albany Medical Center.  A woman in the Admitting Office gave me directions home that were so detailed, I suspected her of having been to my house.  In fact, she lived within a mile.  She told me about “possible” jobs.

I fell under the spell of the very creative Jamie Denman at All About Frames in Richmondville.  She quickly spread the word about the new guy in town who needed connections.  A chance meeting with another Richmondville resident, Tom Bowes, pulled me into a more broadly cast network of informal friends ready to help.  I reveled in the daily hospitality of the Carrot Barn.  Its owner Richard Ball cautioned me that people don’t move to Schoharie for the money.  It’s all about the quality of life here, he said.  I learned quickly what he meant.

I also experienced the charm and old-time prices of the local movie theatre, the rewards of real customer service at Selkirk’s, the abundant wonders of the Old Stone Fort Museum, the luxury of at-home haircuts by Nickie Willwerth, the tranquility created by “Daylily Queen” Nancie Bidwell at Swallow Hill Farm in Summit, the come-as-you-are welcome of the Pizza Shack, the daily hospitality of Shirley Hall-Garner’s Stony Creek Restaurant, the grace-and-taste of The Dairy Deli – and always, the dazzling, hypnotic vistas that encouraged me always to drive with a camera.

As I absorb the new-found riches of this – for me – new land, I still wonder why people are not kinder to others trying to merge onto Main Street; why so many beautiful buildings in downtown Cobleskill are in disrepair and empty; why I can’t get Road Runner or DSL.  And, why; oh why, do people make left hand turns from the right lane as if they were driving an 18-wheeler through town?

There’s time enough to wonder.  I’m here for the long haul.  I’m ready to ask questions and to find answers through conversations, remarkable or otherwise, with the people who call Schoharie home.  I’m also prepared to dig in and get involved as the area grapples with the growing pains that are sure to become more persistent as “new people” like me realize that one can’t build a life on vistas alone.


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