I stepped into my own Richard Russo novel today.
Russo, author of outstanding novels such as Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls, captures upstate New York and its desperation and its character and its endurance as well as anyone.
There I was in Mrs. K’s Kitchen in Middleburgh, listening to the waitress who has been working at the restaurant for 19 years talk shop with several regulars sitting around the table closest to the kitchen, and talk compassionately with an elderly patron who seems to be fighting an illness, but who said that she “dabbed some makeup on” to enjoy lunch out with a friend.
Boxes of paper towels and napkins are jammed atop a cooler in the eating area, and the drop ceiling looks like it’s been there for as long as Russo has been writing, it’s dotted with water stains and discolored by nicotine when smokers joined diners before the state put an end to that ugly combination.
I made the mistake of sitting right below the board that had all the specials listed and, just as importantly, all the pies and desserts. I’m a good looking guy, but I quickly realized it was the writing on the wall and not the “character” lines on my face drawing all the attention.
I had a piece of chocolate cream pie, with whipped cream, that was wonderful. I could have chosen blueberry, cherry, strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin, or apple. I should have tried the angel’s food cake with strawberries, but I like what I like, and I liked my chocolate cream slice covered with whipped cream.
That followed the cheeseburger deluxe, which came with fries and cole slaw, all for $6.95. It was a good burger. There was a reuben and a turkey wrap and hot covered roast beef sandwich also offered as specials, all for around $7.
Middleburgh, like a lot of upstate towns, is hanging in there, but is certainly in need of a boost. Next to Mrs. K’s is M&J’s cafe, which vied for my attention. Across the way was Kelly’s Pub, right next to a magnificent municipal building that proudly states that it dates to 1880.
Flower pots line Main Street, but for rent signs also dot the streetscape of the village that was incorporated in 1712.
I had taken the two hour ride from the Chenango Valley to the Schoharie Valley to hike Vroman’s Nose, which is just south of the village on Route 30.
What a marvelous morning for a hike. It was sunny, with a scattering of clouds creating occasional shadows that skirted along the valley floor, where huge swaths of green were interrupted by fields of corn and some pumpkin patches.
Looking south into the valley is a sight to behold, with the Schoharie Creek winding its way north (that’s weird, eh?) from the Catskill Mountains to the Mohawk River.
I walked to the first of numerous rock outcroppings in a quick 15 minutes. It’s an easy hike with many gorgeous vistas. I made a loop back to the road by walking along a short section of the Long Path, which runs through the area.
I’d recommend this hike to everyone. I was a little early to catch the fall foliage, but in the next couple of weeks it should be prime time.
I remember hiking Vroman’s Nose about 15 years ago with a couple of colleagues from The Times Union and with Daughter B on my back in a baby carrier. Still the same untainted vistas, luckily for us all, and still worth the trip.
Back in the car, I drove through Cobleskill and ended up on Route 166, which I took north into Cherry Valley. I stopped in at the plaide palette, a terrific shop that sells Irish and Scottish crafts, jewelry, teas, and more.
I found myself something to buy and then headed north to Route 20, and home.