There’s hope yet for Binghamton, my hometown

Binghamton, NY, as I’ve noted once or twice here, is my hometown. Almost every year, I go to Broome County to attend the Olin family reunion – that’s my mother-in-law’s people who can be traced in what is now the United States back to the 1680s.

Those trips, however, were to a park in Endicott, part of the Triple Cities, to be sure. (Endicott and Johnson City, though, are villages; only Binghamton is incorporated as a city.)

When I did venture to downtown Binghamton in the 1980s and 1990s and even the early part of this century, it was depressing. The anchor department stores of McLean’s, where my late mother worked as a bookkeeper, and Fowler’s, were magic to visit on Christmas Eve in 1970 and 1971. When they left, and smaller stores followed, the downtown was overrun by vacant spaces. If it weren’t for Boscov’s, in the old Fowler’s, there would have been no downtown retail to speak of.

The building of a new Route 17, which will become Interstate 86, made it easier to get through Binghamton, but the city wasn’t a place to go TO. The State University of New York isn’t even in Binghamton proper, but out on the Vestal Parkway on old Route 17/Route 434.

But an interesting thing happened:

“Downtown Binghamton, by most accounts, is in the midst of a revitalization. After years of decline, a boom spurred largely by masses of Binghamton University students leaving the dorms of the Vestal campus for the city has filled once-vacant storefronts downtown and chipped away at blight there.’

And that has spurred numerous coffee shops, tattoo parlors and the like catering to that population. I stayed in a hotel that was once the old city hall, not far from the current city hall, where I was a janitor for a few months in 1975, and there are blocks around there that have been totally transformed.

“But further away from the city’s core, other neighborhoods are waiting to see whether the ripple effect of the downtown boom will reach them.” I noticed that too, particularly in the part of town I grew up in.

Still, I felt hope that there is a chance of economic revival in my old hometown. That made me quite happy indeed.

A panoply of reunion festivities

My sister Leslie decided to attend her ##th reunion from Binghamton (NY) Central High School. If MY class had one last year, I didn’t know about it, AND I’m not sure I would have gone. The last one of mine I went to be more than a decade ago, when the Daughter was very small.

Leslie flew to Albany on a Wednesday night, crashed my choir rehearsal on Thursday, then, on Friday, she drove us to the Parlor City, its old nickname, dropping me off with a high school friend and her husband, while she stayed with a grade school chum of ours.

She picked me up a couple hours later and we attended a mixer at a place called Remlick’s. It was a bit overwhelming; a few dozen people from BCHS I hadn’t seen in decades, without the benefit of name tags. But it was a pleasant time, as the cobwebs of forgotten events began to dissolve.

Sharkey’s is a “contender to the throne of spiedie creator,” and that’s where we went Saturday at lunchtime, running into six of my sister’s classmates.

Leslie had attended to Binghamton University, then called SUNY Binghamton, and it was homecoming weekend. So we went to the campus and listened to three choral groups, each performing a piece my church choir has performed. The Women’s Chorus (Zion’s Walls by Aaron Copland), The Chamber Singers (Sicut cervus desiderat by Palestrina) and Leslie’s old group, the Harpur Chorale (Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal arraigned by Alice Parker).

Onto Thirsty’s, where Leslie sees her old friends Cathy and Bobby and their family, then to a separate room, where a bunch of my First Ward chums were gathering. That was likely the high point, as I recognized several of them without assistance. I got to talk about genealogies, and libraries, and book writing, among the topics.

Round Two of the BCHS reunion was at the Holiday Inn. Now that I had seen many of these folks the day before, AND they had name tags, I was in a much more comfortable situation.

Leslie made the trip specifically for the high school reunion. That it, the First Ward reunion, AND the SUNY-B homecoming were all on the SAME DAY was astonishingly convenient, and wonderful coincidence.

Bullies

bullyingI had reason recently to reflect on the bullies in my life. Growing up in the First Ward of Binghamton, NY, it was what I suppose one would call a lower middle class life, with some doing well enough to get by, but others living a more hardscrabble existence.

