Thu. May 26th, 2022

I used to camp with my friends on top of Ski Hill…

There wasn’t a lot to do as a young boy growing up in a small Central Adirondack town like Old Forge back then. Some nights I swear a meteor could shoot down Main Street; stop to chat with a quasar, have tea with a pulsar and leave town without anyone noticing.

Now if it’s a giraffe that escaped from the Enchanted Forest, my uncle… a local policeman… had lots to talk about.

Carmans always seem to have some story to tell, though my regular readers might not guess that.

Chuckle.

I am, and am not, a hometown boy here. My father was offered a job on Park Avenue in New York City during the Depression when he was working on a camp. So he gave birth to me in Nyack, NY. This miracle has yet to make the Guinness Book of Records.

My Mother complained for weeks…

“Hey, that’s my job!”

(Actually, I’ll bet most women would love if men had to find out what giving birth was like.)

My great Grandfather was one of the best friends; perhaps the only friend, our most famous hermit ever had… Adirondack French Louie. Carmans have been here many, many years; since some time in the 1800s. So it was natural when my mother died that many of us moved back to where the rest of our family had been for over 100 years. I moved first and graduated with a class of 32; the largest class they had ever had. My father’s class was the largest in 33: at a whopping 17. I heard they just had 38.

When he moved back many years later I’ll bet he was amazed at how Old Forge had grown, yet retained its character. Unlike many tourist meccas I know, Old Forge seems to keep that wonderful hometown sense that we both loved.

The last Carmans left when my father died in 88 and my Uncle drove off in his motorhome saying…

“A McDonalds in Old Forge? It’s just not right!”

Actually I’m sure the words were far more “colorful” than that.

Old Forge never seemed to develop the Laconia or Meredith, NH, Lake Placid, or Gatlinburg mystique. I have toured through many of those tourist havens and find them lacking: lacking local flare, local color and, finally, soul. Where are the local riff raff? Why are all the buildings so new? Where would I ever find a shoehorn big enough to pry the neon signs apart in Gatlinburg?

Old Forge was always an adventure. I used to hate hardwares when I was young, but a trip to Old Forge Hardware; better known as Cohens, was always exciting even at 5 or six with my Dad. So much to see in this large amazing, colorful maze. Now its even bigger and more interesting.

Ah, to be five again and look up at all those shelves taller than me…

For the fourth year, this year, I performed in Old Forge, thanks to an old classmate: Chip Kiefer. I started at Byrne Dairy which rests in the old parking lot for The Knotty Pine, where I worked for three years as a dishwasher for Old Forge restauranteur: Betty Schultz. Oh, the Pine is still there, it was just cordial enough to share the strip along Route 28.

I commented to one local…

“Yup, the gates of hell are about to open at 9. Car after car…”

He smiled and said…

“Yeah, but the best thing is that a lot of them will be gone by Sunday.”

Then I sat outside Chip’s store; Souvenir Village: across from the old haberdashery shared now by Wrap City N’ Glue… who made the poster for the show. While in there I noticed they had a picture up on the wall of Berkowitz’s old store. It reminded me of the post office across from the old family homestead where they have a picture up of Burdicks, where we used to shop before going to Myra Spinnings: our rental cabin on Woodhull. There’s just something wonderful about honoring those who have gone before.

Back to the show…

As I sat outside Souvenir Village, I had my flower puppet named “Rose’ who likes to harass shoppers with her Bronx/Brooklyn construction worker-ese. Singing…

“Where have all the flowers gone… Hey, I’m right here!”

“Welcome to Old Forge. Buy lotsa stuff!!!”

Mr. Ritz, son to one of the finest grandmothers I’ve ever met, pulled up in front of the store, got out and sat beside me. I felt honored, but… work is work. Back to Rose and the banter.

Then I performed in front of about 40 people: young children with parents in tow. The show: The Snozard of Odd, my 1992 production.

As I left and headed back to Beaver River Station, I realized Old Forge has kept its soul. Yes, there are new business; mostly changes in store fronts. Paul Bunyan doesn’t seem to mind the screams of joy from the new water park. The drive-in ice cream parlor, The Pied Piper, is still there. They’ve even built a park to honor the old building on the triangle I remember from the 60s: dead center downtown… where Chip’s father once had his store in back.