My school, Daniel S. Dickinson, which I loved – and which I wrote about in 2012 – was a K-9 school that, I learned much later, didn’t always get the most current resources. For instance, we had an ancient music book that still had Continue reading

Binghamton: Butch Skeene, and Spaulding Krullers

ButchIt was like a tsunami of memories of my hometown, Binghamton, NY in a 48-hour period, and it took me quite by surprise, since I usually don’t think that much about the place.

ITEM: There’s this guy named John who remembered my parents and grandmothers. He’s been following me on Facebook the last few months. He attended the church I attended, Trinity A.M.E. Zion in the hometown, and was in the junior choir about a decade before I was, under the direction of Fred Goodall, who was there for decades.

John had a good friend Continue reading

L is for Les, Leslie and Roger, the Green Family Singers

My sister MARCIA found this and put it on Facebook:

It’s a promo sheet my father created for himself as a “singer of folk songs,” never as a “folk singer,” which was too limiting a term for him.

I’m particularly interested in the set list, I’m guessing from late 1950s. Some of the songs he was still singing a decade later, when my father, sister Leslie and I sang together, while there are others (Twenty Souls) I don’t even recognize. I’m always fascinated to hear other people sing the songs he, or we, performed Continue reading

I is for I

Lacking any INSPIRATION for topic, I defaulted to writing about me this week. It is I, during my significant birthday week. But what to write about that I haven’t addressed before?

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house, at 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton, NY. Gaines was a very short street between Oak Street and Front Street, with only 16 possible addresses, and actually fewer buildings than that.

At the corner of Gaines and Front was O’Leary’s convenience store. I went there and bought packs of baseball cards, but I also had to buy my father’s Winston cigarettes, which irritated me greatly.

In the yard at 1 Gaines Street was a huge gnarled tree which terrified me. Continue reading

Friend Karen is 60

Karen I’ve known since kindergarten, and we went from K through 12th grade together in Binghamton, NY. Back in seventh grade or so, she really got into astrology. I don’t mean just looking at the daily newspaper column, but doing a serious investigation. While I wasn’t a true believer, I found it eerie how accurate they could be. She was born only 46 hours after I was, so there was some overlap between hers and mine.

When we were in high school, there was this silly rule that, when you were running for student government, you could not give your own nominating speech. I gave Karen’s when she ran for secretary, a speech that everyone said was one of the best ever. She won. The following year, they changed the rules so that the candidate gave the speech; my address for myself, running for president, was not nearly as good, by my own reckoning (I won anyway).

In 1977, when I was adrift, she gave me a real (verbal) kick in the butt. In the early 1980s Continue reading

T is for the Trip Through Time, and Teachers

I grew up in Binghamton, NY, and when it was time for me to go to kindergarten, I was supposed to go to Oak Street Elementary School, based on where I lived. But both of my parents worked outside the home, and there would be no one home at lunchtime.

It was determined that we would instead go to Daniel S. Dickinson School, so that we could go to my maternal grandmother’s house at lunchtime. She was only a half dozen blocks from my home. Incidentally, I don’t think Oak Street was any closer to MY house than Dickinson. The school was named for a 19th Century US Senator, as well as the first president of the city of Binghamton in 1834.

One of the peculiar things about schools in Binghamton at the time Continue reading

Free Comic Book Day is like visiting my hometown

I always go to Free Comic Book Day, sometimes with my daughter, sometimes alone. This year , it will be on Saturday, May 5 at a comic book store near you (I hope). I go because I like seeing a busy comic book store, and I’m always treated like visiting royalty at local proprietor’s shop. For those of you who don’t know, I worked a FantaCo, Albany’s first direct market comic book shop; the store was open from 1978-1998, and I worked there from 1980-1988. And I like getting something for free, although I ALWAYS buy something as well.

But it’s also a little sad. While there are good books out there Continue reading