Only the “new” McDonalds has really changed. Ronald departed quite a few years ago. Somehow I doubt many locals went to the wake. His house looks so empty and lonely across from the beach on Old Forge Pond. Some days, when I pass by, I swear I hear the honk of his clown nose as he sniffs back a tear.

Thank you, again, Chip for one of many chances to return to Old Forge and share what few talents I have. Nice to know that the wonderful small town I loved has not changed too much, just grown up a bit.

As have we all.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

By Ken Carman

Entertainer, provider of educational services, columnist, homebrewer, collie lover, writer of songs, poetry and prose... humorist, mediocre motorcyclist, very bad carpenter, horrid handyman and quirky eccentric deluxe.

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RS Janes
12 years ago

Ken, I briefly lived in a small town when I was growing up, but it didn’t fare as well as your town did.

The creek that used to have water so clear you could count the pebbles on the bottom during the summer is now polluted a grimy brown with a permanent meringue of grayish suds on top; the two-block ‘downtown’ with an old-fashioned tavern, a hobby shop, a drug store and even a ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ near the train station for transients is now a plethora of yuppie restaurants, Starbuck’s imitators, real estate offices and upscale businesses. The tavern is still then, but the patrons sing karaoke, chatter loudly on their cell phones, and the beer’s overpriced. The hobby shop is torn down altogether; the friendly family-owned drug store is a gaudy chain monstrosity, and the old transient hotel is a parking lot. There is no longer a town drunk with curmudgeonly stories for the tweenagers — the affable and harmless ‘Bob the Bum’ — nor is there a bakery with fresh bread every day, nor a butcher shop with fresh meat cut as you watch. The old gathering place, the coffee shop, is now a pricey sushi bar; the old grimy-but-honest auto repair shop now sports the bright logo of a national muffler chain.

Most of the beautiful old houses and all of the wide empty fields are gone, too, replaced by apartment complexes, subdivision tract homes, and glaringly-lit sports complexes. The character of the town, the things that made it unique and livable, have been drained from it as surely as a mortician drains blood from a corpse. Now it’s just another scuzzy bit of Generica, indistingusihable from the tens of thousands of other pieces of similar plastic fruit across the land. (BTW, the fast food joints are all there, right on the main highway skirting the town.)

I only wish my little town had survived as well as yours did.

Ken Carman
Ken Carman
12 years ago

Most towns seem to have ended up that way. This last weekend my cousin and her daughter and I were discussing this edition and they thought the town had been ruined. But in comparison…

jim carman
jim carman
12 years ago

Not to be difficult or anything, but I agree with the cousin. Yes, Old Forge has always been a tourist town. But it has gone over the edge from quaint to cheesey. It has joined Lake George as just another overdone T-shirt and glitz mecca. The vast majority of the both the tourists as well as the locals wouldn’t know which end of a fishing pole to hold on to, or what to make of an antlered buck draped over the roof of a car. But you know what? Perhaps that’s a good thing, at least for me it is. It leaves more fish and deer for me, and fewer flat lander sportsman wanna be’s in the woods taking “sound” shots with their over priced macho man cannons.

RS Janes
12 years ago

All of the ‘pristine’ areas I knew when I was young have succumbed to Generica — fast-food joints, strip malls, convenience stores, etc.

I recall my parents driving out into the country to go to a particular unique restaurant, or just to enjoy a nice view of unspoiled nature on a summer day. While out there, they’d usually stop by a farm or two to buy fresh-picked corn, watermelons and other vegetables directly from the grower. These days, the unique restaurants are all gone, or under new, and bad, management; the farmers also don’t sell their vegetables anymore, and the beautiful views are mostly gone — they’ve been supplanted by ugly plastic and glass buildings painted in garish colors and subdivisions and apartment complexes where the trees grow in a straight line. No wonder there are so many angry people in this country — the soul has been stolen from our lives by greedy corporations.

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